Learning to cheer for Cilic


Many fans don’t like Marin Cilic for the same reasons they used to revile Novak Djokovic.

He’s too good.

He can beat their hero, Roger Federer.

He’s a workaholic dedicated to improving.

He’s humble, honest and nice to media and fans.

He seems more focussed on playing power tennis than entertaining the crowd, screaming at his coaches box or posing for photographers.

Instead of engaging in dramatic rallies, Cilic can hit anybody off the court with 130 mph serves, 112 mph spinners wide, lazer sharp forehands and thunderous attacks on short balls — and that’s boring.

He has a weird service motion: a twitching leg, seemingly hyperextended; a toss to the side; and a quick snap when you’re not ready, and quite often an ace. Boring.



Though he’s articulate and sincere at press conferences, he doesn’t exude cuddly personality on court. He’s not furry and huggy like Juan Martin del Potro. He’s not a Buddha like Federer or a cartoon superhero like Nadal. He doesn’t correct men for allegedly sexist questions to “male” players, as Murray does.

Marin Cilic is more than a thief in the night, stealing matches from more popular players. He has earned it. 

Some tennis observers fear that he’s threatening to return Wimbledon to the dreary days of quick strike tennis, dominated by relatively robotic servers like his fellow Croat and former coach Goran Ivanisevic. Cilic, like Milos Raonic, isn’t as much fun to watch as the floating Federer, bullfighting Nadal, manic Murray or joking Djokovic. He doesn’t have a beautiful backhand follow-through like Stan Wawrinka or Dominic Thiem, or the resilience of Kei Nishikori, or the promise of Nick Kyrgios or Alexander Zverev.

Like Kevin Anderson or Sam Querrey, Cilic is stealthy. Reporters often talk about him playing “under the radar”. Since he doesn’t inspire legions of fans, he’s often assigned to outer courts, and he often wins in straight sets before anybody notices.

But the main reason people want him to lose: he’s a threat to win every tournament. He’s one of the most dangerous and talented players on tour. He stunned everybody by winning the US Open in 2014, blitzing Federer and Nishikori among others. He nearly beat Federer last year in the quarters at Wimbledon; Roger said he was “superlucky” to win.

He’s also reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon the past three seasons, and the final this year. He’s won 17 ATP titles, and made semi-finals in Melbourne 2010 and the quarters of Roland Garros this year. He’s probably going to win several slams in his career, if not this year.

Someday, people will learn to love Cilic, as they did Djokovic. They should cheer for Cilic. He’s awesome.

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)