A bad blister prevented Marin Cilic from giving his best performance in the Wimbledon final on Sunday against Roger Federer but both the Croatian and his team believe he can walk away with pride from what has been his best ever two weeks at the All England Club.
The 2014 US Open champion broke into tears during one of the changeovers, but it wasn’t the physical pain that got to him. It was the emotional toll of the situation, of not being able to step up and compete to the best of his ability in a dream Wimbledon final against the best man to have ever taken part in the Championships.
“It’s heartbreaking when you see someone you work for, and you know how dedicated they are and I also know what it means for him to achieve his dreams and goals, and winning here is one of them. Not being able to play the way he wanted was obviously tough to watch but we’re very proud. He played through the pain and gave Roger a nicer win,” said Cilic’s coach Jonas Bjorkman after the match.
“He’s normally taking a lot of pain so I can’t imagine how painful it was.”
Bjorkman, who teamed up with Cilic after Wimbledon last year, has witnessed his 28-year-old charge enjoy a great three months this season, through the clay swing, where he won the Istanbul title, and the grass, where he was runner-up in Queen’s and SW19.
It had been three years since Cilic last reached a Grand Slam final and this was his first at Wimbledon.
Despite the tournament in ending for Cilic in pain, does Bjorkman feel things have finally kicked into gear again for the tall Croatian?
“Absolutely! I think it’s no doubt, I hope, he will regroup and feel that he’s back, contending for another Slam. I think he’s in his prime time.
“He’s playing really good tennis at the moment, he’s got a lot of good years ahead of him and it’s no doubt that he has the potential of winning more. That’s his goal and we’re going to do everything we can in the team to help as much as we can to get him to achieve his dreams and goals.”
The Swedish coach added: “Since the Monaco tournament, he’s been playing great tennis, very consistent, which we’re really pleased with, because that’s been maybe a bit more up and down before, so we’ll try to continue in that way and in the same style heading into the hard-court swing.”
Cilic described to the media after the final how he felt while sitting at his bench, crying, while the medical team attended to him.
“Obviously was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through last few months in preparation with everything. It was also tough because of my own team. They did so much for me. I just felt it was really bad luck,” the world No6 said.
“It was just a feeling that I knew that I cannot give my best on the court, that I cannot give my best game and my best tennis, especially at this stage of my career, at such a big match. It was very, very difficult to deal with it. You know, that was the only thing. But otherwise it didn’t hurt so much that it was putting me in tears. It was just that feeling that I wasn’t able to give the best.”
Bjorkman suggested Cilic would need a few days to regroup, but from the sounds of it, he is ready to put this painful experience behind him and look ahead.
“I’m very straightforward. I know that these last two weeks have been great tennis from me. My level was on a position where it hasn’t been before on grass, so I’m extremely satisfied with that. Extremely happy. This will give me much more confidence, much more strength for the rest of the year,” said Cilic.
“I know that my level can even go higher, so that is something that I’m looking forward to. That’s something which is definitely making me more happy.
“With that loss today, obviously it’s a sad one, it’s a devastating one, but I’m still very proud and thankful for all my team that was helping me to get here.”
At 35, Federer became the oldest man to win a Wimbledon singles title and having won two majors already this season, following a six-month injury hiatus, the world has been marveling at the Swiss’ achievements.
Cilic is no exception, as he hailed his opponent’s longevity, and will to continuously improve.
Bjorkman, who as a player lost to Federer in the 2006 Wimbledon semi-finals, says the Swiss star is “unique in many ways” but also believes there’s been too much emphasis on his age.
“I think everyone is a bit surprised with the age and I think now, if you look to other sports it’s not that unique in a way. I’m not saying I’m like him, but I was 36 and I played singles and doubles, I played a lot of matches,” said Bjorkman.
“The body is fine, ice hockey, soccer… you have so many who can actually go through with that age. I think in tennis we’re so focused on it. I got asked if I should retire when I was 30+, because back in the day everyone stopped earlier. But if you look at the knowledge we have about rehab and training in all sports now, age is only a number.
“Then I think Roger spends less energy out there, he’s unique in many ways which also makes it easier for him maybe compared to some others who have to work harder on the points. His movement is natural. I think we focus a lot on the numbers.”