By Mark Lamport-Stokes
INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Simply being back on the tennis court in competitive mode was a victory for U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic on Saturday, though he was ousted by Argentina's Juan Monaco in the BNP Paribas Open second round.
Seeded 10th for the elite ATP Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells, Croatian Cilic was making his first appearance of the season after being sidelined for 10 weeks while slowly rehabilitating a sore right shoulder.
"It's getting there," Cilic told reporters after suffering a 6-4 6-4 defeat. "I didn't feel completely painless. Just I felt that it's a bit rusty still. Even on the serve I wasn't able to pop it, to hit it at a full speed.
"So that was, I think, giving him a little more opportunities and more freedom in the game as I wasn't getting too many free points for the serve and overall from the game."
Cilic pointed out that Monaco is always a very solid player, who gets a lot of balls back.
"He played pretty solid today, so that was giving me more work to do from the back of the court."
Cilic, who swept past Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-3 6-3 in last year's U.S. Open final to claim his first grand slam singles title, said he had felt ready to play after the lengthy rehabilitation.
"Of course, when you're playing your first match, you're never going to be completely 100 percent," said the 6-foot-6 Croatian with the booming serve.
"But I went today out on court to win and I was pushing myself. Even in the last games when Juan was serving for it, I was having few chances to come back. So it wasn't like a one-way story today."
Asked when he thought he would regain his top form, Cilic replied: "After four, five matches ... probably I'm going to feel after each match better and better. I'm going to try to play as many as I can.
"Always in the beginning when you start to play, everything hurts a little bit. I'm not concerned too much about this. The body is going to get good in a few days, for sure."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)