The former world No.12 from Croatia is in the midst of preparing for the first Grand Slam of the 2023 tennis season at the Australian Open next month as he looks back on a year that included a stunning win at the ATP 1000 event in Cincinnati, where he beat top ten players Rafael Nadal, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Stefanos Tsitsipias, en-route to the biggest title of his career so far.
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Have your expectations changed after winning your first ATP 1000 event in Cincinnati?
Not really. They have always been high. Overall, this has been a good year for me. I improved my ranking more than I expected, but my goals are to improve on things I know I need to improve on. Things I have been working on for the last couple of months, and also to stay healthy. That has been a big challenge for me during my career and even this year I had health problems I had to overcome. Hopefully, I can play the next full season without any injuries.
You missed most of 2021 with a shoulder injury, so did you achieve more than expected in 2022?
It was a very good season. I didn’t play for a full year due to my shoulder surgery and when I started to play again, I was still struggling. I didn’t know how much I could play and was suffering with a little bit of pain. The aim this year was to finish in the top 100 in the world and I finished at No.26 so I’m very happy with the season overall.
Did beating three top ten players to win the title in Cincinnati improve your confidence for heading into the Grand Slam events?
In the Slams it’s always different because it’s over best of five sets making it much more physical, but that week in Cincinnati has shown me that I can compete at the highest level. It has given me the motivation to go on court and work even harder. It shows that I can become a top ten player and hopefully even more one day.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) August 18, 2022
So, is that the next target – a place in the top ten in the ATP rankings?
I don’t want to set too many goals, but that would be the next step for me. I have been No.12 in the world and hopefully I can make it even higher now by reaching the top ten. The most important thing is to be healthy and then the results will come.
You are in an era with the three greatest players in tennis history. Have you enjoyed competing with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic?
It is an honour to play against them. I also did very well against them and played some of the best tennis of my career. I’ve said many times that I like the big crowds and big stages. When you play against them, that’s a guarantee. It’s strange now that Federer is not around anymore, but it is also going to be a little bit easier for many players. He has done amazing things for the sport.
What’s your mindset like when playing against a legend like Federer?
I was really able to focus on the match against Federer because I tried not to think about the other aspects. It was just me against him and that is the way I try to treat every match. Once I get into the match, I don’t think any more about who I am against and what they have achieved.
Are you looking forward to the Australian Open?
I love the tournament and it is good to be in Dubai early getting used to the hot weather. In the past, I have stayed in Croatia for too long and the cold weather is not good preparation for Australia. That might be one of the reasons why I did not always play my best tennis there, but I have come to Dubai early this year to start preparing, so hopefully that can help me.
How do you deal with critics in the media or on social media?
I don’t look at too much and it doesn’t affect me. I try to focus on myself and give as much time as possible to my family and friends as I spend a lot of time on the road. People are always entitled to their opinions, but I know what I need to improve. If people think I need to do something to improve, that’s fine.
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