SHENZHEN, CHINA – Second-seed Marin Cilic beat John Millman in the second round of the Shenzhen Open on Friday in his first tournament since bowing out to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. The Croat just celebrated his 27th birthday on Sept. 28 and continued his celebration upon his arrival to Shenzhen, China. In a special to SI.com, Cilic sat down with contributor James Pham in Shenzhen to write about his career after his U.S. Open title, lessons he's learned and his goals for the rest of the season.
Ni hao from Shenzhen!
It’s my first tournament back since the U.S. Open where I twisted my ankle pretty badly in the fourth round against Jeremy Chardy, so it was really fortunate for me to even get to the semis at that point. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of recovery and I didn’t play tennis for some days. But in the last 6-7 days, the recovery has been going really well and I’m feeling good. I’m practicing well, so I’m really looking forward to starting my Asian tour here in Shenzhen for the first time. Goran Ivanisevic was here a year or two ago and he said the city was great so we’re going to try to see the city.
It’s great to be back in China. I usually play well in China and love the atmosphere here and love the conditions so I hope it will be again another year with a title. I’m especially involved with China and Chinese fans the last 4-5 years because of my sponsor Li Ning, so it’s great to be back, for sure. It’s my birthday this week and it’s very special for me to celebrate every year my birthday in China and get so many presents. For example last year, I got four cakes for my birthday so I don’t think anywhere in the world I would get this. It’s always a pleasure and it always connects me with nice memories in China.
I usually play the China Open next week, but this is actually the first time since 2006 that I’m going to be playing something different, in Tokyo. I just wanted to change a little bit as usually in Shanghai I was not playing as well as I would want to. I think I had only once quarters over there so I feel the court surface could be more similar in Tokyo and Shanghai and I just wanted to give it a try and do that tournament this year.
I think No. 8 in the Race to London is around 3,000 points, so it’s around 1,000 points ahead of me. I’m going to have to be playing really well in the next 5-6 weeks to be able to get to that point but I’m very confident in this situation now, I’m feeling very positive. I think it would be absolutely great to reach London again for the second time.
It wasn’t easy finishing 2014 like that, with so much drama at the end of the season, after the highlight of my career winning the U.S. Open, and then everything cooled down the next few months as I was injured and didn’t play tournaments. I was recovering and trying to do as much treatments as I could to get back as quickly as possible to the tour.
When I got back that victory sort of faded away. You’re in the new season, back again in the circus and trying to do well again. That wasn’t easy, but I’m feeling I’m getting back my form and this last U.S. Open just showed that victory from 2014 wasn’t a one-time thing, that I’m really enjoying to play there in New York and especially at the Grand Slam level, I’m performing well.
I’m a low-key person in life. I’m sort of pretty humble and I like to keep private things for myself. I don’t like to be too much exposed and I don’t like to be too much sharing too many things about my life and stuff like that. Even though now in this era, you can’t live without social media and social networks, so I’m trying to make it a balance.
But the last few years, it’s been really…how would I describe it? I’ve learned a lot of life lessons. I think it’s helped me get more experience quicker in life and I’ve learned some lessons that are going for sure to stay with me for the rest of my life. In tough times, the people that were around me, the people that were pretending to be close to me and helping me, they crossed my face and crossed my name. They didn’t want to help. So from one day to another, you have to deal with some things in life that you didn’t have to deal with before. Tennis is a sport where you live all the time on the tour. You don’t see too many things that the normal people go through almost every day in their life—with bad stuff, with bad people or people who try to cheat. In tennis, if you’re doing well, working well, it’s paying back to you. It’s a pretty fair sport.
When you’re dealing with some situations from life like that, you have to get your experience quicker. And I think that was giving me a good boost for my tennis, to understand what I really would like to do with my career and that I felt pushed me to be stronger in my mind, more determined. Even though in the past, I was giving 100%, with these few lessons that I’ve learned, I’m more dedicated every day to do the things I need to do.