Road to Prague: Marin Cilic
Just seven men in the game today know what it feels like to raise a major trophy to the heavens, and Marin Cilic ranks among them. The mild-mannered Croatian, who claimed the US Open crown in 2014, joins Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the Laver Cup competitors whose introduction proudly notes: Grand Slam champion.
At Wimbledon this year, Cilic experienced the other side of the coin in a major final, the agony of defeat. And try as he might to heed Kipling’s call and treat triumph and disaster just the same, the realization that a ruptured blister on his foot might destroy whatever chance he had of denying Roger Federer an eighth title at the All England Club proved too much.
But the image of those tears beneath his towel should not overshadow the 28-year-old’s surge to the second major final of his career, the high point of a season that has been a tale of consistency on the courts of Europe and injury problems off it.
Cilic made a slow start to the 2017 season in Australia and America, punctuated by a semifinal run in Acapulco. But it was the return to his adopted home of Monte Carlo that sparked life into the year. Victory at the Istanbul Open, where he beat Milos Raonic in the final, extended his run of winning at least one ATP title in a season to 10 consecutive years.
An impressive string of results through the clay and grass seasons, culminating in that run to the Wimbledon final, propelled him to a career-high ranking of No.5 after the US Open – all in spite of an adductor strain that ruled him out of the American hardcourt summer.
His previous work with fellow big-serving compatriot Goran Ivanisevic, who led him to victory at Flushing Meadows three years ago, helped to truly weaponize his delivery, while Jonas Bjorkman’s involvement this year has seen Cilic improve his strategy and net smarts, approaching with purpose to maximise the 6’6” Croatian’s imposing wingspan.
Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg has picked a fine exponent of arena tennis in the form of Cilic. Eight of his 17 tour titles have come on indoor hard courts, and he anchored his nation’s run to the Davis Cup final in 2016, where he came up against Juan Martin del Potro’s inspired Argentine side. “Team Europe has assembled a powerhouse team, and I could not be more thrilled,” said the Swede. “Marin is enjoying his most consistent season yet, adding even more depth to our line up.”
CILIC’S ROAD TO PRAGUE
Aircel Chennai Open (outdoor hard): Round of 16 lost to Jozef Kovalik 7-6(5) 5-7 7-5
Australian Open (outdoor hard): Round of 64 lost to Daniel Evans 3-6 7-5 6-3 6-3
Open Sud de France, Montpellier (indoor hard): Round of 16 lost to Dustin Brown 6-4 6-4
ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam (indoor hard): Quarterfinal lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(8) 7-6(5)
Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco (outdoor hard): Semifinal lost to Rafael Nadal 6-1 6-2
BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells (outdoor hard): Round of 64 lost to Taylor Fritz 4-6 7-5 6-4
Miami Open (outdoor hard): Round of 64 lost to Jeremy Chardy 6-4 2-6 6-3
Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (outdoor clay): Quarterfinal lost to Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-2 6-7(5) 6-2
TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open (outdoor clay): Final beat Milos Raonic 7-6(3) 6-3
Mutua Madrid Open (outdoor clay): Round of 32 lost to Alexander Zverev 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4
Internazionali BNL d’Italia (outdoor clay): Quarterfinal lost to John Isner 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(2)
Roland Garros (outdoor clay): Quarterfinal lost to Stan Wawrinka 6-3 6-3 6-1
Ricoh Open (outdoor grass): Semifinal lost to Ivo Karlovic 7-6(4) 5-7 7-6(2)
Aegon Championships, Queen’s (outdoor grass): Final lost to Feliciano Lopez 4-6 7-6(2) 7-6(8)
Wimbledon (outdoor grass): Final lost to Roger Federer 6-3 6-1 6-4
US Open (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Diego Schwartzman 4-6 7-5 7-5 6-4