In what could be called the biggest black swan event that has emerged in the modern tennis game, two tennis players who are usually gone come the quarter-final stage of any grand slam, booked their places in the men's singles final of the 2014 US Open. Emerging from this completely unpredicted deal was a champion who at the start of the tournament was rated as having a 0.89% chance of winning (yes, that is the real and exact figure.) Cilic was not unknown then - he was known for his semi-final run at the Australian Open 2010 where he lost to Andy Murray in four sets but not without first breaking Murray in the second - but he has gone on to reach at best the quarterfinals since then. How has he climbed up the 'ranks.' As the title suggests, his journey was far from easy or straightforward. Read on to find out.
2009: First major victories
2009 - or more accurately, the last quarter of the tennis season of that year - was the first year of breakthroughs for Marin Cilic. He reached his first grand slam quarter final at a grand slam with his win over Andy Murray in the fourth round, at the 2009 US Open championships. Unfortunately, his opponent in the quarter-finals was eventual winner Del Potro. In spite of the defeat, it was a tremendous feat in itself to have taken the first set, as well as having a break up in the second, against the eventual champion! What an end to the year for a 22-year-old amateur professional tennis player who was used to being knocked out in the third rounds of grand slams.
2010: First semifinal. What it says.
In a reversion of the way 2009 must have felt for him, the first quarter of 2010 was the moment of elation for Cilic. In what was a marathon to the semi-final which at a moment in its time felt like Cilic was going to win, if not have a massive advantage, Cilic had to overcome 3 intense five-setter slug-outs and 2 'heavyweights'. Defeating Del Potro and Roddick back-to-back en route to the semi-final must have been a mammoth task. And then, it seemed during his match with Murray that the momentum ws going to bowl Murray over. He was a break up in the second!
2013: Failed drug test
In 2013, one of the worst nightmares a professional tennis player can ever face hit Cilic. He was banned from playing professionally for the taking of a glucose tablet. What must have added to his torment exponentially is the fact that the banned substance was apparently (a strong yet very uncertain qualifier) taken inadvertently. Even the ITF acknowledges that the nikethamide came in a packet of Coramine glucose tablets, a dietary supplement that Cilic had been using regularly and which in the form he normally took did not contravene the Wada code. According to sources, Cilic sent his mother down to the pharmacy to buy another packet, but did not realise that the French version of the product contained different chemicals. There was a warning notice in the packaging, but it escaped him. This case recalls that of Alain Baxter, the Scottish skier who was stripped of his Olympic medal from the 2002 Winter Games because he had used an American version of the Vicks inhaler that contained a banned steroid. Just imagine losing 500,000 pounds for missing a train by 3 minutes. An absurd analogy such is, but one very appropriate.
2014 and after
Cilic played his first post-ban tournament at the 2014 Brisbane Open. In what may seem as a sign for his ban-induced poor performance for the rest of the year, he was knocked out of the Australian Open in the second round, and the third for the French Open. In a remarkable reversal of the situation though, he brought eventual 2014 Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic to a five-set grinder in that very tournament. Insignificantly seeded 14th in that year's US Open, he dropped the absolute surprise by winning it, losing not one set in the last two matches against Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori! His strong performance has since then continued, with semi-final appearances and two grand slam runner-ups.
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