Marin Cilic, who reached the US Open final with a thorough pounding of 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, admits he was starting to wonder if his day would ever come.
"When you are young on the tour you always feel you have enough time," the 25-year-old Croatian said, reflecting after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Federer that propeled him into a US Open final clash with Japan's Kei Nishikori.
"You have a lot of Grand Slams. You're going to do well. But when the time starts to pass by, you are more anxious if it's going to happen or it's not going to happen," added Cilic, who was 21 when he reached the semi-finals of the 2010 Australian Open but had only made it to the quarter-finals in two more majors since -- the 2012 US Open and at Wimbledon this year.
That sense of time slipping away was even stronger at this time last year, as he missed the final Grand Slam of 2013 serving a doping ban.
The ban, over a stimulant that Cilic said he took unwittingly in an over-the-counter supplement, was reduced to four months.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray was just one player to criticise Cilic's naivety, although Federer said the incident didn't color his opinion of the man who denied him a chance to fight for a sixth US Open title.
"I truly believed he didn't do anything wrong in the sense that he did it on purpose," Federer said. "Was he stupid? Maybe (but) for me, when I see him, it doesn't cross my mind in any way."
Cilic says the enforced break may have been a blessing in disguise, giving him time to work on his game and his fitness, and let a longtime knee injury heal.
He won a fourth title in his home tournament of Zagreb in February, then added a title in Delray Beach, Florida two weeks later to take his career total to 11.
- Huge achievement -
Nothing, however, compares to a first victory over Federer, who had beaten him in five prior meetings, and with giving himself a chance to battle Japan's Kei Nishikori on Monday for a Grand Slam crown.
"I can say this moment is an extremely huge achievement," he said. "Just by watching all the other players make it this far the Grand Slams -- for the guys that are top it feels normal, but for some guys that are making for the first time it's the achievement of the career."
And Cilic did it in style. His own service game was all but impenetrable and his return game formidable.
Once he'd broken Federer for a 3-1 lead in the opening set -- a game that Federer led 40-0 -- there was little that the Swiss great could do.
Federer, whose last win over Cilic was in a three-set tussle at the Toronto Masters last month, noticed the difference.
"He was quite erratic before," Federer said. "Especially from the baseline. He's cleaned up his return game to some degree. I think he's serving much more consistent throughout an entire match and entire tournament, whereas before he could have a good day, bad day, good set, bad set."
With that greater consistency, Cilic has found the faith in his game that he needs.
"When I'm playing now these bigger matches I feel like if I'm going to play well I have a good chance. Before I felt that I should play more than what I'm able to, and then the game breaks."