They call him the “miracle of Medjugorje’” but tennis star Marin Cilic is not what his home town is most famous for.
The small hilltop community in Bosnia and Herzegovina is where the Virgin Mary is said to have repeatedly appeared to six people since 1981. Medjugorje has since been visited by millions of pilgrims.
It’s a world away from Melbourne Park but like any other proud parents, Koviljka and Zdenko Cilic have spent the past 10 days waking up at all hours to follow their son’s journey to the semi-final of the Australian Open.
As giant-killer Cilic, who disposed of Andy Roddick on Tuesday, prepares for a duel with Andy Murray in his first grand slam semi-final, locals have flocked to the Cilic home to offer congratulations.
“We are mostly happy that Marin is injury free and he is healthy,” Mrs Cilic told The Age last night. “We had been planning a big party but my mum is quite ill so that has overshadowed everything a bit.
“We were celebrating after the quarter-final, but not as much as usual because of mum’s illness. But there will be time. We like to celebrate the best when we are all together and when Marin and his older brother Vinko, who is on tour with him, are here as well.”
The family, which has reportedly been climbing up Medjugorje’s Apparition Hill to pray to Mary for Cilic’s success to continue, will at least get some shut-eye before the semi-final.
The match will be shown mid-morning European time, unlike Cilic’s previous rounds at the Open, which kept the family awake around the clock.
Cilic had an early start in tennis. Local coaches in Ljubuski, near Medjugorje, told Zdenko Cilic that “the kid has something”. Cilic senior immediately built a tennis court in his backyard.
Now ranked 14th in the world, Cilic left his home town for Croatia’s capital Zagreb aged 14 to develop his game.
He travels with brother Vinko, and during the Australian Open, a family friend has joined the team, too, making Marin home-cooked meals in Melbourne.
And relatives from Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide are also there at Melbourne Park to support him from the stands.
So what does Mrs Cilic think of her son’s current obstacle, the Andy he is yet to beat? “If he’s well rested, I think he’ll have a strong win against Murray,” she said.
• sourced and adapted from: theage.com.au