Editor's note: This Q&A with U.S. Open finalist Marin Cilic was originally published on July 29. All rankings and statistics below are through that date.
Marin Cilic moved up to No. 18 in this week's ATP Tour rankings, his highest position since returning last October from a four-month suspension for what he says was unknowingly ingesting a banned substance. Cilic, 25, is 36-14 this year with two titles (Zagreb Indoors and Delray Beach Open), and he led Novak Djokovic two sets to one in the Wimbledon quarterfinals before losing in five. The 11-time winner and former world No. 9 is coached by fellow Croatian Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion. SI.com recently caught up with Cilic, who discussed his tennis roots, favorite tournament, off-court interests, anti-selfie stance and more.
SI.com: When did you realize you were good at tennis?
Cilic: Probably around 14, when I was finishing primary school. I'm coming from a pretty small city in Croatia, not too many options to train, not too many players. So I had to either choose to stay at home to do more school or move to Zagreb to the national training center. That was when I made decisions to do something better in tennis.
SI.com: Was there a particular win or result that made you believe you could be a professional tennis player?
Cilic: At that time I still wasn't thinking very much [laughs]. I wanted to give myself the best chance I can, and [training in Zagreb] was the obvious step. But after that, the result that made the biggest difference was winning the French Open juniors [in 2005]. That opened the door to receive more wild cards and I was on the map as being a bright prospect. Also Goran was helping me at the time and that was a bit more understanding for me that I could be a good player.
SI.com: How did it feel as you started to get more hype and attention?
Cilic: I didn't really pay attention to that. OK, I'm here talking to the press and I can be good and have good results. But it was still about me improving year after year. In the later stages, when I came to the pro tour, thinking I might do something big pushed me back a little bit. Am I ready for that? I was a little unsure of that step. But when you're just playing tennis and enjoying he game, you don't think too much about what is going to happen and where you go.
SI.com: What's the most surprising thing people would learn about Goran?
Cilic: That he is an unbelievably nice person. He treats the people around him better than he treats himself. That's why I enjoy working with him. I am a little bit like him in that way and I feel like he really wants to help. He's always there no matter what. Maybe the people who see him on TV think he's explosive and crazy. But when he's not playing, he's an unbelievably nice person.
SI.com: What do you do to keep your mind off tennis?
Cilic: In our team we have different things that keep the balance between the tension from the match and the training to off the court where it's really relaxed. Goran is a great character and has lots of jokes. The team always has jokes and games with each other. We go out, go for dinner, walk around. It's based on feeling. Whatever I feel like, I'm going to do it.
SI.com: What's your favorite tournament?
SI.com: Why? Do you like the heat?
Cilic: This year not [laughs]. This year it went down on my list. [Cilic lost a five-set, second-round match to Gilles Simon] No, but there's a big Croatian community and it's incredibly well organized. They are really player friendly there. They try to keep people happy and you feel it straight away when you come. The most special Slam is Wimbledon, of course. But where I feel the best is Melbourne. And you're happy that you're playing. When you get to the middle of the season, everything is week after week and it's all routine. But when it's Melbourne in January, you are fresh and you want to play. It's nice.
SI.com: What's your favorite app?
Cilic: I change it all the time. A few weeks ago I downloaded Football Manager. I am playing the game a lot. I'm addicted.
SI.com: How good are you?
Cilic: [Laughs] Level 1. It goes gradually. I'm slowing getting there.
SI.com: If you could improve your game physically, mentally, or tactically, which one would you choose?
Cilic: Physically, I think. Tactically and mentally, I think I'm good. In today's game, the quickest guys have the advantage. And in general in sports, if you're fast you have a much bigger chance to succeed. I'm trying to improve, but it's tough against natural athletes who are amazingly fast like Rafa [Nadal] or Roger [Federer] or Novak.
SI.com: So to you physical improvement means speed?
Cilic: Yeah. Overall, I think all of the guys can get stronger and build their endurance. But the problem with speed is it's hard to keep up and hard to improve. It goes really slowly unless you're naturally fast.
SI.com: Most surprising thing about the men's locker room?
Cilic: [laughs]. Silence. No, I mean, we share a locker room every week. Even though we are playing each other all the time, we're also practicing with each other all the time. Overall, everybody is pretty cool. Not too many bad personalities on the tour so I don't know what to expose there.
SI.com: Who's the funniest guy in the locker room?
Cilic: [Dmitry] Tursunov.
SI.com: Your weirdest fan interaction?
Cilic: Croatian people are a little crazy. When I played Andy Murray in the Australian Open semifinals [in 2010], we finished the match and one fan jumped the fence wearing a Croatian shirt and he wanted to give me a high-five.
SI.com: Were you freaked out?
Cilic: No, I was surprised. Because we finished the match at the net and he just ran over and gave me a high-five, and I gave him a high-five. Then security took over.
SI.com: Are you superstitious?
Cilic: I would call it more routines [laughs]. Superstitious? No. But having a few routines while I'm playing keeps me working my brain in the right way. Play around with the balls, choosing which ball boys to take the ball from, stuff like this. It's more a routine to help you feel comfortable. The weird thing about it is if you try not to do your routine, you see immediately the result is not good. You lose your serve or you lose a couple of games, and you are upset at yourself.
SI.com: Why do you think interrupting a player's routines has such an effect?
Cilic: You become more aware of it. You see your mistake or something you did wrong, and all of a sudden you see it in a larger picture.
SI.com: If you could take a selfie with anyone, who would it be?
Cilic: I wouldn't.
SI.com: Are you anti-selfie?
Cilic: Yeah [laughs]. Selfies became too big. The selfie photos are not good. Fans ask me for a selfie and I say, "Let's just do a photo." I'm not anti-selfie, but I like a classic photograph.