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Cilic Inspired By Ivanisevic's Influence

Delray Beach, U.S.A.

Cilic© Henk KosterMarin Cilic has improved technically and physically in 2014.

Former World No. 9 Marin Cilic turned to his childhood hero late last year in order to transform his game. Together, they are plotting Cilic's return to the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

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Goran Ivanisevic was arguably the most devastating server in ATP World Tour history. He cradled each tennis ball, in his right hand, like it was a new born baby, prior to firing down 10,183 aces in 766 tour-level matches over the course of his career. Now, aged 42, Ivanisevic is using his champion's mind to nurture the career of his fellow Croatian, Marin Cilic.

It is no coincidence that Cilic has had a standout February. His service motion and movement around the court has greater fluidity; he is mentally stronger and more aggressive, while he has showcased significant improvements in his strength and fitness levels. Under Ivanisevic’s guidance, on a full-time basis, memories of the tennis he played at a career-high No. 9 in the Emirates ATP Rankings - attained on 22 February 2010 - are resurfacing.

“Goran always relaxed when he hit his serve,” Cilic recently told ATPWorldTour.com in Rotterdam. “We have simplified everything and it has made me more relaxed on the court.” 

Ivanisevic, who has known Cilic for 11 years, explained to ATPWorldTour.com in Delray Beach that, “Over the past couple of years he was not improving his game. He was not getting anywhere. He was playing well, but not well enough to beat the top guys. He is a tall guy, so he needed to be more aggressive.

“At 198 centimetres, he had a shaky serve. We have worked a lot. He is now hitting two aces per game and is in the top two aces leaders on tour this season. He has never been up there before. He is getting a lot more free points on his serve, not necessarily aces, but he is getting short and easier balls to hit in response to returns. His second serve has always been good, but he has improved his first serve percentage.”

CilicCilic has taken heed of Ivanisevic’s advice. So far in 2014, he has struck more aces than any other player this year – 247 aces in his 22 matches,according to ATP MatchFacts – and has moved up from No. 37 to No. 25 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on the back of reaching three straight ATP World Tour finals at the PBZ Zagreb Indoors (d. Haas), the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament (l. to Berdych) and the Delray Beach Open by The Venetian® Las Vegas (d. Anderson). “It was great for his confidence, as he did it himself,” said Ivanisevic.

“I feel very confident in my game now, but there is still room for improvement,” said Cilic. “We also worked a lot on the first ball and volleying, which is where I needed to make the biggest improvement. I just wasn’t playing as offensively as I could over the past few years, meaning I wasn’t keeping points short or putting the other guy under extreme pressure.”

CILIC'S SERVING IMPROVEMENT
Through the first two months of the season, Marin Cilic is averaging a career-high 11.2 aces per match and he's also at a career-best 81 per cent in first serve points won, which ranks No. 4 on the ATP World Tour this season. Here is a look at his year-by-year totals:

Year
Aces (Avg.)
1st Serve Pct.
1st Serve Pts. Won
2nd Serve Pts. Won
Service Games
Break Pts. Saved
2014
247 (11.2)
56%
81%
51%
87%
66%
2013
301 (8.4)
56%
76%
56%
84%
66%
2012
353 (6.3)
55%
72%
53%
81%
59%
2011
436 (6.6)
54%
76%
54%
83%
62%
2010
423 (7.2)
57%
74%
53%
84%
69%
2009
510 (7.8)
56%
75%
54%
84%
65%
2008
558 (9.1)
54%
75%
53%
83%
63%
2007
168 (7.0)
53%
74%
48%
77%
60%

Visit ATP MatchFacts Section

Statistical assistance provided by Graham Edgar and Greg Sharko

Ivanisevic knows that Cilic must improve his 16-41 record against the Top 10 if he is to re-establish his position in the ATP World Tour elite. “We have tried to work on keeping the points short,” admitted Ivanisevic, who now competes on the ATP Champions Tour. “He feels comfortable at the back, but against the top guys you cannot rally forever against them. You have to step in and hit winners.”

Cilic“I think I can break into the Top 20 very soon,” said Cilic. "I feel my game is in a good place. I have more weapons and security in my serve. That means that when I come up against the big names, I have more confidence that I will be able to deliver. Being aggressive comes naturally to me. Certainly adding extra power to my serve has given me more options on the first ball off the return. I can therefore take more risks and put pressure on the opponent.”

With two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments on the horizon next month, at the BNP Paribas Open and Sony Open Tennis, Cilic and Ivanisevic are training hard in Los Angeles this week ahead of a key period in the ATP World Tour calendar. “He is a good listener, which is important in tennis,” said Ivanisevic. “He can practise for five hours or 30 minutes. I have to give a lot of credit to Bob [Brett], because Bob instilled a work ethic. He has done a lot of running and cycling, but especially weights.” Cilic worked with Brett from 2004 until last year. Today, Cilic and Ivanisevic will get their NBA basketball fix when LA Clippers host the Houston Rockets.

Cilic is happy he joined forces with Ivanisevic. “Goran is definitely the right guy to help me,” he said. “He was my childhood hero, but importantly he was in the Top 10 for many years, reached a number of Grand Slam finals and knows what I need to improve on.”

Four-time Grand Slam finalist Ivanisevic is certain that if Cilic is to return to the Top 10, he must improve on his performances at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments and the four Grand Slam championships.

Ivanisevic“He needs to believe,” said Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion. “I think he does now and he is capable of beating anybody. I cannot tell him to change his tactics. He is alone on the court. I can talk to him for five hours about tactics, but on the court he needs to figure it out himself. Now I have told him he has nothing to defend for seven months, so I hope he does well at the three Grand Slams and nine [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000s. He is looking good and he is enjoying himself on the court.”

Having played at the four Grand Slam championships over the past eight years, Cilic has reached the 2010 Australian Open semi-finals and the 2009 and 2012 US Open quarter-finals. He has made six runs to ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-finals.

Ivanisevic admitted, “He is too good a player not to be beating the top guys. He isn’t injured; he is fit and is mentally stronger. His confidence has returned and he is too good not to be in the Top 10. He is serving better now and he is moving better now. I think he should be even more aggressive. He needs to put this in the mind; he has to belief in every shot he is making. So when he starts to believe 100 per cent, he can achieve great things."

“Our main goal is to be Top 10 by the end of the year.” Cilic last spent his ninth week in the Top 10 on 12 April 2010.

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Marin Cilic, Goran Ivanisevic

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