Croatian Marin Cilic withstood an inspired comeback by Italian maverick Fabio Fognini to reach the French Open quarter-finals on Monday for the second year running with a 6-4 6-1 3-6 6-7(4) 6-3 victory.
Third seed Cilic was pushed to five sets for only the second time at Roland Garros but survived to set up a heavyweight duel with in-form Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.
With his power game in fine fettle and Fognini struggling due to an ankle injury it was one-way traffic in the opening two sets as third seed Cilic romped ahead.
Cilic played a loose service game at the start of the third set and Fognini suddenly fired himself up.
The 31-year-old, aiming to put two Italian men in a Grand Slam quarter-final for only the second time in the professional era after Marco Cecchinato’s fine run, consolidated the break and took the third set with an ace.
It still seemed as if Cilic was in control but the strutting Italian raised his game another level in the fourth set tiebreak as the crowd roared him on.
Leading 4-3 he produced a sublime backhand winner from a ridiculous angle, raising his fist in salute, and there were more theatrics when he forced a Cilic error to lead 6-3.
When Cilic went wide with a forehand on Fognini’s second set point it looked as though the Croat was in danger of being the victim of the day’s second big comeback.
Argentine Diego Schwartzman had pulled of an escape act against Kevin Anderson from a similarly black position, but former U.S. Open champion Cilic is a tough beast.
He refused to be distracted by Fognini’s showman antics and pounced in the seventh game of the decider when the Italian lost his focus and offered up a cheap break.
Chuntering and chatting to anyone who would listen, Fognini lapsed again at 3-5 and finished the contest with a forehand error as Cilic puffed out his cheeks in relief.