November 6, 2009

The Most Underrated Man in Tennis

Okay, of course that statement is a bit of an exaggeration -- but still, it's easy enough to have never heard of Marin Cilic.

The twenty-one year old Croat first started grabbing attention last year when, after a rough spring, he finally started putting together back-to-back wins during the grass court season. His win in New Haven at the expense of Mardy Fish capped off a great 2008.

This year he bested himself, quietly plugging away this year to reach a career high #13 ranking. But even though he began 2009 by capturing two tiles in Chennai and Zagreb, he didn't really make a splash until September when he shocked Andy Murray at the U.S. Open. Since then, he's put together a string of impressive wins, even beating red-hot Nikolay Davydenko and Rafael Nadal in Beijing.

This week Cilic hopes to follow up two straight second place finishes with the big prize at the Swiss Indoors in Basel. With the tournament attracting some top talent, though, he hasn't faced an easy field so far. In the first round he drew a feisty Philipp Petzschner who reached a career-high ranking of #35 just two months ago, and next suffered a battle royal against Viktor Troicki which lasted over three hours and three tiebreaks.

He doesn't have much time to rest -- today Marin faces Davis Cup opponent, Czech Radek Stepanek. They've split their previous two meetings, with Marin last winning in straight sets at Roland Garros earlier this year. But Radek has improved his own play over the last several months and is himself ranked #14, just behind Cilic. And while he was also tested in his second round match, he's had that all-important extra day of rest.

It might be too much to hope for a win this afternoon for Cilic, and even if he does advance there's a long road ahead with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer both potential opponents. In any case, though, Marin has proven he's someone to pay attention to -- if not yet as a title-contender, at least as a dark horse.

And if he can pull the momentum he's accumulated this year into 2010, there's no reason we won't see him atop a few more winner's podiums soon!

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