MELBOURNE – Marin Cilic has experienced the highs and lows of playing in a Grand Slam final and says he is primed to be at his physical best for Sunday's Australian Open decider.
The world number six is the first Croatian man or woman to appear in the final at Melbourne Park as he guns for his second major title.
Cilic's career high point so far has been his victory at the 2014 US Open where, as the 14th seed, he swept Roger Federer in straight sets on the way to beating Kei Nishikori in the Flushing Meadows final.
But he was in tears when he gamely played on with a nasty blister on his left foot in last year's Wimbledon decider against the Swiss star, describing it as very tough to deal with.
Another opportunity to win a Grand Slam has quickly materialised early in 2018, with either defending champion Federer or South Korean young gun Chung Hyeon waiting for him.
Cilic got there by beating injured top seed Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals and rising British star Kyle Edmund in the semis.
He says he is in a good space for Sunday's final with his serve and forehand working at an optimum in the year's opening Grand Slam.
"I'm feeling really good physically, even though I had a few matches that went more than three hours," Cilic said.
"I've played a great tournament so far, I've improved it comparing to end of the last year. I'm playing much more aggressive, hitting most the shots really good.
"From the return, moving, forehand, backhand, serving, I think everything is in a good, solid spot. Feeling really excited about the final."
That's in marked contrast to Wimbledon last July when he wept inconsolably on Centre Court during the second set after calling for medical attention for his blistered foot.
"It was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through in the last few months in preparation for Wimbledon," he said.
Cilic said the bitter-sweet Slam experience would fortify him in Sunday's final.
"In one way, I had to experience one amazing experience in a final and one not so amazing. So I had both emotionally great and not great," he said.
"I think it's going to help me to stay focused on what I have to do."
Cilic's game has evolved down the years through the coaching of Bob Brett, Goran Ivanisevic, Jonas Bjorkman to current mentor Ivan Cinkus.
He serves big – his fastest serve in Melbourne is 215 km/h (180mph) – and he has a total of 107 aces over six matches, winning a high 82 percentage of first serve points and dropping serve only nine times.
"I think overall I'm playing better. The (2014) US Open was just amazing tennis that I played," he said.
"But it was more difficult for me to keep it for a long period of time.
"Now I feel that with this kind of tennis that I can keep it throughout the season, and that's my goal.
"For me it's great to again be in the final, giving myself another opportunity to win a Grand Slam. I'm playing very good tennis, and definitely very excited for the rest of 2018."