By Mario Sarmento

Going into the Sony Open Tennis tournament, the man with the most victories on the ATP Tour this year wasn’t World No. 1 Rafael Nadal or Indian Wells champ Novak Djokovic, nor is it defending Sony Open champion Andy Murray, or all-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer.

No, the answer to that question is Croatia’s Marin Cilic, who has 20 wins – including two titles – and has risen to 26th in the ATP rankings. Cilic enters his second-round match against France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin as the 25th seed in the Sony Open, and he talked about getting back into the ATP top 10, where he ranked as high as ninth in 2010.

To that end, Cilic said he hired former Wimbledon champion and Croatian tennis legend Goran Ivanisevic to coach him. “To be with him on my team, it’s a huge honor, and it’s a great plus to me as he can give me some more experience, and he can show me how it needs to be done in these big tournaments,” Cilic said.

Cilic added that Ivanisevic has retained his star power, saying, “At tournaments, he’s even more famous than other guys on the tour. People like him, and it’s great to be with him.” The highlight of Cilic’s season so far has been a win in his home country at Zagreb, where he repeated as champion. His other tournament win was at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.

Recently, Cilic reached the fourth round at Indian Wells, and he said his first set against eventual champion Novak Djokovic, which Cilic won 6-1, was, “I think for me, maybe I played the best tennis ever… it was great for me to see where I’m at. It shows me, if I play well, if I play the best tennis I can I can beat those guys. And that’s huge for my confidence. And it shows me that my level of game can be with those guys.”

Cilic also had his best result at the Sony Open last year, reaching the quarterfinals. He looks to build on those performances the rest of this year, so he can join the conversation with Murray, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal as the best players in the sport. “I have won big matches, and just kept growing with my game,” Cilic said. “I’ve kept it really simple, and things are coming into place. I feel really, really good on the court, and I’m enjoying my time.”

Cilic plays Roger-Vasselin Saturday, so get your tickets, and have your chance to see one of the rising young stars of the game.