Without Goran Ivanisevic, Marin Cilic may have not made it to where he his today, through to the last sixteen at the French Open where he goes up against Andy Murray on Sunday.
When Ivanisevic beat Patrick Rafter at Wimbledon 2001, the whole of Croatia cried with joy. Cilic was only 13 at the time but he will never forget that day.
“It was during our summer holidays. I was with some friends. We were all following the match on television. We were going crazy with excitement. That was the most inspiring match I’ve ever seen,” he reminisces.
Four years later, Cilic was just an aspiring tennis hopeful when Ivanisevic spotted him and introduced him to Bob Brett, his old mentor. Cilic was soon off to San Remo, where he learnt his trade under the man who also trained Boris Becker.
As the chapters of his success story came together, the Zagreb resident progressed nicely, well-liked by his compatriots on circuit. The first sign of his enormous potential came with a French Open juniors title in 2005.
Cilic made his ATP debut that year too, and has been on a prestigious rise though the rankings ever since, from 173 at year end 2006 to 22 at the end of last year.
The Croatian has been in fine form this year too, ranking up 24 wins for only 8 losses. Champion at the Chennai Open and Zagreb Indoors in January and February this year, the six-footer has also made it through to the quarter-finals at Dubai and Munich.
From his current position of No13 seed, Cilic sees himself moving further forward. “I feel really fit and I’m hitting the ball well. I just have to keep improving and wait to see my dream fulfilled: winning a Grand Slam!”
Marin’s 14 year-old brother Mile enjoys teasing his tennis champion brother, but he might have a hard time continuing if Marin continues his brilliant performance at the French. “He likes to give me tips, but I don’t think he’d find anything to say this time!” the No13 seed joked after he defeated Radek Stepanek in three straight sets on Friday (6-1 7-6 6-2).
With his slicing returns, excellent serves and backcourt skills, the 20 year old displayed intense focus on court. “I really liked the fact that I stayed focused on my shots and stuck to my game plan till the end. That’s sort of new for me. I had to with an opponent like Stepanek. I used to have lapses in concentration. Now I’m managing to keep my focus.”
Marin’s story is still being written though, and he is well aware that he will have to pull out all the stops next match at Roland Garros against world No3 Andy Murray…