Tonight it finally happened. It all clicked for Marin Cilic. An underachiever no longer, the gifted Croatian capped off a fortnight that saw him produce the best tennis of his career with one of the most dominant grand slam final displays in recent memory. Cilic demolished Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3,6-3, 6-3 in just under 2 hours.
Cilic is quite simply a freak of nature. At 6ft 6 he glides around the court with the speed of a man 6 inches smaller whilst still packing a punch. He hits huge groundstrokes and boasts a serve that has developed into one of the most imposing weapons in tennis. Despite having all the tools to succeed; the 25 year old was never quite able to pull it all together. That was until this year when he appointed a new coach: his boyhood idol, 2001 Wimbledon Champion Goran Ivanisevic. Cilic spoke highly of Ivanisevic after the match stating “We’re all working really hard but the most important thing he brought to me was enjoying tennis, and always having fun.” Cilic’s countryman has helped add more pace to his serve whilst also encouraging him to play the aggressive, daring tennis that carried him to the final in New York.
Cilic headed into the match in fine form. The fresher of the two competitors, he wiped out his quarter and semi-final opponents Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych in straight sets whilst Nishikori endured three consecutive wars against Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic. Fatigue and nerves proved a potent mixture as Nishikori started the match sluggishly. Cilic on the other hand was swinging freely, the lanky Croatian saved a break point in the first game with a monstrous running forehand winner cross court and never looked back. He vaulted into the lead, taking the first set 6-3.
Even at his best Nishikori would have been hard pressed to stop Cilic. He said after the match “he didn’t allow me to play my game.” The second set saw Cilic grow in confidence as he began to smother the baseline and dominate Nishikori. The Croatian served with Cyborg like precision whilst pummelling the Asian number one from the baseline, even ghosting forward on the odd occasion, winning 11 of 13 net points. The second set just like the first was taken 6-3 by the 14th seed.
Nishikori’s dream run to the final was fast becoming a nightmare; his battered body just couldn’t muster another superhuman effort despite the vocal crowd’s attempts to drag him back into the contest. Cilic was now a set away from history. Sensing that victory was within touching distance, the Croatian broke serve for a 4-1 lead. Nishikori, as game as ever, very nearly clawed his way back into the third set. He had three opportunities to break the Cilic serve whilst 2-4 down, but he wasn’t able to capitalise thanks to his opponents exceptional poise under pressure. Cilic’s response to the second break point- a booming ace, one of the 17 he hit in the match, underlined his dominance. The Croatian then found himself serving for the match at 5-3. On his first match point Cilic showed his first and only sign of jitters- he double faulted. His second bite at the apple however, saw him fire his 36th and final winner of the match, a backhand cross court to seal the title making him the lowest ranked grand slam champion since Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open. Cilic told post match interviewer Mary Carillo “everything I was working for and dreaming (of) came today.” Cilic was forced to miss last year’s U.S Open, serving an extortionately harsh drugs ban for accidently ingesting a stimulant. A year after being labelled a disgrace, Cilic can be rightly called a champion. Waiting in the shadows, plotting his comeback, Cilic envisioned this moment. The day he finally realised his limitless potential.