By E.J. Crawford
Throughout the year, EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com will feature players who could make an impact during this year's Series. Here’s a look at 25-year-old comeback kid Marin Cilic.
The Baseline: Cilic has endured a whirlwind nine months. It all started when he withdrew from his second-round match at last year’s Wimbledon. Shortly thereafter, the two-time US Open quarterfinalist was suspended for nine months for violating the ITF’s anti-doping policy. Cilic contested the ruling, saying he took a glucose tablet out of tournament play, and the suspension was commuted after four months when the ITF changed its rules, essentially making what Cilic did no longer a violation.
Regardless, the damage was done to his 2013 season, and the former world No. 9 plummeted to No. 47 in the world rankings. Now, a few months into the 2014 campaign, Cilic is arguably the hottest player on tour. After falling in the second round of the Australian Open, he went on a February roll – winning titles in Zagreb and Delray Beach and reaching the final in Rotterdam to push his ranking back up to No. 25 (and with very few points to defend the rest of the year).
The Breakdown: Cilic’s career to this point has been something of an enigma. Touted as a future Grand Slam champion, he seemed well on his way to fulfilling his promise after reaching the quarterfinals at the 2009 US Open and the semifinals at the 2010 Australian Open. But rather than continuing to ascend, Cilic plateaued. Since Melbourne in 2010, he has advanced past the round of 16 at a Grand Slam just once – at the 2012 US Open – settling into a ranking in the mid to high teens.
That may very well change in 2014. Cilic recently joined forces with former Wimbledon champion and fellow Croatian Goran Ivanisivec and is now making full use of his game and frame – at 6-foot-6 but under 200 pounds, he has an intimidating wingspan but still possesses the foot speed to keep up with the best players in the world. So far this year he owns wins over Top 20 players Andy Murray, John Isner and Tommy Haas, and with a game best suited to hard courts, he is a serious contender to crack the Top 3 in the 2014 Series standings.