New York - Marin Cilic shrugged off being shunted off to the Louis Armstrong
Stadium on Monday where his status as defending US Open champion was saluted by
just a smattering of fans.
The Croatian stunned tennis last year when he defeated Roger Federer in the
semi-finals and Kei Nishikori in the championship match to lift his first - and
so far only - Grand Slam title.
But the 26-year-old was not afforded the honour of a return to showpiece
Arthur Ashe Stadium where he triumphed 12 months ago.
Instead, he was second match up on Armstrong, where he saw off Argentine
qualifier Guido Pella 6-3, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/3).
"Louis Armstrong Court is not that small. It was a pretty nice crowd
out there for a hot day today," said ninth seed Cilic.
"It's pretty humid. The match before went five sets. The crowd also
needs some refreshments. But, you know, I'm not too bothered by the court where
"The courts here are all pretty big. Definitely, of course, Arthur Ashe
is the place where I was playing the best, so looking forward to come back
Cilic, coached by compatriot and 2001 Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic, is
getting used to life in the shadows of the sport despite his major-winning
However, like Ivanisevic, he is a folk hero back home, with Cilic even
managing to name-check his small hometown in his Monday news conference.
"I felt the most special welcome was in my hometown, Medugorje,
population of 5 000 people," said Cilic, handing the tournament media
conference stenographers the added challenge of Croatian geography.
"But it was an incredible reception. Most of the people there I know
from when I was a kid. It was incredible.
"More than like 30 000, 40 000 people was there. It was amazing
experience. I won't forget that for all my life, that's for sure. And I would
like to repeat that."
The road between last year's US Open and this year's edition has not been
A shoulder injury forced Cilic to skip the Australian Open and his season
only got underway in March.
But a quarter-final run at Wimbledon suggested that the perils are behind
him, even if he has become something of a marked man since his New York heroics
of last year.
"It changes, absolutely, in your mind looking at the tournament. It's
for sure a different approach," said Cilic on his preparation both on and
off the court.
"But you still have to bring that to your mind, that it's another Grand
Slam, of course. It's going to be more important than the other ones, but you
still have to simplify it.
"I am feeling that definitely it's a pressure thing to do that, but, of
course, if you approach it in the right way, as I'm trying to, it gives me more
positive looks at it."
With Nishikori defeated by France's Benoit Paire, the champion's path to the
quarter-finals was eased, although Spanish grinder and seventh seed David
Ferrer remains in his section.
"I'm more focused on myself and know that I have the abilities to
win," he said.