Rejuvenated Cilic chasing Grand Slam milestone

 - Alex Sharp

Croatian looks to complete set of major finals with Casper Ruud standing in his way

Marin Cilic, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Messieurs, 1/4 de Finale©Clement Mahoudeau / FFT

On the men’s side, the first quarter of the 21st century, at the very least, will be widely remembered as the much-heralded ‘Big Three’ era.

The likes of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro have also joined the major conversation and then there’s Marin Cilic.

The Croatian is flourishing with fatherhood, dancing with fans, and is relishing the latter stages of his astounding career. 

The rejuvenated 33-year-old has motored into his maiden Roland-Garros semi-final, becoming just the fifth active player to reach the last-four stage at all four Grand Slams.

On Friday, Cilic will go toe-to-toe with world No.8 Casper Ruud on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Could he complete the set of major finals?

“Absolutely fantastic achievement for me. To be mentioned among them,” said Cilic, referring to the ‘Big Three’ following his steely 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(10/2) triumph over Andrey Rublev.

“I would say since 2017, I started to feel great on clay and had some great success. But in the end it's also such a short season for clay, it's difficult to time everything every single season.

“I'm feeling great on the court, enjoying myself, being me, playing my own game. It's paying off, and just enjoying the run. Just extremely proud and really happy.”

The current world No.23 will hope to overturn two previous defeats to Ruud. The rock-solid Norwegian has collected the most ATP clay-court match-wins since the start of 2020 with a haul of 65.

Ruud had a less complicated route to the final four on Wednesday night, brushing Next Gen prodigy Holger Rune aside in four sets, but the 23-year-old is more than aware of Cilic’s capabilities.

“It’s the best result of my career, so a lot of things to feel good about. These are the matches you dream about playing and hopefully of course even the final, if it's possible," said the patriotic youngster, who returned to the stands on Thursday to watch his compatriot Ulrikke Eikeri in the mixed doubles final. 

“I have to be really focused and bring my A-game.

“He seems like he’s playing some of the best tennis of his life at the moment, here at Roland-Garros. He’s played so well on the way to the semi-finals. Hopefully we bring a good match.”

Ruud is ready and the way Cilic swatted world No.2 Daniil Medvedev and Rublev aside, suggests the Croatian is in the groove too.

But Cilic is not getting carried away, not in the slightest; he has far too much experience in his locker for complacency.

“I'm not thinking about anything too far in front. Playing match by match,” maintained the 2014 US Open champion.

“Guys that I'm facing now, even today Andrey played incredible match. If I was just a touch below my level I would be going home. So just keeping my head down. I've got to do my own things well.”

On top of his major triumph in New York, his other Grand Slam finals (Wimbledon 2017, Australian Open 2018), Davis Cup success and peaking at world No.3, the 33-year-old is frequently overlooked in conversations surrounding this gladiatorial era. 

“I'm happy with less press conferences. I'm happy with less media. That was fantastic, I have to say, in these last two years, every tournament, easy, no press,” joked a grinning Cilic.

“Just comes down to the guys who are under the spotlights. These guys have been, they are the top of the game so many years.

“Looking at my own career, I had some obviously huge successes and won so many things. But also comparing to the top guys, it was not as consistent. Had three, four seasons that were incredibly good, but I was a little bit in and out.

“I really don't mind being under the highlights or not. I'm just trying to use my opportunities as much as I can during my career every day, every match to give my best. If I do more press conferences, it's fine.”