Okay, avid fans and casual observers alike, here are the facts. Marin Cilic is no ordinary professional. He’s ranked sixth in the world and has 17 championships to his name, the 2014 United States Open included. Outside of the acknowledged Big Four and occasional outlier Stan Wawrinka, he’s the only player to have claimed a Grand Slam title in the last seven years, and he did it by putting together an outstanding run that featured an emphatic semifinal-round victory over his very opponent in the Wimbledon final the other day. To say, then, that his emotional meltdown midway through the second set of his ultimately failed bid at the All England Club was due to a stark failure to hold up to pressure would be to disregard his standing.
To be sure, there was as much outpouring of sympathy as of mockery for Cilic’s vulnerability. On the court, he was being shellacked by all-time great Roger Federer, whose self-assurance and sense of purpose dwarfed the relatively token resistance he could put up in the face of what turned out to be a debilitating blister in his left foot. Off it, he took stock of his less-than-ideal condition and lamented his inability to show his best effort in the sport’s grandest stage, compelling him to bury his head in a towel while he tried to hold back his tears. So, yes, he was being trounced -- but, no, it was not why his nasolacrimal ducts went into overdrive.
That said, there is no shame in Cilic wearing his heart on a sleeve; lots of athletes give in to their base instincts and cry. And, really, the reason he did is irrelevant. It was his right to give his eyes a hearty exercise, just as Steve Johnson did against him in the third round, and just as Federer did as well in the final. The thrill of triumph and the lament of loss are equal-opportunity motivators for waterworks, and they’re precisely what make sports compelling fare. Empathy and association are driven by displays of both frailty and achievement under trying circumstances. Nobody cheers for rank automatons.
There will be more chances for Cilic, and the very rejuvenation of Federer should provide him ample cause for hope. Meanwhile, he would do well to count his runner-up finish as a blessing; if nothing else, the experience he gained the other day sets him up for better showings, blister or no. He couldn’t give his best. His best is yet to come.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.