Cilic: "I Always Feel Good" In Tokyo

Croatian has a 9-5 record in the Japanese city

When Marin Cilic was 17 years old, he traveled to Japan for the first time to compete at a junior tournament in Osaka. The Croatian remembers beating Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the final in front of 4,000 people, a massive crowd for a player that age.

“That was something for a junior tournament,” Cilic said, cracking a smile, on Sunday. “I still have nice memories from there and even when I was playing here for the first time in Tokyo in the qualifying in 2006, it was a great experience. I’ve always enjoyed coming back, and I always have a nice connection with Japanese culture.”

Cilic will look to channel that connection into his first title at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018, where he is the top seed. The World No. 6 has already immersed himself in the city, going to a steakhouse in Roppongi — a district in Tokyo — to celebrate his 30th birthday, which was on Friday.

“The culture here is something that I am always looking forward to come back to. The Japanese crowd is always so respectful. They love me here. They always give me good support, even going back a lot of years in the past,” Cilic said. “I enjoy being here. Tokyo is one of the nicest cities in the world, a lot of things to see as well, a lot of things to experience. Japanese culture is so historical and I always feel good here, from day one to the last day.”

Perhaps that is what has allowed Cilic to perform at a top level in Tokyo over the years. He has made the semi-finals the last two seasons, and he also advanced to the quarter-finals in 2015.

“The last couple of years were quite successful,” Cilic said. “I haven’t made it to the last step of the tournament. But last year, playing the semis was still a very good result and hopefully this year I can go one or two steps further. That would be a great result. [I’m] still hoping that I can play well. Again this year it’s a great field of players. It’s going to be a very interesting tournament and we’ll see how it’s going to unfold.”

Cilic arrives in Japan in good form, reaching the last eight at six of his past seven events. Currently in sixth position in the ATP Race To London, the Croatian is also in a good spot to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth time, and for the third year in a row.

“It’s going to be an interesting end of the year,” Cilic said. “My goal, as in the beginning of the year, is to try to finish in the Top 5 [of the ATP Rankings] at the end of the season and still again hoping that I can make the [Nitto ATP] Finals for the fourth time. Even though it’s going to be a busy schedule, I’m trying to focus on taking it step by step, week by week, trying not to look too much in front.”

That starts with focusing on his first match in Tokyo, where he opens against German Jan-Lennard Struff.

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