Marin Cilic has the makings of a champion

By Online Editorial

Marin Cilic

Marin Cilic made the headlines during the US Open for his thrashing of Andy Murray. Simon Mundie explains why that was no flash in the pan and what we can expect from the 6ft 6 Croat in the near future.

Juan Martin Del Potro is the player many believe will go on and dominate men’s tennis, specially after his super performance in beating Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows a couple of months ago. But there is someone else who has made huge strides in recent months.

Marin Cilic turned 21 just a couple of weeks ago, five days after del Potro, and actually plays a similar game to the new US Open Champion. The two are also exactly the same height – six feet and six inches tall – and could well go on and forge something of a rivalry at the top of the men’s game in the future.

Cilic has enjoyed steady if not spectacular progress over the last few seasons, improving his end of year ranking from 170th in the world at the end of 2006 to 22nd at the end of last year.

His game is as you would expect from someone of his build; he enjoys a powerful serve and likes to tee off from the baseline, considering his backhand to be his best shot. His forehand is a match winner when he lets fly, although it can break down at times and become erratic. He also moves pretty well for someone of his height.

Up until this year’s US Open, he hadn’t done a huge amount to suggest that he would become a world-beater, but that all changed when he blew Andy Murray away 7-5 6-2 6-2 in the fourth round. In that match, he completely dominated the out-of -sorts world number two, taking advantage of the Scot’s passivity, and leaving a huge question mark over Murray’s future prospects at the very top level.

It also gave Cilic that bit of belief that is all important, and that should see him kick on and start to contend for the big titles. That superb win may prove comparable to Del Potro’s hardcourt run last year, when the Argentine won four tournaments in a row.

More impressive still, the first of those was his first ever ATP career win. And that win over Murray may provide Cilic with the core confidence necessary for real success, just as Del Potro’s run did last year.

Indeed, the early signs are that Cilic has already upped his game considerably on the back of that Murray win, as he blitzed his way to the final of the China Open last week. On route, he dispatched Nikolay Davydenko 6-4 6-4, before trouncing Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals 6-1 6-3.

Despite losing the final to Novak Djokovic, those earlier performances showed that he has already become a far more fearsome force. However, in losing to Thomas Berdych in Beijing, he proved he is not yet the finished article, nor can he yet be relied upon to post consistent top-class performances.

The question is: will he kick on as Del Potro did, or will his career fail to hit the heights, as the aforementioned Berdych’s has to date? The rest of this season will reveal much, as the indoor circuit should suit his powerful game, but the real answers will come next season in the Masters Series events and the Grand Slams. This year, he has had a solid year at the Majors, but a disappointing one in the Masters Series events.

Another interesting point to consider is which of the top players will pose Cilic the most problems, and who will likely suffer most at his hands. Unfortunately for British tennis fans, Andy Murray could fall into the latter category, as the Scot has consistently struggled against the game’s biggest hitters in Grand Slam events.

Rafael Nadal is another who should be looking over his shoulder, as his favoured style of play – hitting heavily topspun drives into his opponents’ backhand side – will prove toothless against a player of Cilic’s height and strength off that wing.

On the other hand, the Croat will have to improve further to trouble the likes of Federer, whose variety and experience should swamp his raw power, much as Djokovic succeeded in doing in the China final. But the biggest obstacle he will face is likely to be Juan Martin Del Potro, who does everything that little bit better at present. How he fares against the Argentine over the next twelve months will show whether he has what it takes to become a Grand Slam champion.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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