But he banished his nearly-man tag with a gutsy comeback to claim only his second win in 16 attempts against Djokovic, clinching his 18th career ATP title and his first since Istanbul past year.
"I think Roger's motivational level is just slightly better and higher on Grand Slams, " said Cilic, "and you can see that throughout so many years that he's been showing the best tennis at Grand Slam levels".
Inspired by that escape act, Cilic powered through the deciding set to leave Djokovic shell-shocked as he won the Wimbledon warm-up event for the first time since 2012.
Slowly, reminiscent of the Djokovic of old, the Serb began to tug the match back towards him, although his forehand lacked the penetration of his opponent.
Kyrgios saved the only break points of the match, recovering from 15-40 at 2-2 in the second set.
Kyrgios continued his playful mood into the match and was spotted focusing more on games with his team in the stands than on his match with Cilic.
"Other than that, I was in it, and credit to him for just going for it and playing well".
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Cilic arrived here with a proud record on the Queen's Club grass. "If he serves well and he's physically feeling good, for sure", said the Australian, who could not cope with Cilic's precision.
Djokovic was starting to hit his straps in the second set, making just one unforced error on his serve in the opening 3 games of the set.
Cilic won six points in a row to force a third set. He needed an ace to save break point in the eighth game, could do little about the angled forehand around the net that gave Cilic another chance and then dumped a tired forehand.
It's been a long year for Novak Djokovic.
Petra Kvitova roars in celebration after winning in Birmingham.
Marin Cilic outlined his credentials as a potential Wimbledon champion by winning a second title at Queen's.
Having served 32 aces in his previous two matches, Kyrgios sent down 16 aces to Cilic's 11 in a tight contest that featured zero service breaks. There's a lot of grass court players.