Marin Cilic of Croatia serves the ball to Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania during the men’s singles semifinal match of the Kremlin Cup tennis tournament in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
No. 2 seed Aslan Karatsev is the favorite vs No. 6 Marin Cilic in the Kremlin Cup men’s singles final Sunday
The two have dropped just one set – combined– on their way to the final (9 am ET)
Karatsev is the slight favorite to win his second career title; Read on for analysis and predictions
Marin Cilic is looking for his second ATP Tour title of the season, and the 20th of his career.
Aslan Karatsev is looking for his second ATP Tour title of the season – but only the second of his career.
That’s the gulf in accomplishment between the two Kremlin Cup finalists. But Karatsev, just five years younger, is the slight favorite.
Marin Cilic vs Aslan Karatsev Odds
 Marin Cilic (CRO)
O 23.5 (-105)
 Aslan Karatsev (RUS)
U 23.5 (-115)
Odds as of Oct. 23 at DraftKings
A Second Wind for Cilic
It’s been an up-and-down season for Cilic, a 33-year-old Croat who, throughout the “Big 3” dominance at Grand Slams, was one of only two other players to actually capture a major.
That was in 2014. Later that year, he won the Kremlin Cup. And he defended his title the following year.
But the last few seasons, it has looked at times as though he was really in the final laps.
There have been seven first-round losses in 2021. And outside a fruitful grass-court season, Cilic’s won-loss record was a very pedestrian 13-15 coming into the week.
Thrilled for Marin Čilić, who will compete with Ivan Dodig for an Olympic Gold medal! It’s great to see Cilic happy and confident after all his struggles the last couple years. Will be rooting for Čilić/Dodig to win vs their Croatian compatriots Pavic/Mektić. pic.twitter.com/h321vnc6yP
— Scriabina (@drschumann1) July 29, 2021
The ray of sunshine was an Olympic silver medal with countryman Ivan Dodig.
Cilic hadn’t played since the US Open, taking the time at home as he and his wife welcomed their second son, born in early September.
And nearly two months later, he has come back refreshed.
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Marin Cilic vs Aslan Karatsev Head-to-Head
33 (Sept. 28, 1988)
28 (Sept. 4, 1993)
Career ATP Singles Titles
No. 3 (Jan. 29, 2018)
Career High Ranking
No. 22 (Oct. 18, 2021)
Career Prize Money
2021 Won/Loss record
Career Head to Head
Just One Set Lost All Week for Cilic
The only set Cilic has lost all week through four matches was the first one he played, in the first round against qualifier Damir Dzumhur.
Not surprising, given the layoff. After that, he won in straights over Tommy Paul, (No. 54) Pedro Martinez (No. 61) and lucky loser Ricardas Berankis (No. 108).
Cilic didn’t have to face a seed or even a player ranked in the top 50.
So if he hasn’t been pushed, he also hasn’t been challenged by a higher-ranked, in form player. And that’s what he’ll get in Karatsev.
No Jet Lag for Karatsev
No. 2 seed Karatsev came to Moscow after a long trip (with a 10-hour time difference) from Indian Wells, where he and Andrey Rublev reached the doubles final.
He’s showed no signs of it. After a bye in the first round, the 28-year-old lost seven games to qualifier Egor Gerasimov, seven games to gritty veteran Gilles Simon, and seven more to compatriot Karen Khachanov, the No. 3 seed.
After a first-set tiebreak, Karatsev rolled.
Marin Cilic vs Aslan Karatsev Match History
Nice Bookend to Karatsev’s Breakout Season
Karatsev’s 15-2 start to 2021, which included a run from the qualifying to the semis at the Australian Open and his first ATP Tour title at the 500-level tournament in Dubai the following month, eventually simmered down.
Since then, he’s gone 18-16. Although he too picked up an Olympic silver medal (in mixed doubles with Elena Vesnina).
Finishing off this season with a bookend 500 title in his home country would be a pretty good bucket-list moment.
Karatsev’s explosive power can expose Cilic’s fairly average movement. And his return of serve – by any metric you choose – is vastly superior to the Croat’s.
Notably, Karatsev is No. 13 on tour the last 52 weeks in percentage of first-serve return points won, and No. 20 in second-serve return points won. Cillc is down in the 90s in most of those categories.
On serve, Cilic does well when he gets his first serve in. But he’s way down the list in winning points on his second serve. Meanwhile Karatsev – who doesn’t have the same power or trajectory – is in the top 25 in protecting his own second serve.
Cilic has a lot more experience being in finals (33) and winning them (19).
But the numbers point to Karatsev in this match, especially with the home-field advantage.
Best Bet: Karatsev in three sets (+320)