Marin Cilic has finally ended his three-year quarter-finals losing streak at Wimbledon by coming through a tough five-setter against Gilles Muller and is ready to face American No24 seed Sam Querrey in the semis on Friday.
Cilic is looking to reach his first Grand Slam final since he won the 2014 US Open and goes into his match-up with Querrey carrying a 4-0 head-to-head record against him, including two triumphs over the American at Wimbledon in 2009 and 2012.
The Croatian world No6 is having a strong season that saw him make the quarters at Roland Garros – on his worst surface – reach the final in Queen’s on grass, and win the Istanbul clay title.
The 28-year-old is looking more and more confident by the day and even Roger Federer said that he predicted he would go deep at Wimbledon this fortnight.
“It’s great for me to hear that even him, and a lot of players around, even ex-players, when they were looking before the tournament started, that they were seeing me as a player that could go quite deep,” said Cilic on Wednesday.
“That had given me a little bit more belief, a little bit more confidence that, you know, players and people around are also seeing that I’m in a great form, that I’m able to do great things. I think that just gave me a little bit more reassurance in myself, and obviously a great power that I managed to get to that level.”
Ahead of Friday’s semi-final against Querrey, Sport360 sat down with Cilic’s coach Jonas Bjorkman, who explains how the Croat is finding his inner beast, and becoming a feared opponent once again on the match court.
Marin is having a great run here at Wimbledon, which perhaps many people predicted considering his good form coming in. Did you guys expect this ahead of the tournament?
Jonas Bjorkman: I think we had very high hopes going into Wimbledon since Marin had such a great run on the clay, which was his most consistent clay season and finished off with his best performance in Paris, he gained a lot of confidence out of that one. And then heading into his favourite season with the grass, and then got off to a very good start playing well in s-Hertogenbosch and Queen’s, so we obviously felt the form was there, the confidence was there, I would say we had very high hopes.
Since you’ve started working with him last fall, in what ways do you think he’s developed the most?
JB: We’ve been working a lot on the volley first, and then the transition to get comfortable up there but also to sort of hit and come in and commit for that. It’s a lot easier in practice and then the transition over to matches it always takes more time. He’s been playing a little bit more doubles because I think match practice is always better than normal practice. So I think it’s been some good signs on the grass where he’s been feeling a lot more comfortable and has been playing a little bit of serve and volley. And he’s been winning a lot already out there, which obviously helps of feeling that it works and you can continue with it. So I think that’s been the greatest progress on the grass – what we’ve tried to work on since I came into the team. Also with the returning, to be a little more aggressive there. It takes some time obviously but we’re starting to see some positive signs.
It was impressive how he stepped up against Gilles Muller to beat him in five sets in the quarter-finals, and end his three-year last-eight losing streak here at Wimbledon. How do you think he mentally kept that stat out of his mind?
JB: That was probably the thing I felt most happy about yesterday when he played Gilles, because he was so much better in the fourth, couldn’t convert a break point and then all of a sudden Gilles connected on one and then had maybe a few lucky points and then all of a sudden you lost a set. He didn’t even look back, he just looked forward and how he executed that fifth set for me was very impressive.
His body language was really, really good, there was no letdown. We’ve been talking a lot about the body language, and always feeling positive and I think already after losing to Feliciano Lopez in Queen’s, in a match where I think also he was better, but sometimes on grass that’s a match you can lose, one or two points here and there. He took the positive things out of that match and left all the other things behind him and just moved forward, and I think that’s been the two biggest keys heading in to play so well here.
I think everyone can agree that Marin is a very nice guy. I read somewhere that he’s trying to act a bit meaner on the court. Is that something you’re working on with him?
JB: We’ve been talking a lot about that. He’s nearly two-metres-tall and it’s all about body language out there, intimidate the players a little bit. And I think he’s done that really well. He has much more positive energy out there, he’s showing that he wants to win the matches. Sometimes you can go into patterns and you’re so used to hitting good shots, but I think if all of a sudden you show your opponent as well that you’re here to win and you’re ready to fight for whatever it takes, it’s something that makes pressure for your opponents as well, so it’s not only for helping yourself. Tennis is a mental boxing match you know, I think that’s really a key for him to continue and hopefully more success.
Marin has had very tight matches against Sam, but leads him 4-0 head-to-head and probably goes in as the favourite. Is that extra pressure or will it help him in the semi-finals?
JB: He probably will feel like he’s the favourite but that probably comes from being the higher seed, higher ranked, I don’t think it would be too much with the head-to-head because they’ve always had tight matches. But obviously if you’re the higher-ranked player, you’ll always be the favourite. I think he’s used to facing that most of the time unless he’s playing top-five opponents. It’s something he has to deal with but they’ve had close matches and both of them will want to come out and serve well. I think the key for tomorrow will be the returning, to get the ball in play and that’s hopefully the edge for Marin.
Has he ever spoken to you about his five-set loss to Roger Federer here last year, after he was leading by two sets?
JB: We have spoken about it a little bit, we watched a bit of that match, you can always learn. You have tough losses where it’s going to hurt a lot but in the end once you get over the first frustration of losing, you can always look back and see if you can learn something from it. And that’s where I think he always wants to improve.
What helps him is that he knows what it takes to win a Slam. He’s one of the few who have managed to come through of a dominant five and for me it’s important for him to take advantage of that, because that’s something that could help him down the road when it comes to matches like this.