US Open: Marin for the Win—and Serena the Wallflower?

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MARIN FOR THE WIN: For years, the Marin Cilic story has been a so-close-and-yet-so-far affair. The tall, quiet Croat has been at the brink of next-step Slam wins against the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, only to lose hold of the outcome. Today, less than a year after being forced out of the game due to an ITF suspension (eventually reduced) for “incautious use of glucose,” Cilic scored one of the biggest and most decisive wins of his career, a straight-set defeat of Tomas Berdych that brings him his second-ever Slam semi appearance.

Asked if he’s changed his approach to tennis, having known what it’s like to have the sport “taken away” from him, Cilic agreed: “It’s worth more now.” After Cilic’s win, IT’s Lucia Hoffman caught up with his coach, 2001 Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic:

What did you tell Marin beforehand?

He had to play aggressive, as he did at Wimbledon, because against these big guys, especially against Berdych, if you give him anything he will just kill you. You can go home.

Goran, Marin seems stronger mentally this year. Is that what you have been working on with him?

Yes, the last couple of months—let’s say, since the French Open—he started to believe in his game. Because it is not what I tell him. He has to believe it himself. He did it in the French, he did it at Wimbledon, he did it now, and that’s why he is in the semifinals at the US Open.

Marin has played the top players very close, but beating Berdych this way here today is big, right?

Yes, sometimes you have to step up, to be or not to be. In the quarterfinals, semis, finals, there’s not a big difference between these guys in [terms of] hitting balls, but winning is a huge gap. So, step by step, this is great for him. I am so proud of him.

Marin was away from the game [due to a four- month drug suspension], and he came back stronger since. Do you think being away made him see what he needed to work on?

He was away for nothing, you know. It’s justice now. It was not easy in the beginning of the year, but slowly, we worked on a few things, and he’s doing great.

I have to say that Berdych didn’t play unbelievably the first two sets. It was very soft from him, a pretty easy first two sets. After that, there was more pressure—[Marin] had to win the third set, he had to play really well when he needed to. He played a great tiebreaker. He really stepped up, especially on the last points, with big serves.

OMG: Federer hasn’t won the US Open since 2008, the longest current drought on his Slam resume.

THE REAL THING? During a fourth-set changeover in his match against Federer, Gael Monfils drank a can of Coke.

QUOTEBOOK—SPECIAL PAIN EDITION:

“He didn’t endure the pain of surgery to finish in the quarters.”—John McEnroe, on Andy Murray.

“The day after the tournament is over, the pains kick in.”—Flavia Pennetta

TO THE LEFT, TO THE LEFT: Going into her match against lefty Ekaterina Makarova, Serena said, “I always ask my dad, ‘Why wasn’t I a lefty?’ Even when I was younger, I wanted to be lefty. I could have been really good … Lefties are so cool. I love lefties. Maybe it’s just a hangup I have.”

SERENA THE WALLFLOWER? Serena‘s next opponent, Ekaterina Makarova, has said she likes to be “in the shadow” when it comes to public attention, and the woman in the leopard-print dress surprisingly relates. “I understand Makarova, especially when I was coming back,” said Serena. “It was like I was definitely more low profile. I called myself a dangerous floater. It’s fun almost, because no one expects anything from you, and you have no pressure, and you can just play so well.” Serena went on to describe herself as an “extremely shy individual.”

ARE ACES CONTAGIOUS? Dark horse US Open semifinalist Shuai Peng trained with Serena‘s coach Patrick Mouratoglou earlier this year.

GO FIGURE: Serena has been No. 1 for 67 straight weeks, but the US Open semis is her first Slam semi appearance this year … The foremost couple among active players—Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov—went one-for-eight in Slam singles appearances this year.

SPEAKING OF CATTY: Early in the Open, Maria Sharapova was asked about changing one rule in tennis and she used her answer to make a veiled jab at Ana Ivanovic, who’d recently taken a MTO against her. Now Grigor Dimitrov‘s friend from earlier times Dmitry Tursonov has gotten into the action. “She [Sharapova] would charge players for medical timeouts?” he asked Tennis World. “Well, then I would like to charge players for screaming on court.”

WATCH OUT, EUGENIE: Not quite, but it’s a start. Long sidelined by a wrist injury, Laura Robson is back on the court. Well, a mini-tennis court—hitting a sponge ball.

STRESS-FREE IN NEW YORK—UNTIL NOW: A while before Federer‘s quarterfinal match against Gael Monfils, Pat McEnroe said, “For Roger, the stress level just doesn’t exist.”

MARATHON KEI: Once plagued by injury-based retirements from matches, Kei Nishikori has played and won two straight five-set matches, both of which lasted over four hours. In fact, Nishikori has a career record of 10-1 in five-set matches

DESIGNER DERBY: The men’s semifinal battle between Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori will give Uniqlo some strong publicity. The two players are the Japanese clothing line’s most high-profile brand ambassadors.