Marin Cilic with Clarín: life in Zagreb, the battles with Delpo and the last fight against his body

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While the ATP 250 of Buenos Aires continues his fight to move up to the 500 category, this year he receives four Grand Slam champions who give him great visibility. Of course, all flashes go to Carlos Alcaraz, because at 20 he achieved what only tennis legends could at that age, but the Argentine public will also be able to enjoy seeing other tennis players who have written some of the most glorious pages of this sport in recent years.

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Among these there is Marin Cilic, 35 year old Croatian with an enviable CV. He won 20 titles, including the US Open 2014 and the 2016 Cincinnati Masters 1000. Furthermore, he was a key element for Croatia to win its second Davis Cup in 2018, the year in which he reached third place in the ranking, and hung an Olympic medal on his chest, the silver one obtained in Tokyo 2020 in doubles with Ivan Dodig.

And, almost as a result equal to all the previous ones, he can proudly say that he beat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal AND Novak Djokovic to the “The Big Three” complete. Nothing wrong. Although today she is not experiencing the best moment of her career, due to a knee operation that allowed him to play only two games in 2023, His presence in Buenos Aires generates an impact.

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With a kindness and a smile that are not consistent with the serious and even defiant gesture he shows during his matches, Cilic receives Clarion a few hours after his debut against the Serbian Laslo Djere, 35th in the world. “Rehabilitation wasn’t easy, but I was focused on doing it well. Players always want to be fast and compete again, but for me it was something totally new and I understood that I needed time,” he explains in the press room of the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.

The problems began early last year, when he was playing the tournament in Pune, India, in preparation for the tournament Australian Open. He was number 17 in the world.

Minutes before he took to the court to face Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the third round, an injury to his right knee during warm-ups prevented him from playing that match. It didn’t seem serious, but he was. Since then he has not won any of the four matches he has played and today he is at number 1042 in the world ranking. It hasn’t left the Top 50 since 2008.

―How did you mentally deal with this situation, after so many years of maintaining yourself at a high level?

It wasn’t easy at all. If I’m 100% physically, I don’t care about bad results, I know I can recover. But when I feel like I can’t give my best, when I’m slower than usual, it’s very difficult. At the same time I see it as a new challenge for me. Throughout my career I have remained physically well, I have not had any serious injuries and it is a challenge to recover.

He takes it very calmly. “I always look ahead” He says this as someone who knows that good and bad moments are necessarily part of the journey.

Marin Cilic and the US Open trophy in 2014, the best moment of his career.  (EFE/EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT)Marin Cilic and the US Open trophy in 2014, the best moment of his career. (EFE/EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT)

Marin Cilic was born on September 28, 1988 in the Bosnian city of Medugorje, five days early Juan Martin del Potro in Tandil. They are both exactly 1.98 meters tall and have run a race together, from Juniors until they become professionals. And both, from time to time, mentally travel to New York to remember their happiest moments in tennis: Delpo and his US Open with that historic final against Federer in 2009; Marin, five years later, also defeated the Swiss on his way to ultimate glory at Flushing Meadows.

These coincidences are also reflected in the game: a powerful serve and a guide fearsome; the opposite, it accompanies. This is how the Croatian won his first and only Grand Slam ten years ago. He opened the pitch with a powerful right cross that he requested Kei Nishikori and closed the matches with a purl on the opposite side. And he fell to the ground. Eternal glory.

“I am a Grand Slam champion among all the great tennis players who played in this era and it is absolutely incredible,” he recalls with a smile on his face. The title takes on an even more special value when you see the entire film and not just a scene. It’s that the story of sacrifice that goes through many elite athletes is reflected in his case.

The happiness of Marin Cilic, who has just become US Open champion.  (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)The happiness of Marin Cilic, who has just become US Open champion. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

“A Breaking point My career was moving to Zagreb when I was 14,” he responds when asked about a moment in the past that explains what would happen next. A moment’s pause

There, under the protective wing of his compatriot and national idol Goran Ivanisevic, Cilic’s risky decision to leave his hometown when he was little more than a child made sense. He trained with him, advised him and even introduced him to a former coach of his, Bob Brett. “Without Goran I wouldn’t be here today. He put Croatia on the tennis map. He brought sponsors to our country to support tennis, a key in our beginnings. “It helped me a lot,” praises the 2001 Wimbledon champion. “Little Goran” It wouldn’t take long to get there.

He grew up admiring Ivanisevic himself and enjoyed his first match like any other fan. Davis Cup That Ivan Ljubicic AND Mario Ancic They handed him over to Croatia in 2005. He dreamed of lifting the salad bowl himself and he would have succeeded. He was the protagonist of three finals. In the first, in Zagreb and against Argentina, the dream was a nightmare: with the 2-1 in favor of the series and the 2-0 in the set against his friend Del Potro, he couldn’t. Torre de Tandil recovered and sent that equalizer to the fifth and decisive point, which Federico Delbonis I was about to bat Ivo Karlovic.

― You were part of one of the happiest moments for Argentine tennis, the 2016 Davis Cup final. What is your version of that story? How hard was that defeat for you?

Like I said, I can’t wait. I played ten or fifteen times against Juan Martín and they were always battles. I gave it my all, I played excellent tennis and, in the end, Argentina were better on that last day, it must be said. It was probably the last chance for them to win the Davis Cup, with Juan Martín suffering greatly due to injuries. They deserved to win. That day I was sad, but calm.

Del Potro and Cilic have played 13 times at ATP level, with 11 wins for the Argentine.  Photo: Germán García Adrasti / Special Correspondent. Del Potro and Cilic have played 13 times at ATP level, with 11 wins for the Argentine. Photo: Germán García Adrasti / Special Correspondent.

― Did you feel relief when they finally managed to win the Davis Cup two years later, in 2018?

The team said, ‘Well, let’s give ourselves another chance to try to win. We did a fantastic double and then me and Coric’. There was no sense of revenge or obligation to win. We were simply there to try to do our best. We played incredible tennis in Lille. Coric and I didn’t lose serve once all weekend against France and our dream came true.

Cilic won 5 of the 7 matches played in the 2018 Davis Cup. Photo: Yoan Valata/EFE/EPACilic won 5 of the 7 matches played in the 2018 Davis Cup. Photo: Yoan Valata/EFE/EPA

In that 2018 Marin Cilic reached the final of Australian Open, who he lost in five sets against Roger Federer, and reached third place in the rankings, his best historical position. He came from being a finalist of Wimbledon of the previous season, also falling into the definition of the Swiss. I was at superior. No goal was too ambitious for him at that time. Today your goals are different.

“Today it is difficult to set clear goals because it is as if you see with only one eye. I’m not sure how my body will react, I don’t know if I’ll be able to be solid all year. That’s why, right now, I’ll go step by step. I can’t look too far ahead because I know that the competition is challenging and that there are a lot of young players who are playing fantastically. My goal is to try to raise my level as high as possible,” she says carefully.

And the beginning of his recovery attempt will begin this week, in Buenos Aires.

Source: Clarin

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