Croatian says he cannot believe he is a Grand Slam winner after beating Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in final
New York: Marin Cilic struggled to comprehend his sudden elevation to become tennis' newest Grand Slam champion.
Marin Cilic kisses the US Open trophy after beating Kei Nishikori in the men's final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Pic/AFP
The 25-year-old arrived in New York as a player who had never challenged for any of the sport's biggest prizes, but leaves as US Open champion.
Cilic overwhelmed his fellow surprise finalist Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, carrying the momentum from his stunning semi-final victory over Roger Federer and turning it into major silverware and a cheque for three million US dollars.
The Croatian said: "It seems completely unreal to be called a Grand Slam champion. I was dreaming about this all my life and suddenly the last four or five days everything started to change.
"And with my tennis especially. I started to play absolutely unbelievable, starting with the fifth set with (Gilles) Simon. After that I had an unbelievable run of matches against these top guys.
"It means everything. It's just a huge accomplishment and a huge moment for myself and for my team and for everybody around me who was with me all these years supporting me, believing in me and never giving up. So this is just the peak of the world."
A year ago Cilic was not even in New York, instead serving a provisional suspension ahead of a doping ban, which was initially nine months but reduced to four on appeal.
The time away from the tour allowed him to work on his game and also gave him a tougher edge that was on display at Flushing Meadows.
The other significant change was Cilic's appointment of long-time mentor Goran Ivanisevic as his coach, with the ex-Wimbledon champion persuading his charge to use his natural attacking gifts.
Cilic is the first Croatian Slam champion since Ivanisevic and he revealed the pair has been sticking to certain rituals, including not shaving — although watching Teletubbies has not been on the agenda this time.
"He's brought to the team a very relaxed atmosphere, besides extremely huge knowledge," said Cilic.
"The help he brought to me, I feel that the fun is the best spice of everything, that I think collects all the other pieces together. Every day with him is extremely fun."
The last time a player (Roger Federer) won the US Open without dropping a set in the quarter-final, semi-final or the final. Cilic didn't drop a set against Tomas Berdych (quarters), Roger Federer (semis) and Nishikori
The last time Cilic was in the Top 10 of the ATP rankings. He spent six weeks there