Cilic aims to return to winning ways in Singapore

The last time Marin Cilic played in Singapore, his UAE Royals team lost both their 2015 International Premier Tennis League ties.

The Croat returns to the Republic for the Feb 22-28 Singapore Tennis Open at the OCBC Arena with much more at stake, as he seeks to win his first ATP title in over two years. Much has changed for the 32-year-old since he was here for the exhibition event.

The 2014 US Open Champion added to his resume by winning the 2016 Cincinnati Masters and 2018 Davis Cup. But the world No. 43 has yet to lift silverware since the Queen's Club Championships in London in June 2018.

Cilic is two titles away from becoming just the sixth active player to lift 20 Tour-level titles, after Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro.

He is the third seed at the ATP 250 tournament - behind French world No. 36 Adrian Mannarino and Australian world No. 39 John Millman - and will in the last 16 meet either Japan's Taro Daniel or India's Ramkumar Ramanathan, who play the opening match today.

His main competition will be top seed Mannarino and Millman, who won his first ATP singles title last November at the Astana Open after beating Mannarino in the final.

The US$300,000 (S$397,370) Singapore Open was a late addition to the men's circuit's calendar and will feature a 28-strong singles field and 16-pair doubles field.

The top four seeds, including Alexander Bublik, received a bye in the first round. Millman, who is in the same half of the draw as Cilic, will play either compatriot Matthew Ebden, fresh off an Australian Open mixed doubles final appearance, or Indian Yuki Bhambri, who has not played a pro match since October 2018 because of a torn tendon in his right knee.

Locals Shaheed Alam and Roy Hobbs will be in action in doubles today after receiving a wild card.

The tournament follows the Australian Open, which ended yesterday in Melbourne, from where some players will be coming.

At least 200 people, including players, staff and officials, are expected to be coming from overseas for the event and will have to take daily polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests throughout their stay here. They will be further isolated in individual team bubbles, among other safety measures in place.

Japanese No. 2 and fifth seed Yoshihito Nishioka, who faces American Michael Mmoh in the first round, told The Straits Times in a video interview via Zoom that he was excited to be in Singapore for the first time.

He said: "I wanted to go out but it's not possible this time. Next time, if I come to visit Singapore, I want to go sightseeing and see some beautiful things here...

"I can't eat Singaporean food or see things but I'm very happy to be here after the Australian Open."

Nishioka, 25, was knocked out in the first round of the year's first Major and said he has taken the two-week break to change his mindset and he is now fitter and in better condition for the Singapore Open.

He added: "We can't talk to each other in this tournament and I eat breakfast, lunch, dinner on my own which is a bit sad.

"But I understand that we have to be careful and that everyone is trying to be safe for us so I appreciate it but it's also a bit tough."

ATP SINGAPORE OPEN

Day 1: StarHub Ch211, noon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2021, with the headline 'Cilic aims to return to winning ways in Singapore'. Subscribe