He was barely a teenager, while on the other side of the net stood his country’s most famous face.
A towering figure who had won Wimbledon just one year earlier.
Despite the pressure, budding tennis star Marin Cilic handled both his nerves and his racquet well enough to impress Goran Ivanisevic.
“It was an extremely huge experience for me,” Cilic, now 26, told CNN of his date with destiny in the Croatian capital Zagreb.
“He had been my idol, like for most of the kids in Croatia. He’d just won Wimbledon and there I was — a 14-year-old kid playing tennis with him.
“It was a dream come true.”
It was an experience that also launched Cilic’s career.
Ivanisevic was so struck by the youngster’s potential he recommended that his old coach, Bob Brett, oversee his development.
The Australian duly did so and shortly after, Cilic served a more formal notice of his talents when winning the French Open boys’ title in 2005 — beating top seed Andy Murray in the semifinals.
The pair would work together until May 2013, separating just weeks before the former would learn he had failed a doping test in April.
That seismic news was broken to the big server in June, prompting Cilic to immediately quit the ongoing Wimbledon championships, albeit citing a knee injury as he did so.
As he awaited the fallout for what he has always claimed was an innocent mistake — saying he inadvertently ingested a banned substance while in France, as he didn’t realize that his regular glucose tablets were manufactured differently there — Cilic turned to his boyhood hero.
“It was the obvious decision,” he says.
“Goran was around me and my team before, and he was a close friend. When I stopped with Bob, Goran and I talked about whether he could help me or not. He felt I could improve a lot.”
He was spot on.
Despite previously stating he has three personalities — ‘Good Goran’, ‘Bad Goran’ and ‘Emergency Goran’ for when things go wrong — Ivanisevic’s expertise has resulted in Cilic’s most successful season.
He has improved his protégé’s serve and mental strength, and Cilic credits him with the sense of enjoyment he is largely having on court.