Marin Cilic: how Goran Ivanisevic inspired me to beat Roger Federer in my best match ever

Marin Cilic playing tennis
Acing it: former US Open champion Marin Cilic prepares for matches by eating chicken pasta Credit: Getty

As he bids to win the Fever-Tree Championships at the Queen’s Club for the third time, the Croat reflects on some of the best moments from his career

Who is the best player you have ever faced?

I’d say Novak [Djokovic] on hard courts, Rafa [Nadal] on clay, Roger [Federer] on grass. It’s tough to differentiate between them, but for my game Novak might be the trickiest. He has no weaknesses and he returns my serve so well.

What was the best match you have ever played in?

The 2014 US Open semi-final against Roger Federer (Cilic won in straight sets).

Making memories: Facing Roger Federer in the 2014 US Open semi-final was a memorable experience Credit: Getty

And what is the best you have ever played?

That 2014 US Open. During it my coach Goran [Ivanisevic] was telling me just to swing freely. It’s not about having a blank mind exactly, because you still need to stay tactically aware. It’s about finding your rhythm and your confidence.

What is the best city you have visited on tour?

Melbourne, for its friendliness, the large Croatian community and the great atmosphere around the tournament. It’s not too big or too small, and it’s great to get out of the European winter into the Australian summer.

Down under: the Melbourne tournament provides a welcome escape from the European winter Credit: Getty

And the best place you have ever played tennis?

In the 2016-17 off-season, I found myself holidaying on the same island in the Maldives as Roger Federer. They have a separate island for sports activities, with a pair of tennis courts which are kept in great shape. I just texted him and we practised together a couple of times.

Tropical paradise: Cilic practised with Roger Federer in the Maldives during the 2016-17 off-season Credit: Getty

What is your best pre-match tune to listen to?

I don’t listen to anything.

What is your best pre-match meal?

Chicken and pasta with tomato sauce.

Fuelling up: Cilic prepares for a match with a meal of chicken with pasta Credit: Getty

What is the best way to celebrate a victory?

Just a meal out with your team. It gives you a chance to let everything sink in. I don’t normally go crazy, but the very best experience I had was after I won the US Open and 40,000 people came out to welcome me back to my hometown [Medjugorje in Croatia].

Who has been the best sportsperson in the world?

There are certain athletes who take us forward, who transcend sport. I’d put Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in that category. In tennis, there’s Novak, Rafa and Roger. Please don’t make me choose between them.

Top of their game: Cilic believes athletes, such as Michael Jordan, transcend sport Credit: Getty

What is the best thing about being a professional sportsman?

To do what you love. To push your own boundaries and to learn about yourself through great times and tough times. Best of all, to have the chance to achieve greatness.

Who in the world would be the best person to share a drink with?

Pope Francis. I am of the Catholic faith. I don’t know what the Pope would drink. I know they do have wine but maybe only in special circumstances.

Drinking partner: as a Catholic, Cilic cites Pope Francis as his ideal drinking partner Credit: Getty

What has been the best moment in your life?

Getting married. That’s bigger than anything that happens on a tennis court.