Maharashtra Open 2018: It is imperative for Marin Cilic to start the year positively
2017 was a year that was supposed to be dominated by the emerging players of tennis. Those who played in the shadow of the Big 4 were supposed to shine through and win big tournaments. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were coming back from long injury layoffs, while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were out of form first and injured later. It looked like the sport would finally find new champions and heroes.
However, it was not to be. While Djokovic and Murray could not achieve anything substantial in the season, veterans Federer and Nadal scripted incredible tales of comeback individually and collectively. They split the four Grand Slams between them and asserted their undisputed dominance in the sport yet again.
One of the players who was supposed to make it big in the season was Marin Cilic. Although he failed to win his second Grand Slam title, the Croat still had a memorable year, one which can be qualified as one of the best in his career so far.
He played exceptional tennis in the grass season and reached the final of the Wimbledon with thumping victories throughout the tournament. However, he came face to face with the Swiss Maestro in the final and was unable to cross the last hurdle. His claim for the prestigious trophy was cut short due to the immense physical problems that he faced in the final, where a severe blister on his left foot rendered him unable to compete at his best level and left him in tears at the end of the match.
The rest of the year flew past the 29-year-old but could not pay the dividend to his search for another big title to his name. He managed to attain a career-high ranking of Number 4 after the US Open, but ended the year at Number 6 after failing to win a single match in the World Tour Finals.
The hard-hitting player will begin his 2018 campaign in India, where he will be the top seed at the Tata Maharashtra Open hosted in Pune. His aim would be to win the tournament in a convincing manner to go into the Australian Open with confidence and a trophy under his belt.
Another positive to his participation in the tournament there is no pressure of defending points on his shoulders. He lost in the second round of the ATP 250 event last year and as he is starting from the same stage this year, the right-hander does not face the threat of losing any points.
When Sportskeeda asked him about the same in his press conference before the tournament, he answered, “Yes, it does take off the pressure. But on the other hand, I’m used to performing really well under pressure in my career: be it the Davis Cup matches, the Grand Slams or the tournaments where I was defending a lot of points. In one way it is easier to relaxed and not be that stressed, but I want to keep that intensity so that I can play at the best of my abilities in the first part of this year. That will push me to attain the best ranking of my career, which can be around Number 4 or Number 3.”
Cilic will play against Ramkumar Ramanathan in his first match of the tournament on Wednesday (January 3). It will be a big-ticket seller, as one of the topmost Indian players will take on the World Number 6 for an exciting contest.
It should ideally be an easy win for the Croat, but his opponent’s familiarity with the surface might turn it into a trickier challenge. Cilic did back-to-back titles at this tournament back in 2009 and 2010, but the conditions will be different this time around, considering the shift of the event from Chennai to Pune this year.
Interacting with Sportskeeda about the same, he said, “The conditions are different this time. The courts are quicker than what we’re used to seeing in Chennai. I think this is one of the best preparations you can have for the Australian Open. I am really glad that I came here and hope that I can do extremely well.”
A good start to the year is imperative for Cilic’s chances to end the year in the Top 5 ATP rankings. He has been stranded at Number 6 for the last two seasons and will look to take a step further in 2018.
Talking about what he aims to achieve in Pune over the next five days, he stated, “For me the expectations are to put things that I worked on during the off season into play on court. That is very important in the first week of the year. Coming back here year after year is something that I truly enjoy.”