The 2014 U.S. Open men's tennis champion did not make his triumphant return to the 2015 tour until Saturday's BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
It turned out not to be triumphant.
Specifically, he suffered from inflammation around the humerus bone. Still does, just not as much.
A couple of days after he won the Monday night final at Flushing Meadows, N.Y., he was in Amsterdam, playing in the Davis Cup, with his Croatia needing a victory to move into the World Group. That was achieved when Cilic won the fifth, and deciding, match.
All the time, the shoulder was holding up, but getting sorer. By the time of the Tour Championships in London in November, Cilic knew he would need a long rest to let it heal.
But it turned out to be even longer than he expected. While no surgery was needed, he missed the first Grand Slam event of the year, the Australian Open, and only got back on the practice court the last three weeks. And so, his 6-4, 6-4 ouster Saturday at the hands of Juan Monaco, in his first match back, wasn't unexpected.
“It's [the shoulder] getting there,” Cilic said. “I didn't feel completely painless … just a little rusty.”
The booming serves that overwhelmed Federer in the U.S. Open semifinals and wore down a tireless Nishikori in the final were not there in the desert heat.
“I wasn't getting too many free points,” Cilic said.
The No. 1 men's player in the world, Novak Djokovic, waltzed through his first match in the Saturday evening opener. He beat Marcos Baghdatis, 6-1, 6-3.
Nishikori, seeded fifth here, fought past American Ryan Harrison, 6-4, 6-4. Andy Murray had less trouble with Canadian Vacek Pospisil, winning 6-1, 6-3.
Tim Smyczek, the U.S. player who got some media attention for a gesture of sportsmanship in an Australian Open match against Rafael Nadal, got into the Indian Wells draw with a wild card, but went out quickly to Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 6-1.
Pennetta, who won here last year, beat 46th-ranked U.S. player Madison Brengle, 6-4, 6-2. Sharapova, winner at Indian Wells in 2006 and 2013, outlasted a stubborn veteran, Yanina Wickmayer, 6-1, 7-5.