US Open 2014 – Marin Cilic: “It means everything. It's just a huge accomplishment for myself and for my team” - UBITENNIS
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US Open 2014 – Marin Cilic: “It means everything. It's just a huge accomplishment for myself and for my team”

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TENNIS US OPEN – 8th of September 2014. M. Cilic d. K. Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. An interview with Marin Cilic

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. 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

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. When Goran 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. 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.

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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