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By Blair Henley

(February 22, 2013) -- Despite sitting comfortably inside the top 20 for the past four years of his career, Marin Cilic is a relative unknown to many tennis fans. 

We spoke to the 24-year-old Croat in Memphis about his personality, Croatian fans, and his favorite part about playing professional tennis. 

Tennis Now: You’re seeded No. 1 in Memphis. Do you like being the top seed? Or is it more pressure?
Marin Cilic: I really don’t mind. It would be more pressure maybe playing in my home country, but here I feel that the field is really strong. During the course of the week, seeded players have lost, especially in the bottom half, so that relieves pressure.
TN: In an interview you did a couple of years ago, you said that you get pretty nervous before matches. Is that still the case? Or have you grown out of it?
MC: I think those kinds of things are changing throughout the course of the year. Just before Davis Cup matches I always feel very nervous because it’s a big responsibility. Also, not playing for a few weeks and going to play a first match can make me a little nervous in the first few games. Here I played well the week before in Zagreb. I had good confidence, and when I came [to Memphis], I didn’t feel nervous at all. Winning helps you to be less nervous. [Laughs]
TN: You seem pretty even-keeled on the court. Has that always been the case? Or were you smashing racquets as a junior?
MC: I was always like that. You can have your tough days during the year, and you can be a little more negative, but overall, I’m pretty positive. I know that if I’m like that, I’m going to have the best chance to think the best and to make the best decisions on the court. Even if I’m in a bad situation with the score, I try to still be positive and push myself.
TN: Do you set a goal for your year?
MC: I was thinking about that before the new season. All the seasons before, all the good ones that I had, I had around 40 or 45 wins. This year I would like to make 50 and maybe even more. We’ll see. So far I’m on a good course, playing at least 3 or 4 matches each tournament, so that helps a lot. Ranking-wise, I’m close to the top 10. I hope I can make it there.
TN: There are some American fans who might not know you quite as well as some other players.  How would you describe your personality?
MC: Easygoing, pretty calm. One of the most important things for me is just to be honest. I’m always trying to be very positive and happy on the court. I’m also more focused and more serious, so maybe it doesn’t show the best personality. But overall, I think I’m very positive and easygoing. I also like to interact with the fans, especially kids. I know how much it means to them to get to know some players, to be with them, to share a couple of words, and to give them a memory.
TN: Fans in the U.S. may not know you as well, but what about when you go home to Croatia? Are the fans crazy?
MC: No, not really. Croatia is a small country. I’m living in the capital in Zagreb where we have many athletes, and people are not going too much for the autographs. People recognize me, but they leave me in peace.
TN: What is the best part about playing professional tennis?
MC: [The best part] is that you are doing something you love, and that you started as a kid. When I started with tennis, it was just a game, and it became my job and my life. I’m giving everything to be the best I can. Most of the people in the world have to do jobs to survive, to make money, and maybe some jobs don’t suit them. I’m just enjoying every time I’m on the court, and I have a great opportunity in my life to have a great career. I’m trying to always think of that, and to be positive and to push myself.
TN: What’s the worst part?
MC: Being away of course. Being away from my family and girlfriend, it’s not easy to cope with those things. But I’m still young. I’m not in my 30’s. I’m on my fourth or fifth year on the tour, so I’m still feeling fresh.
TN: If you weren’t playing tennis, what would you be doing?
MC: I would definitely be playing some other sport. At least I would try. [Laughs] Probably football (read: soccer). I haven’t played too much basketball, because it was not as popular in my hometown as football. 


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