At the Net: Cilic is back

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Updated: 2/28 1:28 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Well, it took a while, but it appears Croatian star Marin Cilic has re-located his once-promising game.

The 25-year-old Bosnia & Herzegovina native was a member of the exclusive ATP Top 10 not very long ago before injuries and confidence issues dropped him outside the Top 30, including a disappointing year-end No. 37 finish last year.

But 2014 has signaled a return in a big way for the 6-foot-6 slugger, who's off to a super 18-4 start this year, including two titles in his last three events, all of which have seen him reach finals.

MC got off to a slow 4-3 start this season, including a head-shaking second- round loss at the Australian Open, but since that setback in Melbourne, he's titled in Zagreb on Croatian soil, secured a final berth in Rotterdam, and notched another championship in Florida last week. That's been good enough for a 14-1 mark over this last three events, where he's beaten the likes of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, former Aussie Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, one-time world No. 2 Tommy Haas and towering American John Isner.

What has been the cause for his recent turnaround? Well, health is one reason, and so has his partnership with Croatia's best-ever tennis player, Goran Ivanisevic.

The now-42-year-old Ivanisevic was a massive server, as evidenced by 10,183 career aces in 766 ATP matches. And he's now passing along his knowledge to Cilic, who has been much more aggressive in his service game ... and it shows.

The one-time world No. 9 Cilic had not been improving his game over the last couple years, before he started working with Ivanisevic late last season.

And the hard work is starting to pay off.

Cilic has always been a hard worker, but he needed someone like Ivanisevic (specifically Ivanisevic) to take his quality game to the proverbial next level.

Ivanisevic had described Cilic's serve as being "shaky," but all that has changed.

This year, Cilic has struck more aces than any other player on tour -- 247 in 22 matches -- and has jumped from 37th in the world up to No. 25. He's averaging career-bests with 11.2 aces per match and 81 percent first serves won.

"I feel very confident in my game now, but there is still room for improvement," Cilic said.

Now Cilic needs to improve against Top-10 competition, where he's gone just 16-41 in his career.

He'll work with Ivanisevic on that.

"He feels comfortable at the back, but against the top guys, you cannot rally forever against them," Ivanisevic said. "You have to step in and hit winners."

Cilic is happy to be working his compatriot great.

"Goran is definitely the right guy to help me," he said. "He was my childhood hero, but importantly he was in the Top 10 for many years, reached a number of Grand Slam finals and knows what I need to improve on."

The left-handed bomber Ivanisevic was a four-time Wimbledon finalist who finally captured the elusive title there in 2001.

As for the 11-time ATP Tour champion Cilic, his best Grand Slam showing came in the form of a semifinal four years ago at the Aussie Open. He's also a two- time U.S. Open quarterfinalist (2009 and 2012).

His goal this year is to be ranked inside the Top 10 once again, and I'm likin' his chances.

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