Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S Open champion, has qualified for the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) World Tour Finals to be held in London from Nov.09-16. The Croat was ranked sixth in the ATP tour race to London with 3990 points and is the sixth player to qualify for the event.
Cilic, ranked No. 8 on the ATP rankings, claimed his place by beating Tommy Robredo, seeded sixth, 6-3, 6-3 in the quarter-finals of the ATP 250 event The Kremlin Cup in Moscow. The Croat , the second seed at the tournament, hit ten aces, won 80 percent of his first service points, and broke the Spaniard four times on his way to a convincing win over an old rival with whom he ties 3-3 in their head to head.
Cilic’s qualification has been a twist to the 2014 tennis season. The season did not start well for the 26 year old who lost early at the Australian hard court events. The Croat, however, had only just returned to the tour at Paris Bercy 2013 after a four month suspension, originally set by the ITF at a year but cut to four months by the Sports court of arbitration. That event in Paris was the only one Cilic played before the off-season during which he hired 2001 Wimbledon Champion and countryman Goran Ivanisevic.
Under Ivanisevic’s coaching Cilic won the ATP 250 PBZ Zagreb Open, finished runner up to Tomas Berdych in the ATP 500 Rotterdam event, won the ATP 250 Delray beach Open, and took the first set 6-1 o against an in-form Novak Djokovic at the Sony Erricson Open.
The Clay season, not typically one of Cilic’s season highlights, also saw some good form from the Croat as he once again took a set from Djokovic in the third round of Roland Garros. The two were to meet a month later in the quarter finals of Wimbledon in a match which went to five sets.
A little over a month later, Cilic pushed World No. 3 Roger Federer in Toronto. He saved six match points in the second set, showcasing not just his improved service, once a much under exploited shot for a man of 198 cm, and back-court game, but also his mental toughness.
The former junior world No. 2 and 2005 boys singles champion at the French Open had always been hotly tipped to be a future name on the ATP tour and his progress to the 20o9 U.S Open quarter-finals, a run which saw him beat Andy Murray, seeded 2, before losing to eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro. He followed that up with an appearance in the 2010 Australian Open semi-finals, breaking into the top ten at No. 10 on the ATP rankings and reaching a high of nine, and winning his home title in Zagreb.
Cilc struggled on the tour after that, losing to lower ranked players. Mental collapses from winnable positions in matches were also common. By the end of 2010, Cilic fell out of the top ten to No. 15 on the ATP rankings, and suffered a loss to the world No. 157 Andreas Haider-Maurer. In 2011, Cilic fell to No. 28 in the rankings but at the end of the season he won the St Petersburg title and finished the year ranked 18. In 2012, Cilic fell in and out of top twenty but his season improved as he won Queens and made the U.S Open quarter-finals where he led Andy Murray by a set and 4-1. Cilic would go on to win only four more games.
Just under two years later, against an in-form Federer in Toronto, Cilic fought all the way to the final point. He would show that fight again at the U.S Open in his five set fourth round victory over Gilles Simon. In that fifth set, Cilic upped his level as the humidity died down and took control of the match. The Croat would not lose that control for the rest of the tournament beating seventh seed Tomas Berdych, second seed Roger Federer and tenth seed Kei Nishikori all in straight sets on his way to winning his first Major.
That win, which lifted the Croat up to No. 9 in the ATP rankings, guaranteed Cilic a place in the ATP World Tour finals whether he finished in the top eight in the ATP race to London or not. As a slam champion he would only have to finish in the top 20 to be awarded the eighth and final place. It is a rule which sparked controversy in the media when Andy Murray questioned whether automatic qualification for a Slam champion ranked in the top 20 was right or not. Cilic, however, by reaching the Moscow semi-finals, and the Beijing quarter finals has silenced the controversy by earning the points he needs to qualify for his first ATP Tour World Finals and will appear as not only a member of the top eight players of the season but as a slam champion, too.
Commentary by Christian Deverille
Photo courtesy of Marianne Bevis – License