Marin Cilic knows a thing or two about knocking at the door before breaking it open. A contemporary of the Big Four (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray), the Croat has done that all career, with his one glorious high coming at the 2014 US Open.
Now, as the stranglehold of the Big Four has started easing, Cilic believes there are quite a few from the new crop who will soon morph into champions from being perennial threats, quite like how he once did.
“Last season was interesting and quite a few guys opened quite a few doors,” Cilic said, on the sidelines of the Tata Open Maharashtra. “Felix’s [Auger-Aliassime] end of the season was incredible, almost like Daniil’s [Medvedev] in 2019 season, winning three titles and also the Davis Cup.”
“Holger [Rune] winning Paris Masters, [Carlos] Alcaraz making that huge improvement from year to year…unbelievable. So mix them in Daniil, [Alexander] Zverev, [Stefanos] Tsitsipas… Casper [Ruud] is really consistent… so many guys are now close.”
Cilic’s another breaking-of-the-glass-ceiling moment came last year when he reached the French Open semifinal to become only the fifth active men’s player (other than the Big Four) to reach at least the semifinal at all four Majors.
“It’s an incredible achievement,” the 34-year-old said. “If I was able to back that up with better performances at Masters 1000 tournaments, my career would have been even better than what it is.
“I played a close match with Casper (semis), almost getting to the final. It gives me great motivation that I’m still able to do it and there are openings for me still.”
He is no doubt inspired by countryman Luka Modric, the 2018 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner, who at the grand old age of 37 is still at his resplendent best.
“I would say very inspiring. He is still producing incredible things at a world-class level. We [as a country] are very competitive, and we sort of push each other. It has also given me good strength and I have that enthusiasm to keep going and do something great.”
Cilic is equally impressed by the enduring love for tennis displayed by Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, even as Federer vacated his space late last season.
“Obviously we all never wanted Roger to leave. Because he’s a great guy, obviously incredible inspiration not only for us on the tour, but for many kids around the world. And also to many of these next gen guys that are now at the top, he was, and probably still is, an idol.
“So definitely difficult to see him go and the tour is going to be different. But I would say that, we are still lucky to have Rafa playing, Novak playing and Andy also. They’re still keeping this enthusiasm of tennis up there.
“Hats off to Novak because he went through a very big emotional difficulty in January of last year [deportation from Australia]. Whatever it was, it wasn’t fair to him. But it proves again that he’s got that stellar ability to keep his focus and his mentality up there and still win a Grand Slam [Wimbledon].”