Cilic fulfils early promise

NEW YORK - Croatia's Marin Cilic fulfilled the promise of his stellar junior career with a maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open, silencing self-doubts he admits made him wonder if his day would ever come.

The 25-year-old Croatian, born in Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina near the border with Croatia, took up tennis at the age of seven, introduced to the game by a cousin who lived in Germany.

As his skill increased, Croatian Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic was asked to evaluate the young player, Cilic once telling Deuce magazine that Ivanisevic's encouragement when he was just 13 helped him decide to make tennis the top priority in his life.

That soon included a wrenching move away from his family to Zagreb, but the effort saw him rise to No 2 in the world in the junior ranks in 2005, with four international junior titles that year including the French Open boys' title.

He reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2010, but somehow couldn't find a way to make a steady climb in the rankings.

"I was swirling around ranking top 20, 25, 15 and things were some days going well, some not," he said. "You are a lot of the time up and down."

After he pummelled 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer on Saturday to reach the US Open final, Cilic said he had begun to wonder if such a moment would ever come for him.

The landscape turned even bleaker last year, when he tested positive for a banned stimulant in May, pulled out of Wimbledon and found himself fighting a doping charge, insisting he'd ingested the drug unwittingly in an over-the-counter supplement.

Eventually a nine-month ban was reduced to four by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and he now says the experience gave him greater focus and determination.

It also drove him to seek out the support of Ivanisevic, who began coaching him last year.

"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," he said.

"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 going to come back. It was not working."

Cilic, who also credits former coach Bob Brett – who once mentored Boris Becker and Ivanisevic – with giving him a solid tennis foundation, he said it was Ivanisevic who helped him readjust his thinking.

"I feel that the fun is the best spice of everything," Cilic said. "Every day with him is extremely fun." – Agencies

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