Is this the point the Croatian can turn his 2017 campaign around?\
Marin Cilic has always been a tough nut to crack. At his best he is a world beater, capable of beating anyone. In 2014 he won the US Open and in doing so is the only player to win a Grand Slam since 2010 who is not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray or Wawrinka. Unfortunately, Cilic can be incredibly unreliable and far too often we see him losing to players a top 10 seed should not be losing to. The beginning of the 2017 season has started in a similar fashion for Cilic, entering the Monte Carlo Open holding a dismal 5-7 record. A second-round loss in the Australian Open, a blowout at the hands of Rafael Nadal in Mexico and second round-losses at both Indian Wells and the Miami Open to much lower-ranked opponents all contributed to Cilic’s disappointing start to the year.
Clay is not Cilic’s friend
The Monte Carlo Open signals the beginning of the clay season, a surface which does not play to Cilic’s strengths. The clay court is advantageous for players who produce long rallies or incorporate a lot of spin on their shots. Cilic is more of a power player who uses his big serve to set up weak returns in order for him to hit a powerful winner and finish the point quickly. Due to the clay court being the slowest surface, it means it is much harder for players to hit winners, the main strength of Cilic’s game.
Cilic’s clay record is not bad by any means, which is to be expected from the World no.8, but it is much lower than his record on both grass and hard court. From 2013 to the end of the 2016 season, his clay court record was 25-19, while his grass court record was 23-8 and his hard court record was 86-37, proving his superior play on the faster courts.
Encouraging Monte Carlo run
After entering the tournament as the fifth seed, Cilic was awarded a first-round bye and met Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the second round. Chardy defeated Cilic in the second round of the Miami Open roughly two weeks prior to this matchup, and taking into account Cilic’s poor start to the year combined with this being Cilic’s first match of the season on his weakest surface, it was pegged to be a close battle. It turned out to be quite the opposite, with Cilic disposing of Chardy in a dominating fashion, 6-3 6-0. The Round of 16 saw Cilic face a player with a similar playing style, 9th seed Tomas Berdych. This match had some drama associated with it as Berdych’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic is Cilic’s former coach, and the man who led him to the US Open championship in 2014. Despite Berdych having an apparent inside edge, Cilic won convincingly again, 6-2/7-6. Cilic faced Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the quarter final, a man who is in the form of his life at 29 years of age, currently holding his highest ever ranking at World no.24, and who, in his third round matchup, defeated World no.1, Andy Murray. After dropping the first set and trailing 5-3 off serve in the second, Cilic won a second set tiebreak to force a deciding set but it wasn’t to be as Ramos-Vinolas proved too strong. While a disappointing result, a quarter final exit in Monte Carlo was an encouraging sign for Cilic.
Finding his form?
The start of 2017 has been a massive disappointment for Cilic. After qualifying for London to finish 2016, Cilic was expected to continue his strong form and potentially push into the ‘Wawrinka range’, that is, just outside the Big Four but always a threat to win titles. Monte Carlo was his first impressive tournament of the season, and the fact it was achieved on his weakest surface is a very encouraging sign. No one is expecting him to win any clay court tournaments but if he can put together strong runs in Madrid, Rome and the French Open, he will be in a great position mentally to compete for titles in the second half of the season. The challenge for Cilic has always been consistency, but one thing he has never lacked is effort. If he can’t make the leap to a consistent title threat, it won’t be for a lack of determination.