Marin Cilic: My Backyard Patio, Sacrifice and Making Children’s Dreams Come True | ATP . round

Well, who is going to work in the fields?

When my grandfather asked about my father, who was fourteen years old, his fate was determined: he was going to start his life in the tobacco fields. One of my father’s uncles, who was the manager of a football club, visited them in Medjugorje, a very small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He wanted to take my father to Croatia to continue his education and let him play football, which is exciting, because he really liked to play sports.

But my father had to stay at home to support my grandparents in the fields and vineyards. My grandparents only knew how to make a living through hard means, and they couldn’t do it on their own. By the time my father had a vision beyond the fields – he finally started working – it was too late for him. Staying home early in life prevented him from fulfilling his childhood dreams. That would not be the way for me; My parents were adamant that it was time to break that cycle.

Medjugorje has a population of less than 4,000, and is best known for Saint Mary’s appearance, not sporting success. The city’s first tennis court was built just two years before the sport, which has become more and more popular Goran Ivanisevicrise of. My parents gave me a little push to play tennis, especially because my uncle and my cousin, who were both living in Germany at the time, were playing. When I was seven, they visited our house, and that’s when I started playing tennis. There were very few resources in the area, and the court I started in was uneven and in poor condition.

This is where my father’s love for building came into play. He never played tennis, but only watched it on TV. But as others in our neighborhood were building offices and space to lease to businesses, he was instead imagining things my brothers and I could do with tennis. We had a huge backyard, and in 1996, when I was eight, my father decided to build a tennis court in it. My grandparents told my dad that his idea was totally crazy. It was really crazy.

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image source: Marin Cilic Establishment
But my father had a vision, and he wanted to give me the best chance to succeed in life. Before I knew it, big trucks started popping up to drop mud. Under it there was a drainage of sand and other substances. I can still remember how we would need about 2 hours to water the entire field during the summer because the water pipe connected to our garden hose wasn’t very big. We often spent more time watering the field than we did playing!

But I knew I was lucky just to have that court. Nobody in our region knows what it takes to succeed in tennis. Few people who played did it for fun. Getting on the court was an opportunity in itself, because it reinforced my love for tennis from the start.

My family’s efforts made me completely responsible when I played. I take all my duties very seriously. I was very diligent during training and followed all instructions. I showed talent at a young age and trained with a coach in a nearby town 10 minutes away, but there weren’t many opportunities other than that for me to develop as a player.

When I was 13, someone wrote an article about my dreams of getting there Wimbledon. But with the resources we had – as a family and as a city – it was truly an impossible dream. There weren’t many players to train with in Medjugorje besides my friend Evan Dodig and his brother, Maladin. I had to make the biggest decision of my life when I was 14: stay at home with my family and continue my education or move to Zagreb – home of the Croatian Federation Training Center – to give myself the best chance to develop.

I knew it would be very difficult to leave my family, which has always meant everything to me. But with their full support, I decided to make a move. There were a difficult few days. Fortunately, Zagreb was close enough to home that I was able to visit the house.

Every six to eight weeks, I hopped on the bus at nine or ten in the evening, and arrived at six or seven in the morning. I was sitting there thinking about my dream of becoming a professional tennis player. It was completely unlikely, I must say, but I was giving my best.

I had to show up at every practice in Zagreb, and I never missed one. I took the opportunity very seriously and remained vigil, although it is not that easy at this age, especially being away from home. I have to admit it was tough. No matter how great my family in Zagreb was – I lived with my godfather and his wife – it was still a move to a bigger city far from the family and friends I grew up with. But I think part of the strength, extra calm, and inner peace I’ve found came from my upbringing and the support of my family. I always believed that God would point me in the right direction.

I always try to rethink those beginnings, because sometimes we catch ourselves trying to look for more and more. I found myself in situations where I wasn’t enjoying myself on the court. When I first started playing it, it was always for fun. This is why through the highs and lows as a professional tennis player I remind myself to enjoy it.

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image source: Marin Cilic Establishment
At some point in your career, you start to wonder if you are going to win a big title or achieve your goals. But nothing is given. Remember that newspaper article about my country Wimbledon Goals? My parents still keep this in their home, and it’s a reminder of all the years of hard work it took to get this far. I have reached my dream of playing in WimbledonI played in the finals there and in Australian Openhad won US OpenAnd I spent the greater part of my life playing the game I loved when I was seven years old in my parents’ backyard.

It’s unbelievable that I became a professional in the first place. I’ve fulfilled so many dreams I never thought I could, and I’ve always thought about how to help others do the same. At first, I wasn’t sure how this would happen. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community and I’ve always wanted to do more. But I knew it would be important to do it methodically.

I found the right recipe for it by reading Outliers: a success story by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is about what produces successful people, and Gladwell came to the conclusion that opportunity is what makes successful people successful, and I totally agree with him. If I hadn’t had opportunities – if my parents hadn’t built a tennis court in their backyard, or if I had never moved to Zagreb or if I hadn’t met one of my coaches in time – I probably wouldn’t have been here.

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image source: Marin Cilic Establishment
This was the idea behind the launch of Marin Cilic Foundation in 2016. We are doing everything we can to help children in need, whether through scholarships, motivational letters or by providing the right guidance to point them in the right direction. There are many young talents around the world who come from developing regions or whose families simply cannot support them. In the end this talent has no chance to shine. I hope for a world where all children have equal opportunities to reach their full potential.

We have two projects running in the enterprise. The first is to build a playground in development areas to support children who do not have access to play spaces, and the second is to provide scholarships for talented young people in sports, music, and STEM subjects. While I have been fortunate enough to live my dream through sports, there are children in many areas who are struggling. Their help gives me such positive emotions. When I am able to make them happy, I am happy.

I know how these kids feel, because I’ve been there. I remember sitting on that bus when I came home from Zagreb wondering if I was going to be a professional tennis player. I didn’t know what the future would hold and if my goals were feasible. For all the kids who are asking the same questions today, I will do everything I can to help make their dreams a reality.

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– As told by Andrew Eichenholz