If you have to come up with a shortlist of favourites for this year’s Wimbledon title, Marin Cilic is undoubtedly close to the top of that list.
A runner-up last year at the All England Club, where he suffered from foot blisters during his defeat to Roger Federer in the final, Cilic has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the majors, ever since he won his first and only Grand Slam to date at the 2014 US Open.
His winning percentage on grass – an impressive 71.4 per cent (65-26 win-loss) – is his best of all the surfaces and he enters Wimbledon beaming with confidence after winning Queens last week.
Ranked No. 5 but seeded No. 3 at SW19 because of the grass surface-based formula the tournament uses to reshuffle its 32 seeds, Cilic opens his campaign on Monday against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
The 29-year-old Croatian reached the Australian Open final last January, also losing to Federer, and is on the same side of the draw as the Swiss top seed at Wimbledon.
Sport360 sat down with Cilic on Saturday, to discuss his chances in south-west London this fortnight.
Many people consider you one of the main favourites for the Wimbledon title, does it feel differently entering this tournament with perhaps more eyes on you?
Maybe there is more. I feel that I got into this small group of players that are title contenders but that’s a reflection of the last 12-18 months that I played really well. Also knowing that last year I had an extremely successful grass-court season and then again this year, with knowing that and being sort of under a little bit of pressure to defend the points and everything like that, I delivered really well in Queens and that gives me good belief in my own game and I feel quite confident coming to Wimbledon. But I know nothing comes for granted and I still have to continue to play well and show again great tennis here.
Last year you were obviously hurt during the final against Federer, how do you reflect on that experience and what did you learn from it?
Obviously it was extremely difficult at that particular moment, just knowing that I couldn’t give my best, but still all credit to Roger for winning it for an eighth time. Also knowing on the other side how difficult it is to stay healthy for so many years and to be always at a 100 per cent level.
But for me it was definitely a difficult moment, broken heart a bit, just feeling extremely disappointed as I felt I played amazing tennis up until the final and I had a very good challenge to lift the trophy or challenge Roger in that final. But I had, with my own team, made obviously another jump, another step forward last year, given this grass-court season, and I took only positives out of it. Learned about that experienced and I feel that this year, coming back, it’s another opportunity for me. I can relate to that, having experience to be in the final, just psychologically I think it can help me this year and the years ahead.
You won the US Open in 2014, but then it took you a little less than three years to get back into a Slam final. Now you’ve made two major finals within the last 12 months. How do you explain that arc?
I think that I found really good balance of my training regimen, also recovering, also working really well towards my goals. I felt that in the last 18 months I improved a lot as a player, I learned a lot about myself as a person, what suits me, what doesn’t, what kind of training at which periods of the year. And I feel that I improved two, three, five per cent, I don’t know it’s difficult to say, that just pushed me to have these results. Knowing that this came at the age where I’m at now, 29, turning 30 soon, I feel that time ahead I can still use to get better and better.
So you’re turning 30 soon, and recently got married, do you ever stop and wonder how did this happen so fast?
It does a little bit, just looking back and saying ‘where did all these years go?’ (laughing). I still remember when I came to the tour and I felt there is so much time ahead of me. I’m still young, I always in that group who were one of the youngest in top-20, top-30, top-50 and I always thought there is so much time ahead and results are going to come but then you realise that time is going very fast and you have to use every single day, week, month the best you can. I think I got better as a person and matured a lot in these last few years. I’m feeling great with my private life and that can obviously have a big reflection of feeling really good on the tennis court too.
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In what ways specifically do you think you’ve matured?
I think just my thought process in and out of the court. Having a team around me where we’re constantly looking for things on which I can improve – not that I wasn’t doing that before, but we found better formula for it, better ways to get better at it. also as myself, I think I matured, I feel I love tennis, I love trainings, and competing, even though sometimes it’s very hard, I feel that’s what I want to do. When I go out of tennis, I just want to look back and say ‘that was the best I could ever get’, I’m aiming for that. That’s why I’m also pushing myself every day to get better.
Do you think having already won a major four years ago, it takes the pressure off a little bit at the Slams these days, especially when you’re a contender?
It takes a few questions out of your head. In terms of psychological way, and physical, ‘Are you able to sustain it? Are you able to play two weeks great tennis? Are you psychologically ready to be at your best against the best guys in the world when it counts the most? Is your game good enough to beat them at the Grand Slam level?’ Those questions are out of my way and I feel that obviously helps me in my preparations for these Grand Slams.
Does it help that many eyes back home are on Croatia in the World Cup, instead of on you, so you can fly under the radar a little bit?
I’m quite relaxed about it. I still know I have to do my own thing on the court – with big support or without big support. Obviously I prefer the big support. Croatia played really well in the group stage and now difficult matches are coming up, it’s knockout stages. I truly hope we can go very, very far. I think the team has got great spirit, playing great, and anything can happen in a given game. But I hope they can go far.
You beat Nick Kyrgios on your way to the Queens title, how do you rate his chances here?
I just played Nick a week ago, and even though he was out of the tour for a couple of months with his injury he straightaway showed how great he can play. With his serve and his game style he is one of the guys able to win against anyone on any given day. So definitely he’s got a good chance to go very far, maybe to win it, why not? I think with his own game, he also feels it, that he possesses that in himself.
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