New York: Marin Cilic, his first Grand Slam title in hand after a straight-sets pounding of Kei Nishikori in the US Open final on Monday, thanked Goran Ivanisevic for helping him rediscover joy in tennis.
The 14th-seeded Cilic, playing in his first major final, became the first Croatian man to lift a Grand Slam trophy since Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001. (Full match report)
He began working with his onetime hero last November. It was the lowest point of his career as he served out a controversial doping ban for a banned stimulant that he says he ingested unwittingly in an over-the-counter supplement.
"Goran has brought lots of knowledge, the differences are small pieces in my game which really fit," Cilic said.
"I have the belief to be more aggressive, and there is joy on the practice courts which brings out the best in me. I was waiting to be a Grand Slam champion."
Cilic betrayed a wisp of superstition as he noted that Ivanisevic, too, won his Wimbledon title on a Monday -- in a rain-delayed final at the All England Club.
"It must be star-crossed," he said. "I win my Grand Slam on a Monday and Goran won on a Monday when he won Wimbledon."
Cilic swept past 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the semi-finals and was similarly overpowering against Nishikori -- trying to become the first Asian man to win a major.
"I was calm and played simple, my serve was very good," he said. "I needed to put pressure on Kei. I felt like I was winning enough points."
Cilic said his last three matches -- straight sets wins over sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, Federer and Nishikori were the best he had ever put together.
"My mindset was I have to be positive or I would be in big trouble," he said. "If I just place the ball and wait for mistakes I will be struggling. I was striking the ball very well."
Cilic also said that his victory -- and the appearance of himself and Nishikori in the first Grand Slam final since the Australian Open in 2005 not to feature Federer, Novak Djokovic or Nadal -- should be a sign to other players striving to break through.
"Everything I was working for and dreaming came today," he said. "I feel that for all the other players that are working hard, I think this is a big sign that if you're working hard things are going to pay off."
Nishikori vowed to be back.
"I will get the trophy next time," he said.