Cilic dares to dream once more

 - Dan Imhoff

With two Grand Slam finals from the past three, third seed believes second major title may only be a matter of time.

Marin Cilic© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Slowly but surely, Marin Cilic’s inner-belief has returned on the Grand Slam stages.

And for once, the endearingly polite Croatian does not sound almost apologetic in admitting so.

Even as the third seed at Roland-Garros, the 29-year-old does not garner a smidgeon of the attention fellow major title favourites enjoy.

But for the 2014 US Open champion, this sits just fine.

Having taken almost four years to reach a subsequent Grand Slam final at Wimbledon last year, Cilic has been open about his once-suspect fragility in big matches.

But after reaching two deciders from the past three Grand Slams, he has told of his desire to add to his tally, with an added goal of reaching world No.1.

Where in the past he may have been quick to downplay talk of being among the title favourites there is a refreshing and genuine belief about Cilic these days.

“I feel so. I'm playing well. I'm feeling great on the court,” he offered without hesitation. “The results in the last 12 months have showed that I have that ability to win Grand Slams. So I'm really looking forward to the rest of the tournament and hoping that I'm going to continue to play well and to challenge the best guys.”

Where most contenders immediately deflect talk of potential draws early on at a slam, Cilic was honest about his path after his first-round win over James Duckworth. He was well aware of where he could run into 10-time champion Rafael Nadal. And it is a match he would not be afraid of, having dominated much of the early part of his five-set battle with the Spaniard in this year’s Australian Open quarter-finals before injury struck down Nadal.

“I mean it's still very far. If we're going to meet it's going to be in the semis, so still a lot of work to do,” Cilic said. “Yeah, I have seen the draw. Obviously, you know, it stays in your mind. But … you can't get ahead of yourself.”

Cilic only won his first clay-court title last season in Istanbul before he went on to reach his first Roland-Garros quarter-final – the only major at which he had not reached that stage – on his 11th attempt. Despite falling to Malek Jaziri at the opening hurdle of his Istanbul Open title defence last month, the result was bookended by a quarter-final run in Monte-Carlo and semi-final finish in Rome.

At 1.98m, his movement is more exposed on the clay but there have been vast improvements.

“I have to say that the clay is not my best surface,” Cilic said ahead of his quarter-final showdown with fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro. “But I felt in this last year and a half I improved really a lot on clay. I would say the most ever that I have improved in such a short period.”

It was not until Cilic’s three-hour, 37-minute battle to hold off Fabio Fognini in the fourth round that pundits really began to take notice. He is now the ninth active player to have reached the quarter-finals of every major at least twice.

After letting a match point slip in the fourth set against Fognini and with a raucous crowd hungry for more, the Croatian did not falter. It was the second time this tournament he had let a set slip with the finish line in sight.

“You have to keep positive, keep at your game,” he said. “I've got quite a big experience on the Grand Slam level, knowing that I can believe, as well, in my physical ability to come back also if I'm a set down. But still you have to show that on the court.”

Experience, it appears, is finally fostering belief.