Matt Zemek

No, Marin Cilic has not been an elite player at Masters 1000 tournaments. His recent major-tournament track record — with finals at Wimbledon and Australia and a quarterfinal at Roland Garros — has been much more substantial than his M-1000 body of work.

Yet, why not, Marin Cilic? Why can’t you win the Miami Open with Roger Federer out and Grigor Dimitrov typically flopping and Novak Djokovic still dealing with myriad changes to body and mindset?

Why not, Marin Cilic? Why can’t you become a stronger player in the clay season with Federer not partaking? Why can’t you step into the breach since Stan Wawrinka plus Andy Murray — two Roland Garros semifinal combatants last year — do not appear ready for that portion of the 2018 tennis season?

Cilic is simultaneously a player worthy of more trust than many of the non-Fedal members of the ATP Tour — not Juan Martin del Potro, but almost everyone else — and a player who doesn’t carry the resume or presence of an athlete fans expect to make semifinals and finals. He lives in an in-between space on tour. He has a better chance than most to take advantage of the depleted ATP fields which are part of men’s tennis, and yet he doesn’t have the track record which suggests he will follow through. 

Nothing should be assumed with Cilic and his progression this season — his career doesn’t lend itself to easy assumptions anymore, now that he is delivering the goods at majors, a noticeable improvement from his past. Cilic has, if anything, given fans and neutral observers more reason to trust him over the past nine months. His runs at SW19 and in Melbourne revealed a man more able to pounce on opportunities with the Big Four Plus Stan in its diminished state. Yet, there are certain career trajectories (making stacks of Masters finals) and specific achievements (making a Roland Garros semifinal or final) he has not yet tasted.

Could this, however, be the year he arrives at those new vistas of career fulfillment?

After his win over Vasek Pospisil at the Miami Open on Sunday, Cilic liked the way he is handling important in-match situations.

“I was in difficult conditions with the wind — it was changing a bit was so it not easy to find the best rhythm,” Cilic said. “I’m most happy about my serving, my mentality on the court. I was playing really well in those critical games at the end of the first set, also the end of the second. I had a great tiebreak.”

Cilic linked his positive frame of mind to his recent forward steps at majors.

“I haven’t been playing so well here in Miami as I would want to, but this year is a slightly different situation — playing well in Australia has helped me to believe in my own game,” Cilic said. “I believe if I am focusing on myself, focusing on what I have to and delivering that on the court, it’s going to pay off.”

Tennis fans might be skeptical that Cilic can go all the way in Miami or reach a semifinal or final later this spring in Paris — they would have ample reason to be. Yet, the 29-year-old who has taken significant forward steps in recent months might rise to the occasion when someone such as Grigor Dimitrov might falter. 

Why can’t this tennis season reach new heights for Marin Cilic?

Why not?


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