It appears Croatian tennis players will forever be associated with staggering championship runs.
Monday’s United States Open final saw the crowning of a brand new Grand Slam champion, 25-year-old Marin Cilic, who followed in the footsteps of his coach Goran Ivanisevic, and concluded a magnificent championship run with a Grand Slam title to defy all odds.
It was inevitable that a new Major champion would be crowned following the final, but none expected the Croatian, who spent a portion of last season on the sidelines dealing with a drug suspension, to storm through his competition – including 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer – en route to capturing the coveted title in New York.
“I mean, seems completely unreal to be called Grand Slam champion,” Cilic said with slight disbelief. “I was dreaming about this all my life, and suddenly last four, five days everything started to change. And with my tennis especially.
“I started to play absolutely unbelievable starting with the fifth set with Simon. After that I had unbelievable run of the matches against these top guys. And what it means to me, it means everything. It’s just a huge accomplishment. So this is just the peak of the world.”
The suspension was a particularly jarring experience for Cilic, and later explained that it had a crucial impact on his mental fortitude, as well as his enjoyment for the sport.
Armed with a newfound appreciation for the sport, Cilic rose through the rankings, winning several titles on the way, and added to his consistency in Grand Slam tournaments.
“I felt the first part that helped me was the mental toughness, being much stronger and I was much tougher with myself on the tennis court when I was practicing and also when I was playing matches,” Marin explained. “The other part was enjoying much more on the court before in these last several years since I had really good success in 2010. Then I started to slip a little bit and I was not enjoying so much on the court. I was always looking for the result, hoping it’s gonna come back. It was not working.
“So things changed around and flipped it over with trying to enjoy on the court and enjoy every moment, which helped me to be much more relaxed. I feel that was the most important part for my game.”
Not only did Cilic prove a point to himself – that he could one day achieve his dream and win a Grand Slam title – he feels he could act as a benchmark for other Top 30 competitors who doubt their potential to win Major championships.
“I was swirling around ranking top 20, 25, 15 and things were some days going well, some not. You are a lot of the time up and down. It’s, I feel, very inspirational for all the other guys out there who are, you know, working and sometimes losing motivation, having trouble to dig deep and to believe in the achievements. I would definitely feel much stronger if I would see somebody like me accomplish things like this. It sort of came out of nowhere for me.
“Few things clicked in just right before tournament sort of. I felt great about them, and match after match I played really good tennis. These last three matches, everything was working perfectly.”