But the 2018 runner-up made sure the outcome was different on Friday evening, avenging last year’s Round of 16 loss to the Spaniard 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-3 to reach that stage this year. Cilic ripped 76 winners throughout the four-hour, 10-minute encounter. Cilic also survived a fifth set in his second-round match, overcoming Benoit Paire in a final-set tie-break.
“My second-round match was long and today we had some incredibly rallies and we did a lot of running,” said Cilic.
Cilic is through to the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the seventh time. The former World No. 3 improves to 5-2 in his ATP Head2Head series against last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist.
Cilic has now won 32 of his 43 matches at the opening Grand Slam of the year. The victory was also the 32nd five-set win of the 31-year-old’s career (32-17).
The 6’6” right-hander will meet Milos Raonic or Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the quarter-finals. Cilic leads Raonic 2-1 in their ATP Head2Head series and defeated Tsitsipas in their only previous meeting.
“Whoever wins that match will present an incredible challenge for me,” said Cilic. “I’ll get some rest, get some food and I’ll be ready to go again in a couple of days.”
After trailing 6-7(3), 3-4, Cilic appeared to be heading towards a four-set win after winning 11 straight games. But Bautista Agut found his way back into the match, staying solid from the back of the court as Cilic committed multiple forehand errors. The Spaniard pounced at the perfect moment to force a decider, stepping into the court at 6-5 to finish points with his forehand.
“I had an incredible patch,” said Cilic. “It was just a surreal level. Every ball I was hitting was going in. It was coming off my racquet incredibly well. I knew Roberto would always fight and he pushed me all the way in the fourth set.”
Cilic changed his plan of attack to earn an immediate break in the fifth set, mixing angled forehands with flat backhand attacks to gain a crucial advantage. The Croat served well under the pressure of a fifth set, winning 81 per cent of first-serve points (13/16) to move into a 5-3 lead. Cilic closed out the match with his seventh break of serve as Bautista Agut fired a backhand into the net.
Bautista Agut was bidding to make it to the Round of 16 in Melbourne for the fifth time. The World No. 9, who entered the match with an 8-0 record in 2020, reached his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at this event last year.