PUNE: One of the more heart-breaking images of the 2017 tennis season was Marin Cilic’s mid-match tears during the Wimbledon final against Roger Federer. After going a set-down and trailing 0-3 in the second stanza, the Croat buried his head in his towel. That match was an isolation in an almost perfect year for the 29-year-old. He won titles, reached a Major final and again appeared at the year-end finale at London. The World No 6, who is the top draw at the Tata Open Maharashtra, spoke about those moments from 2017, including playing in the inaugural Laver Cup. Excerpts:
On summing up 2017
In the grass court season, I was in every possible way the best I could ever be. I was consistent. Coming into it, I had a great clay season as well (first time he had reached the quarters at Roland Garros). I also reached the final at Queen’s (Club Championships) and then I had that great run at Wimbledon. Unfortunately, I was not able to play at my best level in the final. If I can keep doing those things at that kind of level, I think it might help me get opportunities at other Slams.
On playing the Laver Cup
I think Roger started it to give credit to past players, especially Rod Laver and to celebrate him. And to bring the best players at one venue and also to give a perspective to the younger generation about the importance of the likes of Laver, (Bjorn) Bjorg, (John) McEnroe... the players who changed and transformed our game. It’s definitely a great thing and doesn’t take too much time. It’s a different format and for the fans, it’s quite exciting. I really enjoyed it, to share the time with Rafa (Nadal), Roger and (Alexander) Zverev. It’s a great idea.
On what went wrong at the year-end Finals (the Croat lost all three group matches)
Towards the end of the season, I got a bit mentally tired. I had played a lot of tennis. Since the US Open, I had played a lot: Davis Cup, Laver Cup, Asian swing. So I felt a bit drained mentally at that critical point of the year. In the year before, I had played really well in tournaments like Bercy [Paris Masters]. So in a way, I learned a lesson to be a little bit smarter with my scheduling.
On Nadal and Federer still winning Slams
I think it just pushes me to be more determined. They are setting the challenge higher during the course of their career, they have played at an extremely high level in those big tournaments. Mentally, their approach and the thinking process are at the top level. For me, it is a challenge but a great time to play amongst them and definitely, it is going to be extremely exciting to go into this new season. I believe in the last season I achieved great success and brought my consistency a little bit higher and hopefully this year I can keep it a little bit longer.
On what can players learn from Federer and Nadal
What you can learn from them is the passion for the game. Every single time they step on the court, they are ready. They do not take losses lightly and they are examples of how you have to be every single day at the top. The other thing they have, apart from their natural ability, is their learning and understanding of the game. Also, ability to adapt, especially Rafa. Over the years we have seen so many changes from serve to the forehand and now he is adapting to a different style of play. Last year he improved on his second serve speeds. They are able to adapt and still not lose that edge.
On his expectations for 2018
To be better than the last year in every possible way and to keep that intensity in my mindset on the court and keep my eye on the goal at all times. Goals are extremely important — daily, monthly and yearly and for me, in this year it is to win a Grand Slam and finish the year inside the top-5.