Cilic: ‘The Season Hasn’t Been The Best In My Own Terms’

Marin Cilic (photo: Sofia Open/

WASHINGTON/SOFIA, November 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

This week’s ATP 250 Sofia Open taking place in the capital and largest city in Bulgaria is filled with a blend of up-and-coming NextGen players as well as a mixture of Eastern Europeans from Bulgaria and the Balkan region, some well known and others who might seem less familiar to tennis fans. While the top two seeds, No. 1 Denis Shapovalov and No. 2 Felix Auger-Aliassime are both from Canada and ranked in the Top 25, there’s also 41st-ranked Marin Cilic of Croatia, who has given the final regular-season tournament on the 2020 ATP Tour schedule some name recognition.

The No. 8 seed and 18-time tour-level winner came in as the only one in the 28-player main draw who has won a Grand Slam singles title, at the 2014 US Open when he beat Kei Nishikori of Japan. However, it didn’t make him any less susceptible to being upset in Sofia. In Monday night’s featured match inside Arena Armeec against hungry and ready 399th-ranked wild card Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic, that’s exactly what happened to Cilic. He lost.

The 19-year-old Forejtek, who was making his ATP Tour main draw debut, upset Cilic, 6-3, 6-2, in one hour and six minutes. Forejtek, who was the World No. 1 junior player last year and won three Grand Slam titles, including the US Open singles and Australian Open and Wimbledon doubles, played fearlessly throughout and moved gracefully about the court. He won on his fourth match point opportunity after which he got to enjoy some polite applause from a limited number of spectators who were allowed to attend. It seemed there was nothing too difficult for him to handle from Cilic en route to his 20th victory in 31 matches this season, playing in a variety of ATP Challenger Tour and ITF World Tour events. In February, Forejtek won his second career ITF Tour title. It came in a $15K event on clay in Antalya, Turkey. In September, he reached a career-best FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 395.

Against Cilic, Forejtek finished with a pair of service aces as he placed 63 percent of his first serves in play, winning a respectable 83 percent (29 of 35) of his first-serve points and saved two of the three break points he faced. Meanwhile, Forejtek won 45 percent (21 of 47) of his returns off Cilic’s serve and broke the Croatian four times in five tries. Forejtek outpointed Cilic 58-45.

“It is much difficult to play with these young players when you don’t know them so well, when you don’t know their game,” Cilic suggested the day before his match against Forejtek. “They are still developing and definitely very tricky [to play]. But it is also something to have motivation from. We have many young players. I believe there are around 18 to 20 in Top 50 that are around 25 and younger. So these younger players are pushing forward. And for us, the older players [30 and older], [we] need to keep developing, also improving, adapting our game, and keeping our motivation high.”

Next, Forejtek will play Tuesday’s winner between 103rd-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain and No. 49 Richard Gasquet from France.

Cilic hoped to finish 2020 season well

During a virtual sit down with international media Sunday afternoon, Tennis TourTalk asked Cilic, a 32-year-old native of Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, what his goals were as he arrived in Sofia to play in his final tournament of the abbreviated 2020 season.

“I believe for me it is a good chance to finish the season well,” said Cilic, whose season record ended after 14-12 with zero titles following Monday’s loss. “That’s the number one thing, to have a few good matches, good results, something positive, that can also start a little bit of a fire for the off season and also for the next season.

“The second thing is that I can use this week for some things I would like to implement in my game and possibility to start here with those things I would like to do in the next season. Maybe, a different approach, nothing big that I would change in my game. Just a couple of small details. It’s also a good tournament for me to try and see how it’s going to play. If it goes well, that’s a great road map for me for the off season, too.”

Tennis TourTalk also asked Cilic to reflect back on the 2020 season, which was interrupted for five months due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The season hasn’t been the best in my own terms,” Cilic said. “I still feel that my level is not the level I was in 2018, 2017, also 2016. So, that’s another thing. I am searching how to get back to that level. It is perfectly normal for me to see these ups and downs. We see it in many different sports and also in individuals. It’s very common, everybody is going through different stages. It’s just a matter of keeping motivation high, working with my own team on things that I can do better and learning from those things – and hoping, obviously, that results are going in my favor to push that forward.”

Around the Sofia Open

• No. 7 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia had two match points in the third set against 149th-ranked lucky loser Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland. However, Huesler saved both of them and went on to win in a third-set tiebreak on his second match point, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (6), in one hour and 51 minutes.

Huesler, who was a quarterfinalist last week at the Eckental Challenger in Eckental, Germany, handed Basilashvili his 10th straight loss on the strength of 22 service aces and an 80-percent (49 of 61) efficiency rate in winning first-serve points. He saved four of five break points he faced and outpointed Basilashvili 98-83. Huelser, who lost in the second round of qualifying Sunday, was added to the draw as a lucky loser after Stefano Travaglia of Italy withdrew with an elbow injury.

Next, Huesler, who is 21-6 combined in all competitions, will play either No. 44 Jannik Sinner of Italy or No. 55 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary on Wednesday.

• No. 35 Adrian Mannarino of France advanced over No. 150 Martin Klizan from Slovakia, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5, on the strength of 10 aces and four breaks of his opponent’s serve, including in the 11th game of the third set that broke a 5-all tie. Next, Mannarino will face 81st-ranked Egor Gerasimov of Bulgaria, who beat Serbian qualifier Viktor Troicki, ranked 196th, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

• No. 74 Vasek Pospisil of Canada beat lucky loser Illya Marchenko of Ukraine, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (5) to advance against No 4 seed Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Pospisil hit eight aces and won 79 percent (48 of 61) of his first-serve points to improve to 18-11.

• Qualifier Aslan Karatsev of Russia, ranked No. 114, defeated 115th-ranked qualifier Taro Daniel of Japan, 7-6 (2), 6-1. Next, he will face No. 3 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia.

• No. 82 Salvatore Caruso of Italy pulled out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over 291st-ranked Bulgarian qualifier Dimitar Kuzmanov. Next, will face No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.

• Main draw singles play got underway Sunday evening in Sofia as Nur-Sultan champion John Millman of Australia, seeded sixth, advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Bulgarian wild card Adrian Andreev, and 93rd-ranked Radu Albot of Moldova beat Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, ranked 100th, 6-4, 6-1. Next, Millman plays either 62nd-ranked qualifier Gilles Simon of France or No. 105 Andrej Martin of Slovakia, while Albot will face World No. 12 and top seed Shapovalov, who is looking to crack the Top 10 with a good run this week in his final tournament of the season.

• In the doubles draw, there’s one spot remaining for the Nitto ATP Finals and it will be determined between Jurgen Melzer/Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Jamie Murray/Neal Skupski. They are the No. 1 and 2 seeds this week at Sofia. Melzer of Austria and Roger-Vasselin from France, will qualify by reaching the final and they can also qualify if Murray and Skupski, both of Great Britain, do not reach the championship match.

On Monday, Murray and Skupski advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 6-3, 3-6, 10-6 win over Divij Sharan of India and Igor Zelenay from Slovakia.