June 24, 2017 / 7:00 PM / a month ago

Gentle giant Cilic profits from new aggressive streak

3 Min Read

Tennis - Aegon Championships - Queen’s Club, London, Britain - June 24, 2017 Croatia's Marin Cilic celebrates after winning his match against Luxembourg's Gilles Muller during the semi finals Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'Brien

LONDON (Reuters) - "Mr Nice Guy" Marin Cilic believes a more aggressive attitude on court can propel him towards a title push at Wimbledon.

On the surface the 28-year-old has the A-game for the All England Club's lawns -- a mighty serve, bludgeoning groundstrokes and, for a such a tall man, nimble court coverage.

Yet he has never got past the quarter-finals and last year faltered from two sets up against Roger Federer, squandering three match points in an epic last-eight clash.

With the grasscourt season in full swing, though, there are signs that Croatian Cilic, who will rise to a career-high ranking of six on Monday, has rediscovered the killer instinct that saw him sweep to the 2014 U.S. Open title when he beat Federer in the semis before overpowering Japan's Kei Nishikori.

At Queen's Club on Saturday, where he won the title in 2012, Cilic reached the final of the Aegon Championships with an impressive 6-3 5-7 6-4 defeat of Gilles Muller, who had been on a seven-match winning streak on grass.

With coach Jonas Bjorkman sitting courtside, Cilic clearly meant business, with observers remarking how "fired up" he was throughout the contest -- not something that has always been associated with the Monte Carlo-based giant.

"I'm being a little bit more motivated, and that is driving me a little bit more to be aggressive on the court, which is extremely important in my own sense," Cilic said.

Some of his statistics this week have been remarkable.

He won 50 of his 51 first-serve points during his first two rounds at Queen's -- either with unreturnable deliveries or, when the ball did come back, punishing forehands.

Against Muller he served 20 aces and dropped only four points on first serve, making that 10 for the week.

His conversion of break points (two of 13) was disappointing but proof that Cilic's return game, against one of the game's best servers, is also in fine fettle.

Swede Bjorkman, a fine exponent of grasscort tennis, has even encouraged Cilic to play more doubles to make him more confident at the net, and that paid dividends at Queen's where Cilic and Marcin Matkowski reached the doubles final.

Confidence Under Pressure

"That was a goal," Bjorkman says. "To get a bit more comfortable up there. It's one thing doing it in practise but playing competitive doubles helps you have that confidence to do it when the pressure is on."

With his run to the Queen's final after losing in the semis on the grass of Den Bosch last week, Cilic will have only the "big five" ahead of him in the ATP rankings. But he wants more.

"The target is top five," he said. "All those top-five guys are definitely amazing players so to even be close is a great challenge and big motivation.

"I know I can match them, but during the course of the year, it was difficult for me to keep it up. But I think I'm getting closer to that consistency level. That's the biggest step."

Reporting by Martyn Herman,; Editing by Neville Dalton

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