By Eric Salliot

PARIS (Reuters) - Marin Cilic has called his appearance at next week's Paris Masters "the gift of the year" after the Croatian was allowed to play again when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cut his doping ban on Friday.

The 25-year-old was suspended for nine months by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in September for taking the stimulant nikethamide but CAS has reduced his ban by more than half meaning Cilic can return to action.

"Being with all the players here in Paris is my gift of the year," the former world number nine told Reuters after a training session at Bercy.

"On Monday I will get my points from Queen's back and I'll be 31st or 32nd in the ATP rankings," said Cilic, adding he had been "relieved of an immense weight."

Cilic, who has said he inadvertently took the banned substance in glucose tablets, recalled: "The nightmare started on June 10 when I got that letter from the ITF saying there was nikethamide in my samples.

"I thought the case could be dealt with in two weeks but my lawyers were pressured by the ITF so I pulled out of Wimbledon."

Cilic, who spent 11 weeks in the world's top 10 in 2010, tested positive for nikethamide at the BMW Open in Munich in April.

He has not played since withdrawing from his second-round match at Wimbledon in June and has dropped to 47th in the rankings.

Cilic will face a qualifier in the opening round in Paris.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alison Wildey)


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