Guru Goran gives Marin Cilic game for grass
World No 12 is being mentored by boyhood idol Ivanisevic and, at 21, is set to come of age at Wimbledon.
Sunday 13 June 2010
He played the best tennis of his life at the Australian Open in January, has subsequently failed to recapture his best form and will prepare for the start of Wimbledon in eight days' time having lost last week in the third round at Queen's Club to a significantly lower-ranked opponent.
Marin Cilic, beaten at the Aegon Championships by Michael Llodra, has much in common with Andy Murray, whose defeat by Mardy Fish left the Scot searching for his first tournament victory of the year.
At least Cilic has won once since Australia, the 21-year-old Croatian having successfully defended his title in Zagreb the week after he lost to Murray in the semi-finals in Melbourne, which was his best Grand Slam performance to date. Like the world No 4, however, Cilic's subsequent results have been, at best, modest. In five Masters Series tournaments this year, he has failed to go beyond the last 16, which was the stage he reached at the French Open before losing in straight sets to Robin Soderling.
As he prepares for Wimbledon, nevertheless, Cilic can at least turn to a man who knows what it takes to win at the All England Club. Goran Ivanisevic, the Wimbledon champion in 2001, has been working on a part-time basis with his fellow countryman since the start of the year. "I've been in contact with him over the last couple of days and he's always there, available to help me," Cilic said in the wake of his defeat at Queen's Club.
Cilic, who is coached by Bob Brett at the Australian's academy in San Remo, is the youngest player in the world's top 100. If his form over the last four months has been moderate, he is still regarded as one of the game's outstanding prospects. The world No 12 has performed well on grass in the past and would love nothing better than to emulate the achievement of his boyhood idol.
When Ivanisevic beat Pat Rafter on "People's Monday" at Wimbledon, Cilic was just 12 years old. "I remember watching it on TV," he said. "I was at a summer tennis camp with 15 or 20 other kids. We made sure we finished our practice session in time so we could watch the final. The streets all over Croatia were empty that day. When he came back to Split after winning, 200,000 people came out to welcome him.
"He was the idol for me, as he was for any kid playing tennis in Croatia, and Wimbledon was always the tournament I grew up wanting to win. Goran made one semi at the US Open, but generally he never did as well elsewhere as he did at Wimbledon. When he was playing at Wimbledon his matches were always shown on TV. We didn't have any other guys as good as him, so Wimbledon was always the top of the mountain for me."
Cilic was 15 when he first met Ivanisevic. The former world No 2 was quickly impressed and recommended him to Brett, his former coach. They stayed in touch and at the end of last year Ivanisevic agreed to start working with Brett's protégé on an informal basis.
At 6ft 6in, Cilic is two inches taller than Ivanisevic, who believes his fellow countryman can make better use of his height advantage. "We've worked a lot on the first serve," Cilic said. "The fact that Goran speaks Croatian helps, but he can also see some things that others can't. He went through a lot of matches like I'm playing now. He knows what it feels like to be a player. He can pass on that experience to me. And of course he can be very direct in what he says, which is good when it comes to pointing me in the right way."
Modest, thoughtful and polite, Cilic thinks he has "a long way to go" before he wins a Grand Slam title. "I know now, from what happened to me in Australia, how much effort it took to get to the semi-finals," he said. "I would say that reaching the semis is only halfway towards winning a Grand Slam."
Although he grew up playing on clay and won the boys' title at Roland Garros, Cilic believes that grass suits his game better. On his first appearance at Queen's three years ago, he shocked Tim Henman in the first round and 12 months later he reached the last 16 at Wimbledon. Last year he went out in the third round to Tommy Haas after a five-set thriller that lasted nearly four-and-a-half hours.
How does he feel his Wimbledon preparations are going this year? "I have to say I'd be happier if I'd won a couple more matches, but this was my first tournament on grass this year," he said. "I'll stay in London until Wimbledon, so that will give me plenty of time to practise."
When Wimbledon is over, Cilic will have the chance to enjoy a rare return to his family's home in Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The small town might one day become famous for producing a Grand Slam champion, but for the moment it is best known as a place of pilgrimage. Medjugorje has attracted visitors – up to a million every year – ever since six Croatians in the town reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1981.
Cilic, who was brought up in a church-going family, has met some of those who witnessed the apparitions and believes their stories. "Visitors are always going to their homes, asking them this and that, and they never turn people away," he said. "When you hear them talk you can sense that there is something inside driving them."
To Cilic, Medjugorje is a place with restorative powers. "My family all live in Medjugorje and when I need some time to rest, to get away from everything, I go there," he said. "I don't get there too often, but I try to go every three or four months. It's a quiet place and you find your peace there. It's a long way from the world of tennis, so it's a good place to recharge your batteries."
Querrey angles to land first grass title by finding the right lines against Fish
Sam Querrey has often been tipped as a potential grass-court champion, and the world No 23 will today have the chance to win his first title on the surface. Querrey beat Germany's Rainer Schüttler 6-7 7-5 6-3 yesterday in the semi-finals of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club. In this afternoon's final he will face his fellow American Mardy Fish (below right), a 6-3 6-4 winner over Spain's Feliciano Lopez.
At 6ft 6in and more than 14st, the 22-year-old Querrey packs a big punch in both his serve and his forehand. He has won only two matches in three appearances at Wimbledon, but he reached the final of a grass-court event in Newport, Rhode Island, and believes he is playing better on the surface every year.
Schüttler, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, proved a dogged opponent and took the first-set tie-break, after a double fault by Querrey at 9-9. The American took the second set by breaking at 5-6, while an early break in the third set proved decisive.
Fish, who beat Andy Murray in the third round, had fewer problems against Lopez, who was unable to raise his game to the level he had found to beat Rafael Nadal. Fish, the 28-year-old world No 90, is another player who prefers fast courts and has twice lost in grass-court finals, in Halle and Nottingham.
Roger Federer plays Lleyton Hewitt in this afternoon's final in Halle. In yesterday's semi-finals, Federer beat Philipp Petzschner 7-6 6-4, while Hewitt beat another German, Benjamin Becker, 6-7 7-6 6-2. Hewitt has beaten Federer seven times in his career but has lost their past 15 matches.
Maria Sharapova and Li Na will meet in today's final of the Aegon Classic in Birmingham. Sharapova ended the American qualifier Alison Riske's excellent run, while Li, the top seed, beat Aravane Rezai.
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