Cilic Eccstatic Over Winning Second St. Petersburg Open Title

Marin Cilic (photo: St. Petersburg Open)

ST. PETERSBURG/WASHINGTON, October 31, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

On the eve of the St. Petersburg Open final, Croatia’s Marin Cilic talked at length about how much he feels at home in Russia. Ten 10 years after he won the St. Petersburg Open title for the first time in Russia’s second city, Cilic repeated his success of a decade ago with a 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 victory over No. 5 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States at Sibur Arena Sunday.

After letting a set-and-a-break lead slip away, the 35th-ranked Cilic rallied from a break down in the final set to garner the two-hour and 23-minute title victory over the 28th-ranked Fritz. With it, Cilic earned his 20th career ATP Tour singles title and it was his second crown of the 2021 season following an earlier title win at Stuttgart on grass in June.

“Coming 10 years after winning in 2011 and also winning now, it’s so, so special for me, especially this part of my career,” the 33-year-old Cilic said during the trophy ceremony. “Having now a family, two sons, I want to absolutely dedicate this trophy to my newborn son.”

Cilic became just the sixth active player to win 20 ATP Tour tour-level titles, joining Roger Federer (103), Rafael Nadal (88), Novak Djokovic (85), Andy Murray (46), and Juan Martín del Potro (22). It was also Cilic’s fourth title in Russia, after winning Moscow twice, in 2014 and 2015.

“Believe it or not, I was just now thinking that it’s time for me to take up the study of the Russian language more thoroughly,” Cilic said in press over the weekend. “The fact that I am here for the second time and for the second time in the final is like a special invitation for me to come back here.”

Coming to Russia, it seems, feeds Cilic with a sense of physical and spiritual energy. A believer in the Catholic faith, he has been impressed with the icons and the physical beauty from visiting St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow – he was a finalist in last week’s VTB Kremlin Cup – and also in admiring St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which he said he hopes to visit one day.

Throughout his successful week in St. Petersburg, Cilic maintained a sense of calm and serenity about him on the court, which translated into confidence – and eventually led him to winning the title. While Cilic outplayed his earlier opponents – Albert Ramos-Vinolas, No. 6 seed Karen Khachanov, No. 3 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp – he also won the psychological battles, too.

“About 5-6 years ago, I realized that I have this mastery that allows me to orbit this psychological mental power,” Cilic said in press after his semifinal win against van de Zandschulp. “This realization came to me when I was playing in the Davis Cup matches. This confidence really helps me. [Friday] I was tired after a difficult match against Karen Khachanov, which was before that, so I lacked the rhythm. And [Saturday] I used this mental power … and was able to win.”

Now, with his 31st and latest victory of the season against a very good competitor in Fritz, who was the first American finalist in the 26-year history of the St. Petersburg Open and playing some of his best tennis of the season, Cilic extended his St. Petersburg winning streak to 10 – spread a decade apart. He hit 12 aces, won 78 percent (45 of 58) of his first-serve points, and outpointed Fritz 103-97.

“I didn’t believe so much that I would win this match, as I believed that I needed to keep fighting and this, of course, is much more important,” Cilic said during an interview after securing the title. “Today, Taylor played amazingly from the middle of the second set to the middle of the third. I held on well and believed in myself. This is what ultimately helpe to win the match. I am very proud of myself and feel great, because I have the opportunity to play here at this level after ten years.

“I will definitely come back. Russia is a country where I always feel good and luck accompanies me.”

Looking back, round by round, Cilic showed lots of positive energy and never got down on himself. He navigated the tense moments the best. With the title on his racquet, one hold away in the final set, Cilic wasted little time. After gaining his first match point on an unforced error by Fritz, he put away the title victory with a forehand winner that capped a brief, five-shot rally. Cilic punched the air with a clinched right fist and jumped for joy in celebrating his second St. Petersburg Open triumph.

“During the whole week I think my level was really good,” he said during his press conference. “I felt that I can still get my game to a better level, and it was a little bit similar today. I was playing great on some occasions, missing some opportunities, serving for the first set, not making that first set more comfortably.

“As things went on, obviously Taylor started to play better. But in the end, [it was] a great mental battle from my side.”

Murray and Soares win St. Petersburg Open doubles crown

No. 1 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil defeated No. 4 seeds Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan and Hugo Nys of Monaco in an hour and 21 minutes to capture their second title together this season. They dropped just one set this week in their four matches.

The victory built upon the British/Brazilian duo’s earlier title success at the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne at the start of the season. It was the pair’s third final of the year after losing the title match at the US Open.

“We had a great week here and played a lot of good tennis,” Murray said. “We knew we had to have a good week if we wanted to be qualified for the final tournament in Turin. It has been a long year for us, but It hint we are coming good at the right time. We played a lot of good tennis throughout the week.”

Added Soares: “It is an amazing city, amazing tournament and courts. It is really nice to p lay here. I think we got inspiration for the beautiful place and the city. It is my first time here, I was quite amazed and impressed. So, I think we brought a good energy into the court and managed to play a lot of good tennis.”

The 19th-ranked Murray and 13th-ranked Soares improved their career record as a team to 165-80 and are 12-10 all-time in finals. It was Murray’s 26th title overall and the 35th for Soares. They are currently in eighth place in the FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings and in a position to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.