Recent Success & Experience: A Winning London Formula For Cilic?
Marin Cilic is no longer the fresh face at the Nitto ATP Finals. He’s not the out-of-the-blue Grand Slam champion trying to find his footing. He’s not the seventh seed who barely squeaked in, entering the tournament with a 12-46 record against the field.
The Croatian is the experienced world No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, appearing at The 02 for the third time and heading into the year-end finale playing some of the best tennis of his life.
The 29-year-old is ready to make his mark in London.
“The year has been extremely consistent for me. I played great tennis and found the key in my own game to play at a good level almost every single week,” Cilic said. “I had a lot of victories in the last six, seven months that have given me good confidence and obviously a good belief when I’m playing the top guys, which is very important here.”
On the surface, earning the fifth seed may not be jaw-dropping. But Cilic skipped the whole North American hard-court swing between Wimbledon and the US Open to recover from an adductor injury. The Croatian had played both ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Cincinnati and Canada each year since 2014, leaving a possible 2,000 points on the table.
Yet Cilic bounced back after the US Open, advancing to the semi-finals at three of the four tournaments he played (Tokyo, Shanghai, Basel) before finishing his regular season off with a quarter-final showing in Paris. Reaching his second Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and winning the title in Istanbul doesn’t hurt the mindset, either.
“Overall I think it’s just slightly different, my mental approach this year than the previous two years that I was playing,” Cilic said. “I feel a little bit more confident. Obviously experience helps, I’ve already played twice here. I believe that I’m a bit more confident and I have good belief that I will deliver good tennis. I’m not putting myself under too much stress to have big expectations. I’m just trying to play day by day and use that to my own advantage.”
Playing in the year-end finale is now approaching normal for Cilic — at least more normal than it is for a majority of the field. The Croatian is one of three players in London competing in the event for at least the third time. The other two: No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Roger Federer.
“When I played the first time it was quite tricky. I had a big victory at the US Open and then after that I was struggling a little bit with my shoulder injury so I wasn’t playing much,” Cilic said. “It was a little bit of a different expectation for me. I didn’t know how I’m going to perform and also I felt just maybe mentally a little bit drained from that big emotional victory.”
While the big-hitting right-hander has not had the most success at the Nitto ATP Finals — he earned his first win in two appearances in his final match of round-robin play last year (d. Nishikori) — he knows what the experience is like and how to approach it. Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jack Sock are all making their debuts, while David Goffin appeared in one match last season as an alternate.
“There are always a few guys who are playing here for the first time,” Cilic said. “So that can be another advantage for me.”
But what it all comes down to is that this is another opportunity for Cilic. He can prove that he doesn’t just belong here, but that he can excel among the best, as well. While the Croatian climbed to a career-high of No. 4 in the world last month, he can realistically move up to No. 3 with a strong performance in the final tournament of the year.
“It’s a very important tournament for me,” Cilic said. “Even though it’s the end of the year, there’s a lot of points at stake and it could move me up the ranking or down the ranking so hopefully I can play quite well.”