Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Croatia has a new star on the horizon, and his name is Marin Cilic. The 20-year-old slugger has been rocketing up the rankings in recent months, and is off to an especially fast start in this still very young 2009 season.
The lanky 6-foot-6, 180-pounder has pushed his way up to a career-high No. 19 in the world, thanks in large part to a 15-1 record already this year (at the time of this article), including a tour-high-tying two titles. He broke through with his first-ever ATP title in New Haven last year, and his 2009 championships have come in Chennai (that's in India) and Zagreb, which is where he hangs his hat (if he wears hats) in Croatia. His celebrated victory in Zagreb made him a perfect 3-0 in his career finals.
A few years back, Cilic's quasi-mentor Goran Ivanisevic, who has been quoted as saying that Cilic "can be a future Top-10 player easily," recommended that Cilic work with Australian coach Bob Brett, who runs a tennis academy in San Remo (or Sanremo if you prefer) near the French-Italian border. Brett also worked with a teenaged Ivanisevic and a teenaged Boris Becker back in the 1980s.
I'd say those two guys worked out pretty well.
At 6-foot-6, Marin Cilic is certainly one of the tallest players among the ATP's crop of bright young stars.
"Mrnja" (I didn't make-up that nickname) joined the pro ranks in 2005, a year that he finished as the No. 2 junior in the world, behind only currently-disappointing American Donald Young. Cilic ended '05 ranked 600th on the planet, and has been making progress ever since. He was No. 22 in the world at the beginning of this particular campaign.
And, surprise, he's a big-server that prefers to play on hardcourts and grass.
The ever-improving Cilic (pronounced CHEE-litch), whose '09 year-to-date earnings are already over a quarter-of-a-million dollars, topped fellow tall countryman Mario Ancic in a rare all-Croatian final in Zagreb earlier this month, a week after he succumbed to Top-10 star (and another fellow tall guy) Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round at the Aussie Open.
Note: Cilic reached the fourth round at last year's Wimbledon and Aussie Grand Slams.
Cilic is the fifth seed in Dubai this week and perhaps has a shot at titling there, considering five of the true top-seven seeds withdrew from the tournament before it even started for a variety of reasons. The event still features former Aussie Open champ Novak Djokovic and U.S. Open runner-up Andy Murray, who, like Cilic, owns a pair of titles this year.
Quiz: In addition to Cilic and Murray, can you name this year's other two-time winners on the ATP World Tour?
I would expect Cilic to win several matches at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open later this year, but he's not my pick to prevail in Dubai this week.
Quiz Answer: Tommy Robredo, Radek Stepanek and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
I can't say if the young Croat will be the next Ivanisevic, but I do expect him to become a real contender at the majors faster than you can say CHEE- litch.