BRISBANE: Marin Cilic played just his third match in the past five months on Wednesday when took down 2013 Brisbane International finalist Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-5 at Pat Rafter Arena on Wednesday. The Croat was a very happy man, saying that while it’s his same career, it’s new start after what he called the worst period of his life in 2013 when he was banned for allegedly doping.
The former top 10er Cilic was banned for nine months by an independent tribunal in September after testing positive for the stimulant nikethamide at the Munich Open in May, but his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was successful and his suspension was cut to four months. He chose not to play post Wimbledon in order to give is lawyers time to prepare and to rack up time served. One his appeal was okayed, he managed to get in two matches at the Paris Bercy Masters. But that was it for the rest of 2013 as his ranking was too low to get into the ATP World Finals.
The 25 year old enters the 2014 ranked No. 37 with an outside shot of being seeded at the Australian Open. Some folks feel bad for him as they believe his explanation that he did not purposely ingest the nikethamide is the truth. Others may still think he cheated. But whatever the case, he does have a new lease on life and that now includes the full time coaching help of former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, whom he has known since he’s been a kid.
“Feels still the same career, but feels like a new beginning for me,” he said. “Just with the new team and everything, I’m thinking about everything around myself in a different perspective. I had a lot time to think about everything and time to work. I improved my serve. That was something special from Goran. We worked a lot on the serve during the off‑season. I feel it’s in really good place and it could help me to play much better, especially against top players. So overall, of course I’m excited to be in the season and to play, to be back on the tour after all that misery last year.”
Despite being 6-feet-6, a pretty good mover for his size and a man who can crack it from the back court, Cilic he has never become a major threat to the elite, while a guy of the identical height with weapons that are not much bigger, Juan Martin Del Potro, has.
Cilic owns nine career titles, all at the ATP 250 level. He has never reached the final of Master Series, but back in 2010 when he advanced to his first Grand Slam SF at Australian Open (upending Andy Roddick before going down to Andy Murray) and cracked the Top 10, it sure looked like he was ready to make a push.
But he did not. In 2011, he went 1-8 vs. Top 10 opponents. In 2012, he posted the same mark against the top 10. He was sliding backward
“I felt that I lost my way a bit after ,” he said. “ I was struggling couple seasons. 2011, 2012 I was bit better, but still not at the right place with the game. I was all the time searching myself. Overall looking at the seasons, the performances I wanted to have. In couple tournaments I had great results, but overall I was not too satisfied with it, especially after that great success in Australia and also four, five months before Australian Open where I played pretty good tennis. So I think now when I went through it, I felt what I need to do. I think I took that as a lesson. Next time I hope that I’m going to be there I know how to deal in that kind of situation.”
In 2013, Cilic was essentially mediocre. He lost a five setter to Andrea Seppi in the third round of the Australian Open, but he did avenge that loss in a Davis Cup win over Italy. He won the Zagreb title , but the field was spotty. At the spring Masters Series he went down to Raonic (Indian Wells), Murray (Miami), Gasquet (Monte Carlo), Madrid (Andujar) and Anderson (Rome). At Roland Garros he fell to Victor Troicki. Oh and let’s not forget what occurred in Munich when he tested positive- he lost to countryman Ivan Dodig on clay.
On grass he briefly revived. At Queens he took down Dodig, Feliciano Lopez. Tomas Berdych and Lleyton Hewitt and before falling to Murray. At Wimbledon, he claimed that a knee injury forced him out the competition prior to his second round match, even though he knew he was going to be suspended. He still sticks by that story.
Due to the long break, he feels physically refreshed now which is good for any player. Against Dimitrov, he showed off a huge serve and consistent serve, a stroke that has been very sporadic since 2010. His groundstrokes were strong and had depth and he was competent around the net.
Ivanisevic had one of the best serves of all time and while he and Cilic’s motions are totally different, he managed to convince his student that his motion was too complicated. He also has given him a set of broad shoulder to lean on
“To simplify. Throw the ball in the air and hit it<’ Cilic said of the left handers advice to him. “ For me before, I was a lot thinking about the serve. To be more relaxed, nothing unusual. But we worked a lot on it, and it seems that it fit in the right place.
Goran showed me already a lot of things. I feel my game is improving. Goran say all the things that he went through many more times than I did already in my career he can show me and tell me in front, Okay, be careful of this. He’s going to be one step ahead of me in some kind of situations.”
The Brisbane International may only have a 28 draw but already, in the WTA First Premier level event of 2014, it has seen four causalities. Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova became the third and fourth players to pull out, Lisicki with gastrointestinal illness and Pavlyuchenkova with a left thigh injury. They Ashleigh Barty and Caroline Wozniacki, who pulled out earlier in the week.
Match of the Day
Britain’s Ross Hutchins, who battled cancer last year, returned the tour and he and his partner, Colin Fleming, played very respectably in a 0-6, 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak) loss to Dimitrov and Jeremy Chardy.
What to Watch for, Thursday
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both open play during the day session, with the Russian going up against the heavy-hitting Kaia Kanepi, and then the American taking on the dangerous Dominica Cibulkova. Should both Williams and Sharapova win, they will contest their 17th match. However, it is not a great rivalry by any stretch as Williams owns a 14-2 edge and Sharapova has not beaten her since 2004, although she did play Williams tough the last time they faced off in the 2013 Roland Garros final.