Playing in his first career Grand Slam final, Marin Cilic took home the US Open title thrashing Kei Nishikori 63, 63, 63 today in the final. The 25-year-old Cilic becomes the first Croatian to win a Slam since his coach won Wimbledon in 2001.
Cilic ended the event winning his last 10 sets including straight set victories over Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer. The 6-foot-6 Cilic also moves to No. 9 into the next ATP rankings, and he’ll also qualify for the ATP London finals at the end of the year.
Cilic, who didn’t even play the US Open a year ago while he was sitting out for a doping ban, met the press.
Q. First of all, congratulations. Remarkable run. If you can just put into context what this means to you, you know, take into context where you were last year, what you have been able to accomplish this year and being a Grand Slam champion all in one.
MARIN CILIC: I mean, seems completely unreal to be called Grand Slam champion. I was dreaming about this all my life, and suddenly last four, five days everything started to change. And with my tennis especially. I started to play absolutely unbelievable starting with the fifth set with Simon. After that I had unbelievable run of the matches against these top guys. And what it means to me, it means everything. It’s just a huge accomplishment and huge moment for myself and for my team and for everybody around me who was with me all these years supporting me, believing in me and never giving up. So this is just the peak of the world.
Q. Could this have happened maybe without the absence from tennis last year? The work you put in maybe give you a renewed perspective on the importance of the game?
MARIN CILIC: Sorry?
Q. With the absence from tennis last year, do you think that was in a way a steppingstone to you, getting your game to the level? That it is, having the time to work on your game, but also a renewed perspective on importance of the game to you?
MARIN CILIC: I felt the first part that helped me was the mental toughness, being much stronger and I was much tougher with myself on the tennis court when I was practicing and also when I was playing matches. The other part was enjoying much more on the court before in these last several years since I had really good success in 2010. Then I started to slip a little bit and I was not enjoying so much on the court. I was always looking for the result, hoping it’s gonna come back. It was not working. So things changed around and flipped it over with trying to enjoy on the court and enjoy every moment, which helped me to be much more relaxed. I feel that was the most important part for my game.
Q. When you were playing final, my Croatian friends from Dubrovnik knew that I work for TV and they were telling me please scream (in Croatian.) When you won, I asked my friends, I’m going to press conference now. I’m going to ask him. Tell me what you want me to ask him. They’re like, just tell him that he’s our hero, that all Dubrovnik, all Croatia were just cheering for him. You’re going to go back. What do you feel? What can you tell to your Croatian friends because you made them so proud today?
MARIN CILIC: (Phone ringing.)
THE MODERATOR: They’re calling right now.
MARIN CILIC: I spoke with a couple of people, with my family at home, with my godfather in Zagreb. He told me that I cannot imagine how it is like everybody celebrating. Everybody was glued to the TVs. He was like, I mean, World Cup atmosphere all over Croatia. So for me the message would be to everybody big, big thank you for all the support and believing in me. That definitely made me stronger, made me more hungry to win. I think it’s a special day for me, but extremely special day for all of Croatia.
Q. Any idea this was possible when you landed in New York? Did you have to change your flight home and hotel booking?
MARIN CILIC: No, no, I mean, everything was planned to stay, that we leave on Tuesday. (Phone ringing.) Sorry. Oh, my God. (Laughter.) Yeah, everything was planned to leave Tuesday, but sort of I was not hoping. I mean, I was hoping, but I felt it was really far for me. You know, when you start a tournament you sort of win first match, second match, and you are playing well but you’re not playing against top guys. Sort of you don’t know what to expect, how you’re going to deal with the pressure. I mean, overall with all these last three players or four players that I played against I had losing record. So even coming into any of those matches was, you know, trying to win and not sort of knowing that I’m going to do it. Considering everything, I mean, it’s a miracle.
Q. At what point did you really start working intensively with Goran? Because the reports vary from June to November. And then in retrospect, did you feel that not being able to play for four months helped you change your game and evaluate your game?
MARIN CILIC: With Goran we started to work from day one very, very intensively and very hard.
Q. No, but what month?
MARIN CILIC: We started to work September 1st. Since then until like sort of end of the year we were working very, very hard. Goran in his day was I feel, and by most of the guys were saying, he was athletically and physically best player in shape. And he was absolutely ready for everything. We worked a lot on that. I felt that helped me to gain some, you know, extra steps in my game. With everything, that helped me to become better.
Q. You gave a terrific, emotional talk right after the final, the post-match. The address was: work hard; good things will come. How hard was it? You seem to be a very caring guy. You have feelings. How hard was it to not break down at that point? Work hard and good things will pay off. It was very motivational.
MARIN CILIC: Definitely. That’s what I felt in last several years. I was swirling around ranking top 20, 25, 15 and things were some days going well, some not. You are a lot of the time up and down. It’s, I feel, very inspirational for all the other guys out there who are, you know, working and sometimes losing motivation, having trouble to dig deep and to believe in the achievements. I would definitely feel much stronger if I would see somebody like me accomplish things like this. It sort of came out of nowhere for me. Few things clicked in just right before tournament sort of. I felt great about them, and match after match I played really good tennis. These last three matches, everything was working perfectly.
Q. Before the trophy ceremony you were trying to call somebody. Who were you texting with? Was it a guy, or gal who took a call from a Grand Slam champion?
MARIN CILIC: Well, the reception wasn’t there. I called — I wanted to call my family back home. Only my brother, my younger brother was here. He’s in college. He just arrived to college to U.S., so he was able to come. And at home was huge celebration. I mean, they were already celebrating after quarterfinal and having huge, huge — fun and huge party. I was just trying to talk with them to say thank you for all the support and for, you know, everything they did for me.
Q. So it’s not working, the network?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, no, I didn’t have time then, and I called them after.
Q. For so many years, just a few players dominated the majors. What do you think this US Open will mean not just for your future but for men’s tennis’ future?
MARIN CILIC: In one way, I mean, a lot of guys are saying people would like to watch top four guys much more to extend their streak at the top and to extend their run at the Grand Slams, because, I mean, they attract the most, the fans and the TV, and everybody else. But sort of one day definitely they gonna go out and there’s gonna be a need for somebody else. I feel this time, this year — I mean, I think the guys from second line were a bit lucky because Andy Murray was also having trouble with his back; Wawrinka was up and down with his tennis after Australia; few other players were not playing at the best all the time. And Rafa is not here. So that opened a little bit the gate for everybody else. I feel it’s gonna definitely be much bigger competition from next year. I feel the guys at the top are gonna pull the other guys, too. I think the game of tennis is definitely going to evolve much more.
Q. In the third set, about fifth or sixth game, you had a very tough service game. Two break points; missed a few forehand returns. Looked like you were a little bit nervous at that point. Seemed like it could have turned around there. You got through it. How did that happen?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, that was critical game definitely for the whole match to be able to be ahead. I was, at the end, playing through the wind. It was a bit tougher to, you know, just finish the point with a serve. The crowd got themselves going. They wanted to extend the match, for sure, to root for, Kei which is absolutely normal. When I came on that side on 4-1, I was just hoping to win one of the two games. Either to break his serve or to win my game. I felt that when I’m going to be at the end with the wind I’m going to definitely win one game, and that’s going to be enough. Yeah, it was very tense moment, and lucky that I got through those couple break points.
Q. (Regarding Goran’s sense of humor.) Did he ever tell you that no Croatian player lost a slam final on a Monday? (Laughter.)
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, we were mentioning that. They were saying 13 years past since he won his Wimbledon title and that happened on Monday, and now none of the Croatians can lose at the final on Monday.
Q. And then another thing about Croatian tennis, how do you explain? You win this slam, Ivanisevic, Wimbledon, Ljubicic No. 3 in the world, you won Davis Cup, Karlovic top 15. It’s a small country yours. You don’t have that much long, long, long tradition. How do you explain it? Is tennis a big thing? Not as big as basketball or soccer.
MARIN CILIC: I feel in Croatia most of the guys who play sport, doesn’t matter which sport, everybody is very, very emotional and emotional to win, emotional when they lose. The small group that are going through, the ones that are extremely emotional and being able to control it and also not to accept the loss and to fight through, I feel that this is, you know, what makes Croatians good. It’s no other explanation. We don’t have good tennis schools. We don’t have too long of a tradition, as you said. We don’t have tennis centers like in bigger countries, France, Spain, that year after year the young ones are going through. Just, you know, every several years some youngster just comes up out of nowhere and he’s playing great tennis, and I feel that that’s the most important part that is in every one of us.
Q. You talk about the joy that Goran gave you. Some of us have been around long enough to cover him. What kind of a goofy guy he can be? Can you give us an example of the kind of things he did goosing you up a bit over the years?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, I mean, we all know how Goran is emotional on the court, but that’s only when he’s playing. That’s his desire to win, and difficult to control the emotions. But sort of when he’s on the practice court, when he’s with me, he’s always really, really calm or nervous when he’s watching. He brought just, in the team, very relaxed atmosphere, besides extremely huge knowledge. The help he brought to me, I feel that the fun is the best spice of everything, that I think collects all the other pieces together. I mean, every day with him is extremely fun.
Q. What did he do to make it fun? Tell us a story.
MARIN CILIC: Nothing, nothing special. Just relaxed. He’s relaxed on the court, enjoying, and always with him some fun comments about anything.
Q. First of all, about Goran, you said the other day it was the little things all together. Could you just point out a few of the little things he helped you with? And you also said that since the last set against Simon you had just been playing unbelievable. Obviously you have been so forceful, so incredible. Why do you think you kicked into that A+ game?
MARIN CILIC: Well, at the beginning when we started to work, we sat together and Goran told me that my game and my tennis has to be aggressive tennis. I can’t play too much tactically, because most of the times before I was dealing too much with the tactics against players and not focusing on my game. It was always in a bad ratio. It was more thinking about tactics, like 70%, and thinking about my game, to do those things well in a smaller percentage. Then we started to work together. It wasn’t easy to change my perspective and to change completely my mindset. It took definitely, you know, even five, six months of the tournaments to be able to sink that into me and that I know on the court that’s the right way for me to play. That was the most difficult part. But from all the other parts, definitely serve has improved enormously, and then everything else has followed. Because I was much more pushing myself to play the way of the game I need to play. Week after week, I mean, you have to get better in what you do.
Q. And then since the Simon match…
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, since Simon, I mean, over there in that match, as I was mentioning, was very difficult conditions. Very humid. I felt that over there in mental part I didn’t fall back like I did a little bit in Wimbledon against Novak after being up two sets to one, and I was very focused on that. That I have to keep — you know, to have conviction in my shots and to have strong determination that I don’t back off of my game. Since that moment, I was playing that way until the end of the tournament.
Q. How much last year at this time were you following or watching the US Open, including the final?
MARIN CILIC: I watched actually a lot of the matches. Of course you want to watch the guys and maybe you’re gonna catch a few tactical things you see. I felt that Rafa was playing amazing tennis against Novak and it was really good tournament. Wawrinka also made sort of a breakthrough beating Murray. I was involved in tennis because I was training every day either physically or tennis, and I didn’t let my mind go away because I was hoping to return any day.
Q. And did you have any thoughts about a year from now?
MARIN CILIC: No. I was hoping just to come back on the tour and that would be the biggest joy in my life, definitely.
Q. You are with an executive club. Do you remember what you do July 9, 2001, when Goran won his Wimbledon title? Did you watch anyway the game, how he impressed you, and what was your feeling at that time?
MARIN CILIC: It’s most common question in Croatia probably. (Laughter). I mean, not to say it’s a bad question. It’s just that any Croatian knows where he was at that time because he was it was such a huge moment in Croatia, hoping that Goran is going to win it finally after so many years. It was sort of late in his career. I was doing a camp during summertime close to my home. We were, you know, many kids just glued to TV and watching, jumping around. It was absolutely huge celebration in Croatia. Even with the videos still today you can see how big support he got when he came home. He was around like 200, 250,000 people waiting for him.
Q. When he came home he stripped off his clothes and jumped into the sea. Can you top that?
MARIN CILIC: No. (Laughter.) I’m going for Davis Cup.
Q. Wawrinka winning in Melbourne, he said it was a little bit complicated with his expectation and all the emotions. How do you think you will deal with being a Grand Slam champion now?
MARIN CILIC: I think I’m going to have to wait seven days when I come back to Croatia just to see what a huge thing I did, because with all the news and even — I mean, all the Croatian sport athletes were giving me huge support. Even the national football team. They made a video sending huge support for me. I feel it’s gonna definitely change my life. I don’t know in which kind of way, but I am definitely not gonna change. With that definitely it’s gonna come a lot of things that I’m going to have to do, but still I am gonna play tennis, enjoy, and always look forward to these big events.
Q. As you said before, you don’t have a great record against Kei. What was your mindset coming to this final and facing to Kei? Did you try to do some like different tactics or something this time?
MARIN CILIC: Well, we never played against each other on such a huge event. I mean, most important day for both of us. All our matches were either quarterfinals or even before that, and I knew that today if I’m going to be playing well I’m going to have a good chance. Because even few matches I have lost to Kei were extremely close. Even this year at Brisbane was very close match. Few years back when he won over here at the US Open was also extremely close match. And, yeah, I just felt if I’m going to be playing right, I’m going to have a good chance. But you never know when you come on the court. You can’t be stuck with your own tactics. If it’s working well, of course; but if not, you have to be open. I was, you know, just very focused on that to do my things well.
Q. Goran was a superstitious guy back in his playing days. Wondered if you or either of you have any superstitions here in New York?
MARIN CILIC: Absolutely. Every second day is the same day for all of us, and just before coming to, you know, tennis they would go have a – my fitness trainer, physio and Goran – would have a coffee, have breakfast at the same place. I would stay back at our place, have breakfast on my own. And then, I mean, many different things. Not shaving. Myself not shaving. Not shaving himself. Yeah, it was just Goran was going through his Wimbledon moments again. (Laughter.) We didn’t watch Teletubbies, though.
Q. We were told that yesterday only the Croatian TV both arrive from EuroSport. So there was no coverage. But you saw the match last year. You said you saw the US Open. So last year there was coverage? This year not?
MARIN CILIC: No. It was still EuroSport.
Q. They didn’t trust your…
MARIN CILIC: No, no. Yeah, they got, you know, bad reputation through media and through everybody.
Q. There were a lot of Croatian journalists; this year no one, apart from today. What is the difference. Do you think for the Japanese who were 30 people, photographers, all behind Nishikori, was it better for you to be little more relaxed? I mean, not having too much pressure and media around?
MARIN CILIC: Well, concerning the, you know, Croatian journalists, they would all want to, you know, visit the big tournaments, but the economy is bad. So, I mean, everybody is saving. Well, if I had less pressure or not it’s difficult to say. But for sure, you know, from this year I sort of built around myself good team, and everybody is doing their own job. I’m not thinking about too much all these things around, media, whatever, whatever necessary. I’m just focused on tennis. That, you know, helped me definitely to become better. Yeah, I mean, it’s for sure huge days in Croatia and Japan. When I’m going to be back home it’s going to be a huge wave of journalists definitely.
Q. What was the key to winning the whole tournament?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, it was — I mean, the key was definitely I was playing my own game and it was working extremely well. Last ten sets I played I played amazing tennis with everything, starting from serve, starting from movement, all different shots. Return with Federer. In Federer’s match was great I think overall. My performances were great.
Q. Any thoughts about your former coach and the credit you give him for what you achieved today?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, I mean, thoughts are just being grateful so much also to be with him and to learn from him as he coached so many great players, great champions. He sort of built for me a mindset and learned me about the game. Just he built, for me, huge base that I’m, you know, collecting all the berries of today. With Goran, definitely that just small piece made it, you know, special. So for Bob, I mean, I can’t be more grateful, because I’m also because of him a great player today like I am.
Q. Can you share with us how are you planning to celebrate?
MARIN CILIC: Well, I was told tomorrow I have a long day.
Q. Then celebration tomorrow?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah. Tomorrow in the evening we are leaving, so today is going to be the celebration… All over Manhattan. (Laughter.) I hope it’s not going to be hangover No. 4.
Q. Along the same lines, do you have any plans for $3 million?
MARIN CILIC: No. I definitely didn’t think about that. Of course you have that in your mind, but I was just focusing on to play well. Yeah, with that it comes big, big whatever, big gift. So, yeah, I’m going to definitely split a little bit with my team. They deserved it. It’s for all of us a huge moment.
Q. A very difficult question: Your wonderful coach of course is famous for his three personalities. The regular Goran Ivanisevic, the emergency Goran, and then freak-out Goran. As a player and as a coach, did you see those three? Talk about those three different personalities. What makes him so special? What personality do you like the best?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, well, by the way, he was mentioning to me that that was the biggest mistake in his life, doing that interview and saying about all those things, because everybody is asking him about that. You know, Goran is a great guy. You get to know him and he has a huge heart. Anyone who asks him for help, he’s gonna help in one way or the other. That’s the way he is. With personalities, I think he has only one, and that’s with a very big heart.
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