Croatian powerhouse Marin Cilic is playing in the 2014 U.S. Open final on September 8.
As he faces Japan’s Kei Nishikori , he said, “Well, it’s gonna be special day for both of us. I mean, opportunity for both of us to win a Grand Slam, to be a part of the history. It’s gonna be definitely huge emotions on the court.”
Learn more about the 25-year-old athlete as he enters into the biggest match of his career so far.
1. He Thinks Beating Federer Was His Best Performance Ever
Cilic beat No. 2 seed Roger Federer in the U.S. Open Seminfinals on September 6.
After the upset, he told ESPN, “Just an amazing day for me. I feel amazing. To play like this, I never dreamed. I think today was the best performance ever in my career.”
In a post game interview, he gushed, “Just for the performance today from, I mean, first point to the last I was absolutely playing the best tennis of my life.”
His defeated opponent did admit that Cilic played a better game.
I wasn’t as confident this time around, because Marin played more aggressive. He was serving huge. From that standpoint, I knew that margins were slim, even though I still believed in my chance.
2. This Is His First Grand Slam Final
When he faces Nishikori, it will mark both of their first Grand Slam finals.
This year’s Open was also Cilic’s first foray into the Grand Slam semifinals. When he advanced, he expressed his contentment with this tweet:
USOpen semis for the 1st time. Feels goooood.
— Marin Cilic (@cilic_marin) September 5, 2014
This February, he played a three hour, eight-minute final in the Delray Beach Open, beating Kevin Anderson for the title of champion.
Watch the highlight reel above to see the longest match in that tournament’s history.
After it was over, he told Reuters, “It feels awesome, especially after waiting for a long time last night and finishing after 1 a.m.”
3. He Missed Last Year’s Open Due to Drugs
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 29, 2014
Cilic missed the Open because he was serving a four-month suspension for allegedly using Nikethamide, a banned stimulant the Croatian claimed he unknowingly ingested. It was found in his urine sample after a tournament in Munich in May 2013.
According to the Daily Mail, the drugs were in glucose pills that his mother purchased.
His coach, Goran Ivanisevic, told the paper that the suspension took a toll on his student.
“It was not easy time. He was angry. He didn’t do anything wrong. We were practicing one week, stopped two weeks. Then practice another week, then what are we practicing for? He wasn’t injured but had to stay home for five months and you’re No. 11 and you come back you’re 37,” he said.
4. He’s Croatian & Is Dating a Girl From Home
— Marin Cilic (@cilic_marin) July 22, 2014
If he wins tonight, Cilic will become Croatia’s first Grand Slam winner since his coach, Ivanisevic, won Wimbledon in 2001.
Croatia Week reported all the festivities that will take place in Croatia’s capital on the Open’s final night:
Zagreb’s main Ban Jelačić square will be showing the match live on a big screen. Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić has invited all those interested in watching the final to come down to the main square where apart from the match, there will be an entertainment programme, including singer Tony Cetinski and tambura group Begini.
She describes herself on LinkedIn as an “Employer branding and Sourcing specialist at Zagrebačka bank.”
And here she is in the stands — the woman he kissed after winning the Open today:
— Broadcast Director (@SportsDirectTV) September 8, 2014
5. He Won His 1st Tournament at 8
As a child, he started playing in his hometown, on courts that were the first to ever be built there.
At 15, he moved to nearby Italy for further training.
On his personal website, he explained his beginnings in the sport, saying:
I started tennis with my older brother Vinko when our father brought us to a tennis club. Vinko was already too old to start to play tennis at 12, but I was at proper age to start. I had also a very good friend of mine playing tennis, who is Ivan Dodig’s younger brother. First tournaments started when I was 8. I won my first trophy at 8, making it to semi-final, on the tournament 10&U and I still have it at home, probably one of my favorite trophies.