In his third Grand Slam final, Marin Cilic came up just short again to the great Roger Federer, losing in five sets in the Australian Open final.
Cilic, though, leaves with his head high after wins over Rafael Nadal and for pushing Federer, plus he goes to No. 3 in the rankings. And he becomes the first Croat to ever make the final in Melbourne.
Here’s what he said after the match:
Q. Obviously tonight didn’t go your way. How are you feeling at the moment?
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, well, feeling a little bit obviously disappointed, which is normal. It was a big battle, five sets. I managed to turn it around. In the fourth set, it was a big boost for me with the game that I played on 3-2 when he was serving. Then that lifted me a lot up. I started to play great tennis.
I was hitting the ball great. I was just playing phenomenal. Then first game of the fifth set was more or less crucial at the end with having those four, I believe, breakpoints that I didn’t convert. Just a little bit tougher game, my service game next game. Just it ran away from me.
But really happy with the performance that I did. Mentally was tough. Also was difficult with conditions. You know, throughout the tournament I played all my matches outdoors, also preparing a hot day, 38 degrees. Then first match for the final to play with the roof closed, it’s difficult.
I have to say that decision, you know, could it have been different? I guess so. I think that it was just little bit difficult to adjust, especially the beginning of the match. With the roof closed, it was way, way cooler than I expected. That was very, very difficult, especially for the final to, you know, be in that kind of a situation.
Q. Did they ask you what you thought about closing the roof or not? In the end, do you think it was the right decision?
MARIN CILIC: Well, no, they didn’t ask me. They just came to me to tell me that they are thinking about decision, and they going to make the final decision just around 7 p.m., just slightly before the match.
I didn’t mind to have roof closed, but it was a huge difference in temperature from having outside 38, then when you came in, it was like 23, 4, I don’t know. It was way cooler than I expected.
Q. Did you think it was an advantage for Roger?
MARIN CILIC: I don’t know. Just looking at my own side, I didn’t feel those conditions before. I had a slow start in the match, losing straightaway my two service games, then catching up most of the time.
But looking overall, I’m really pleased with the performance. Played great tennis over these two weeks. I had tough matches, tough opponents, beating Rafa, reaching here a final, which is definitely amazing. Looking at my own game, I think I improved a lot. I’m playing great tennis. That’s really exciting for me for this 2018.
Q. You have a great record in five sets normally, 27-12 before tonight. What were you thinking when you finally reached the fifth set? Were you very confident or you doubted?
MARIN CILIC: Well, momentum was on my side from 3-2 or even 3-1 in that fourth set. I came back, won the set 6-3. Plus it was all games that I deserved and earned really well. I played great tennis, started to return really good.
That first game of the first set, putting a lot of pressure, four breakpoints, I went for my shots and didn’t make them.
I was not thinking much, you know, if my performances over five sets from before. I knew that physically I’m good. Obviously across the net, Roger was also — he is more or less also comfortable playing those five sets. Most importantly for me was to continue playing with my momentum at that moment and to try to win couple of those first games in the fifth.
Q. He’s won now again, wins again and again. Do you have two or three reasons that make him such an extraordinary player?
MARIN CILIC: I would say first the passion to compete, season after season, especially at this high level. Then also being able to challenge himself first physically and then mentally, as well, to be at the top almost every single week. To work hard and improve, those things we know he’s doing really well.
We know he has the level. With his game style, it’s very all-around. In those moments, obviously physical abilities come into play with his age, but also mentally that he’s able to challenge himself and continue with his progress.
Q. Can I clarify? Did you argue your case with the referee at all with the roof? I believe Jim Courier, once he threatened to boycott the final if the roof was closed. Did you have an argument with the referee over it?
MARIN CILIC: No, I didn’t. Coming in before the final, I didn’t want to have any negative thoughts. I was just trying to focus on myself, on that. In the end of the day, it’s tough for me to change that decision. Just to lose energy before the match, it’s pointless.
But I’m saying it was very different than what we’ve played outdoor.
Q. Did you have an option to practice inside? He obviously chose that.
MARIN CILIC: Yeah, I did. But for me, I played during all tournament on the same court, practiced on the same court, so warmed up there. That was it.
Q. You’re now No. 3 in the world, behind Nadal and Federer. It would be like reaching Everest for many. Is it something that was a dream or you think it’s just normal?
MARIN CILIC: My ultimate goal is to reach No. 1. That’s my goal. That’s what I’m working for. Even in these last one or two years, the progress that I did is big. Last year I improved a lot in different areas. Now in these last couple months, I improved even more. So that gives me big confidence. Beating here Rafa – obviously he retired, but it was great match as well. Then playing with Roger head-to-head, a great match. This is giving me big confidence for going forward.
No. 3 feels and looks amazing, especially behind them as well. But I know how difficult it is, knowing as well Novak and Andy and many other guys had a tough last season. For me it’s a great time that I improved and that I am continuing to improve. Big time ahead for me.
Q. He mixes his backhands a lot, goes under, goes over. Is that easy to handle, easy to read?
MARIN CILIC: It’s obviously a little bit different coming and playing him because not many guys do that in that kind of a way. But I was expecting. I played Roger already several times. I was expecting those things.
I felt just that I wasn’t hitting as good as maybe some other days, especially in those first two, three sets. Later in the fourth set, I found really good the range. I felt that if I keep going like that, you know, the things are going to go in my favor a lot.
I think Roger also served really, really good today. He was very difficult in those first three sets. I won the second one without breaking him. It was a great tiebreak that I played. So mentally it was obviously difficult to stay in there all the match.
Q. Roger just said on television he felt he got really lucky at the start of the fifth set. Do you agree with that?
MARIN CILIC: It’s always luck or not (smiling).
No, I went for my shots. Couple that I just hit at the top of the net, a couple that went wide. Overall over this long match, there is always going to be small details like that.
But, you know, if I would have been in the same situation, I would have done the same again because in that fourth set, I played aggressive, I played very fast. It was just right choice.
Q. We all know that Federer is this larger-than-life tennis person. You know that, too. How do you put that aside while you’re trying to compete with this guy?
MARIN CILIC: Well, very simple: it’s for me big focus on myself. I know what I have worked on, how much I dedicate myself, how well I played during the tournament. Looking at the final, for me it was just another match, even though it was a big challenge playing the final first time, playing Roger. I knew that I have to play my great tennis in order to beat him.
But, you know, it’s always very, very challenging to play him, as he’s always keeping his game on a high level.
Q. Do you think you played better with Nadal than with Federer?
MARIN CILIC: It was different match. I think I served little bit better with Rafa. Today I was not finding just rhythm on my serve as good as against Rafa. Also Roger serves a little bit better. Not as many chances as with Rafa.
Also, you know, looking at the conditions, it was also quite warm day when I played with Rafa. The ball was just coming little bit quicker off the racquet. That’s I think the small differences.
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