From the small town of Medjugorge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Marin Cilic has journeyed throughout the world to become a junior and senior Grand Slam champion. Here are a few facts we’ve learned about him along the way.
Born in Medjugorge, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cilic was introduced to tennis at the age of seven. Marin and his older brothers Vinko and Goran, were among the first to play on new courts in their home town (younger brother Mile also became a player). Spotting his potential, local coaches encouraged the young Cilic to move to Zagreb in Croatia, where Goran Ivanisevic became a friend and mentor. At the age of 15, Cilic moved to San Remo in Italy to develop his game with renowned Australian coach Bob Brett.
The tough decision to leave his family home soon paid off for the teenage Cilic: in 2005, he defeated Andy Murray, among others, to win the French Open boys’ title. Winning three other titles that year, he finished as the No.2 junior behind Donald Young. Even so, the grounded young Cilic understood the tough path ahead. “During my junior career I was pretty relaxed,” he reflected early in his ATP career. “But I knew it was a completely different game to the senior game. You could win through to the quarterfinals or semifinals of a junior Grand Slam before you got tested.”
Grand Slam-winning countryman Ivanisevic was the player who inspired Cilic as a child, with Ivan Ljubicic another role model. Goran became Cilic’s coach for a three-year period that included his Grand Slam triumph at the 2014 US Open. Marin now works with another former ATP star in Jonas Bjorkman. “He’s very positive and motivated,” said Cilic of Bjorkman, soon after their relationship started in 2016. “I guess that can help me to be more emotional on the court, more motivated. I think with my own game that has helped to be more consistent week in and week out.”
Cilic is not only a winner at every level and on every surface, but has claimed at least one title each year since 2008. The centerpiece of his 17 singles career victories is the Grand Slam he claimed at the 2014 US Open. Defeating Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori in the final rounds, the then-world No.16 Cilic was the lowest-ranked player to claim a major since 2004 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, who was ranked No.44. Cilic’s run to a second Grand Slam final at the 2017 Wimbledon championships was less surprising; in his most consistent season to date, the 28-year-old entered The Championships at world No.6, helped by the Queen’s final and title in Istanbul.
Defeating Andy Murray in the final to win a first ATP Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati last August sparked Cilic’s most consistent form so far. He went on to win a 16th career title in Basel with 2017 milestones including a title (Istanbul), plus two finals and semifinals, with four quarterfinals (until August) featuring a first-time final eight run at Roland Garros.
Fans can expect to see the best of Cilic’s team spirit at the Laver Cup. The Croat thrives in a team setting, as evidenced by his commitment to Davis Cup. The 20 ties he’s contested since 2006 have delivered a 22-10 record in singles and 8-6 in doubles. In 2016, Cilic helped Croatia to the Davis Cup final against Argentina, where he featured in two dramatic five-setters. He defeated Federico Delbonis in the opening rubber before a heartbreaking loss to Juan Martin Del Potro on the final day.
Like many players, Cilic says that on-court routines “keep me working my brain in the right way.” Those routines can include playing with particular balls or taking them from a certain ball boy. “The weird thing about about it is if you try not to do your routine, you see immediately the result is not good,” he explained to si.com. “You lose your serve or you lose a couple of games, and you are upset at yourself.
Asked to describe himself in one word, Cilic says “humble”. Another word that might apply is “generous”: the Croat was honored with the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in the 2016 ATP World Tour Awards, recognizing his off-court philanthropy through his personal foundation, which focuses on providing young people with educational opportunities. “It’s something that we all love to do… to give back to the community, especially to children,” said Cilic on accepting the award last year.
Most players will have another sport they love. For Cilic, that’s football. Playing for fun as a child, Cilic grew up to become a fan of AC Milan and the Croatian national team. On his way to the Wimbledon final, Cilic was thrilled to meet players from Chelsea Football Club, including Marcos Alonso, Thibaut Courtois and César Azpilicueta.
Cilic’s power-packed game provides entertainment aplenty – but Marin loves to be a part of an audience too. During the ATP World Tour Finals in London last year, he spoke about taking in the ‘Book of Mormons’ theatre production with his team. “You have to have a balance, a diversion,” Cilic wrote on a blog for ATPWorldTour.com. “That’s why I’ve seen the ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ and loved the ‘The Lord of The Rings’ movies. That’s also why, a few years ago, when my team and I were in New York for the US Open, we headed to Broadway and took in my all-time favourite show, ‘The Lion King’.”