The Zagreb Indoor Tournament has reached the semifinals, and the match between Croatia's own Marin Cilic and Russia's Mikhail Youzhny is sure to be a barnburner. Cilic is playing to get back to the finals for the first time since 2010, whereas Youzhny is the defending champion looking to repeat.
It's going to be a close match for both players. Cilic is playing not only for a spot in the finals, but for national pride. This tournament goes down on his home turf, and him defeating the defending champion in Youzhny would make the fans crazy with excitement.
Youzhny is out to ensure that such a thing does not happen and that he grabs another victory in hostile territory so that he can defend his title in Zagreb against either Jurgen Melzer of Austria or Robin Haase of the Netherlands.
Looking at both players, it's a hard call as to who will win. Youzhny has an excellent backhand, unique in that he only uses one hand to execute it. His court vision is also excellent, his eyes never leaving the ball and his footwork rarely ever betraying him.
The man's career highlight on the Grand Slam scene came in 2010, when he reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, he was matched up against eventual champion Rafael Nadal and lost in straight sets.
Cilic is a horse of a different color. He is much larger at 6'6" and 190 pounds, compared to Youzhny, who is 6'0" and 160 pounds. That could give him a bit of an advantage on balls that seem unhittable to others, but not for him.
Keep in mind that this is the same man who lost to reigning U.S. Open champion Andy Murray in the semifinals of the 2010 Australian Open, so he is not one to be taken lightly. Cilic also had a strong match against Murray in last year's U.S. Open, taking the first set before dropping the next three, one of which went into a tiebreaker.
Skill sets and history aside, it's clear that Cilic will defeat Youzhny. Not only does he have the unique advantage of playing in his home country with his fans cheering him on, but he's going to enter this match ready to make a statement.
You see, Cilic has not played in this tournament since 2011, when he was defeated in the quarterfinals by Germany's Florian Mayer. So a match against the defending champion is his shot at redemption. It may be a long and drawn-out battle, though, as Youzhny is great in his own right and will have more riding on the line.
But that cannot take away from Cilic wanting to once again impress in his home country. And his performance against the defending champion will be one talked about for years to come.