PUNE: The ability to adapt when the time demands is what makes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal very special, reckons world number six Marin Cilic, who was only one of three players to counter the two legends in Grand Slam finals last year.
The injuries threatened to end the careers of two greats towards the end of 2016, a year in which neither the Swiss great nor the Spanish giant won a Grand Slam but they came out stronger in 2017, splitting all four Majors between them.
Cilic lost the Wimbledon final to Federer while Stan Wawrinka and Kevin Anderson lost to Nadal in the finals of the French Open and US Open respectively.
Federer had annexed the Australian Open by prevailing over Nadal in a gripping final.
"What you can learn from them is passion for the game and the passion to compete. Every single time they step on the court, they are extremely ready, they are not taking losses very easily," Cilic said on the sidelines of Tata Open Maharashtra.
"Other things apart from their individual potential is their ability to adapt, specially Rafa. Over the years, we have seen so many changes in his technique. From serve to forehand to now just adapting to different style from being little bit more aggressive.
"Even last year he improved his second serve, added some speed. Even Roger over the years was improving his backhand, not playing much more slices, playing more aggressive tennis.
"They are able to adapt but still play at a high level.
What makes them so good is their overall ability and their extremely good understanding of the game," the six feet six inch Croat explained.
Cilic, who split with coach Jonas Bjorkman towards the end of 2017 and trains with Ivan Cinkus, said seeing Federer and Nadal do well despite facing so many odds inspires him.
"It just pushes me to be more determined. They are bringing the challenge little bit higher. During the course of their career, they played those big tournaments extremely well with their mental approach and thinking process.
"For me itÂ’s a challenge to play amongst them. I believe that last year I achieved great success and brought my consistency little bit higher," Cilic, who rose career-best rank of four in 2017, said.
Asked about his expectations from the fresh season, he said he will try do better than last year in every possible way.
"To be more determined, to work more harder and keep that intensity in mind which I developed, to be very motivated and keep my eyes on the goal, the monthly goals and the yearly goal to push us forward. This year the goal is to win a Grand Slam and to finish the year in top-5. Those are big challenges and I hope I can achieve them,Â” Cilic said.
"I want to carry things that I did in off-season into match play. I want to take advantage of that good work. It Â‘s different conditions, it will be quicker here than Chennai but this is the best preparation for the Australian Open. I am glad I came here." The Croat could not finish the season on a high as he lost all three league matches at the season-ending finale. He explained the reason.
"Towards the end of the season, I got tired mentally. I played a lot of tennis, travelled a lot. Since the start of the US Open I played Davis Cup, the Laver Cup, the Asian Tour, so I felt little bit drained mentally.
"The year before towards the end in 2016, I played really well and finished the year quite good. During that part I feel, I learnt the lesson to be smarter with scheduling.Â” So is the schedule on the ATP World tour very tight and demanding for players? "No. Still we can choose tournaments. Rules are created and you can skip some events, if you are above 600 matches and if you are above 30. That is what lot of guys do. ItÂ’s just matter of picking scheduling and creating space, listening to your body. But itÂ’s a difficult part, whether to play or rest," he added.