Marin Cilic has a keen awareness of the history of the Wimbledon Championships. His former coach, Goran Ivanisevic, made headlines for Croatia by winning Wimbledon in 2001 and Cilic can vividly recall every detail.
“Everyone knows where they were when Goran played,” said Cilic. “I was in a tennis summer camp, close to my hometown. We watched like a big group of children. It was a big celebration. I was still a kid, not even 13 years old. I was just enjoying playing tennis.”
Cilic is playing well enough to produce similar memories for kids in Croatia. He’s won more grass-court matches than anyone on tour this season, reaching the semi-finals at the Ricoh Open and finishing runner-up at the Aegon Championships (l. Lopez) prior to his Wimbledon run. His serve has also arguably been the strongest shot of the tournament. Cilic has hit 127 aces this fortnight and routinely used first-serves to set up forehand winners.
He credited small changes he made during the clay-court season with coach Jonas Bjorkman to his big results over the past few months. Cilic has gone 23-6 since April and prevailed on clay this April in Istanbul (d. Raonic).
“It’s not just one detail. It is the work and process that goes on for weeks,” said Cilic. “I made little changes with my own team, in the training routine, preparations for matches. I believe with that consistency in the training program and in the matches, it helped me to be a little bit more stronger mentally.
“I was feeling that I could depend a lot on my own game. When I had to produce good tennis, I was producing it,” he added. “That was obviously giving me a lot of confidence.”
Wimbledon Final Preview: Federer vs. Cilic
Cilic trails Federer 1-6 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head Series, but his lone win was one of the most memorable in his career. The Croatian produced a flawless performance in the 2014 US Open semi-finals to defeat Federer in straight sets and eventually win to his maiden Grand Slam title. Federer reflected on Friday that the match was one of the finest performances anyone has put in against him.
Some of Cilic’s most painful losses have also come against Federer, though. He failed to convert on three match points against the Swiss star in their 2016 Wimbledon quarter-final and ultimately lost in five sets. Although it was a difficult defeat to swallow, Cilic said the experience made him a better player.
“Obviously it’s tough when you’re losing, but the losses are giving you a better picture, a clearer picture, compared to when you are winning. When you are winning, everything is great. You don’t look too much on the bad stuff,” said Cilic. “I’ve matured a little bit more in dealing with losses, especially on a big stage and in big tournaments. I feel just taking small details out of those matches have helped me to become better and use them in situations when I see them again.”
Utilising those past experiences have helped Cilic break past quarter-final finishes at Wimbledon in the past three years and into his second Grand Slam final. Although he’s already lifted one Slam trophy before, he said defeating Federer on Sunday would be the greatest moment of his career.
“It would absolutely mean the world to me,” said Cilic. “When I won the US Open, it opened so many possibilities in my mind for the rest of my career. To be able to do it again would mean even more because I know how much it meant for me to win that first one. It would be a dream come true to win Wimbledon.”