Marin Cilic makes his return to the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open this week with fond memories to fuel his campaign, not least from having won the title in 2017 as a wild card. It marks the 29-year-old’s first tournament as a married man.

It was only last weekend the Croatian wed his long-time girlfriend Kristina Milkovic in a ceremony in Dubrovnik. Now he sets about re-igniting his season at the same tournament which kick-started an impressive 2017.

“It was not easy to find a date [for the wedding],” Cilic said. “I said after the wedding, ‘OK I’m going to Istanbul, I’m going to go on my own.’ She said, ‘You can’t go alone for the first week [of married life].’ So she was coming. 

“[Kristina] is always great support, standing by my side. That is something that has given me a lot of strength and inner peace. So for here, we’ll see… whether I’ll have more strength, more motivation, hopefully yes.”

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After reaching the Australian Open final in January, where he fell to Roger Federer in five sets, Cilic rose to a career-high No. 3 in the ATP Rankings. The Croatian has made no secret of it since he holds high hopes of ascending to the top.

“Yes, my ultimate goal is to reach No. 1,” Cilic said. “I feel at the moment I’m in a great position. I started the year with a nicely played final at the Australian Open, played the final at Wimbledon last year, also. This gives me the confidence that I know I have those abilities to be in the Top 5 in the world. That’s the goal for this year, to stay in the Top 5 and, also, to win another Grand Slam. 

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“I know that it’s also very challenging. The competition is very strong, and also very demanding. It’s not easy to keep your focus, your level of play for every single tournament. Roger and Rafa are showing they are playing to win every single tournament. I’m working for that every single day and hopefully I’ll make it.”

Cilic is back in Istanbul as the top seed. He did not drop a set on his way to the title last season, with victories over this year’s No. 2 seed Damir Dzumhur, last year’s top seed Milos Raonic and 2016 champion Diego Schwartzman. Victory ensured he had won an ATP World Tour title for 10 straight seasons. He opens his 2018 campaign against Tunisian Malek Jaziri on Thursday.

“If we go back this time last year, Istanbul was [the start of] my great form that I built up at the French Open [Roland Garros] and later to Wimbledon,” Cilic said. “Even though clay and grass are very different, if you are playing well on clay it gives you that good confidence for Wimbledon and for grass tennis. So that’s also one of my goals this year, to keep that good form, to try to play well here and to continue to have good tournaments until the French Open and beyond.” 

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