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By Nenad N. Bach | Published  07/10/2005 | Sports | Unrated



New Croatian Tennis Star

By Katarina Tepesh & Jeffrey Lesser

In an amazing turn of events, 16-year-old Croat Marin Cilic won the boys’ junior championship at Roland Garros to become the first Croatian champion of the event in French Open history.

In his title run, the unseeded Cilic won six matches in a row, including a third-round dismantling of the #3 seed, Son-Yong Kim, Jr. of Korea, a straight set victory over 5th seeded Sergei Bubka of the Ukraine, and a semifinal shocker over #1 seed Andrew Murray of Britain. After defeating three seeded players in a row, Cilic faced Antal Van Der Duim of the Netherlands in the final, and won the title convincingly, 6-3 6-1. Marin Cilic, an unseeded player not expected to do much damage on clay at the French Open, had won the title in superlative fashion.

Cilic, who now officially represents Croatia, moved to Zagreb in 2002 from his home in Medjugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the same village where in 1981 youngsters affirmed that they had seen the Virgin Mary “Queen of Peace.?

Said Cilic of how he became involved in tennis, “One of my relatives was playing tennis. So I started to play initially just to get involved with sports. I learned pretty fast and I started to think that perhaps I have a future in tennis.? He realized this potential was genuine in 2004. “I was thrilled when as a 14-year-old, my idol Goran Ivanisevic invited me to train with him and asked me to play doubles with him at the Zagreb Open,? Cilic remembered.

It was truly unexpected that Cilic, an unseeded underdog in almost all of his matches at Roland Garros, won the clay-court tournament, because he greatly favors playing on hard courts and grass. This should say something for his ability to win the US Open and the upcoming Wimbledon junior championships.

Cilic is sure to no longer have financial troubles, which plagued him greatly in the past. A delighted Cilic noted, “The Croatian tennis association is paying for my apartment in Zagreb and I also receive 2000 kunas pay. Now that I won at Roland Garros, I will receive additional money from Zagreb municipality.? On his imminent sponsorship opportunities, Cilic remarked, “I also received several offers from well known sponsors. Now I’m in the process to seriously consider them. Of course, my main sponsor Fila will definitely increase my pay.?

Training in Zagreb with coach Andrej Tonejc, to whom Cilic greatly attributes his success, Cilic hopes to do more than just win the boys’ junior championship at Roland Garros. “My goal is to one day reach top 50,? said the 16-year-old tennis phenom.

While playing in Croatia has helped his tennis game, it has not come without its drawbacks. “I miss my family who are still living in Medjugorje. I hope we will be together soon,? said Cilic.

For all wishing to get a chance to see Cilic play live, he competed among Juniors at US Open 2004 and therefore is sure to play at the US Open 2005. With his great preference for hard courts, perhaps Cilic is better suited to winning this tournament than even Roland Garros.



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