Marin Cilic of Croatia has 18 titles and has reached a further 14 finals. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Marin Cilic will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his fellow countryman Goran Ivanisevic when he competes for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy later this month.

Ivanisevic won the title in 1996 and finished as runner-up the following season, before going on to win Wimbledon in 2001. He then turned his hand to coaching and worked with Cilic from September 2013 to July 2016, a period during which Cilic won the US Open.

Cilic now has 18 titles and has reached a further 14 finals, including not only the Australian Open in 2018 but Wimbledon in 2017 when he was in tears as he battled not just Roger Federer but a severe blister on his right foot which greatly hindered his movement.

By coincidence, at the end of that season he and Federer found themselves taking a vacation at the same place in The Maldives.

“I didn’t want to bother him. He didn’t want to bother me,” Federer recalls. “After two days, he wrote me: I’m here, too, in case you want to catch up and stuff, let me know.” The pair then practised twice and even got together with their families. “It was great fun. No coaches, no nothing, just the two of us on the court hitting balls,” Federer said. “It was just nice and laid ack, to get to know the man behind the tennis player.”

Despite the talent that has taken him to a Grand Slam title, earned him a place in the finals of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open, given him a place among the top three players in the world and a Davis Cup winner’s medal just a few months ago against France, he remains a polite and humble individual.

He has used his success and influence to help others, in 2016 launching the Marin Cilic Foundation which that year earned him the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award from the ATP. The Foundation’s aim is to provide both the space and financial support to children and youth whose circumstances make realising their dreams seem like a distant reality. Helping him with the project has been Kristina Milkovic, who he met in 2008 at a Davis Cup tie in Dubrovnik and married last April.

“Marin Cilic has enjoyed a long and successful career at the very highest level of the game, and we are delighted to see him back in Dubai,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.

Cilic faces a daunting challenge with seven-time champion Roger Federer, recent Australian Open sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas, defending Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut, former Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic and Dubai two-time finalist Tomas Berdych among those also vying for the crown.

Before the men’s event gets under way, tennis fans can enjoy a wonderful week of women’s tennis featuring an incredible nine of the world’s top 10 players. in a field that includes newly crowned Australian Open champion and world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, two-time Wimbledon champion and 2019 Australian Open runner-up Petra Kvitova, Dubai defending champion Elina Svitolina, reigning French Open champion Simona Halep, three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, 2019 Brisbane champion and Australian Open semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova and former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. The WTA event kicks off the fortnight on February 17, to be followed by the ATP event from February 25.

Tickets are available online at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com and from the Stadium Box Office. For further information about the tournament, please visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.