Published in Nacional number 515, 2005-09-26

Autor: Dean Sinovčić


Best player of the Davis Cup

Ivan Ljubičić and Mario Ančić in doubles match

'My opponent never angers me. I get angry at referee calls, at poor shots, lack of concentration. There were moments when I got angry in these three matches, like the first set of the first match', said Ljubičić'My opponent never angers me. I get angry at referee calls, at poor shots, lack of concentration. There were moments when I got angry in these three matches, like the first set of the first match', said Ljubičić"They were shouting, We love you, Ljubo! The atmosphere was amazing. The spectators just lifted me. I am most aware of the fans when I get up from the bench and go for the ball. What I liked best is that the spectators knew exactly when to cheer like crazy, and when to be perfectly silent. I don’t like a chamber atmosphere in tennis, I enjoy spectators who know tennis. Cheering just doesn’t get any better than this,” said Ivan Ljubičić after his Sunday victory against Nikolaj Davidenko, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 which lead Croatia to the final of the Davis Cup. On Sunday, the national tennis team gathered together for dinner at Villa Dalmacija to toast the excellent match and the desired win in the final in Bratislava against Slovakia. After his victory, Croatia’s best tennis player spoke with Nacional about the night before the match with Davidenko, playing doubles with Mario Ančić, Croatia’s chances in the final against Slovakia and his start in tennis.

NACIONAL: Do you know that according to the newest rankings, you are the best player in the Davis Cup?

- I don’t have any precise information, but with these three victories against the Russians, it could be. Sounds good, Ljubičić, best player of the Davis Cup. I have won my last 11 matches and this year I won all nine. For the past two years, I have played really well in the Davis Cup. Last year, against the French also. I couldn’t play doubles the first day due to an injury, and I just lost a singles match. But after that I have had only victories.

NACIONAL: Does any other player have such results?

- Dominik Hrbaty. The Slovaks are in the final of the Davis Cup. Hrbaty hasn’t lost a single singles game. But before the match with the Russians I knew that I had the most victories.

NACIONAL: They say that Hrbaty wins regularly. Does that mean a sure point in the final duel with the Slovaks in Bratislava?

- To date we’ve played five matches and I’ve won all five. It would be stupid and irresponsible to talk about how it will be in Bratislava. Furthermore, we don’t even know what surface we’ll be playing on. When we get onto the court, I’ll feel much better, because winning five matches is a big reason.

NACIONAL: Is placing in the final of the Davis Cup the greatest triumph of Croatian tennis

- Everyone played here, last year’s winners the Spanish, the Americans, French, Russians, all the tennis all stars. This is a phenomenal success for us. For me personally, it is a great recognition to be the best player of the Davis Cup, because all the matches were played on three sets. that means that the matches were played out well. I won them all this year, from Roddick to Davidenko. I’ve also had excellent results in the ATP Tour at the beginning of the year. That didn’t continue, but I did keep up my results in the Davis Cup. Now, when our playing is ranked in the Davis Cup, we will place very high. We were the seventh team in the world, now we could be among the top four.

NACIONAL: How did you spend the evening before the match with Nikolaj Davidenko?

- The surface in Split, in the match with the Romanians and Russians, is specifically fast. The surface allows you to dictate the rhythm. I knew that it would not be good if I allowed Davidenko to set his tempo. If I played well, if I served the way I wanted to, I knew that there was no reason to even think about Davidenko’s game. I only thought about myself and my game. I wanted to concentrate and believe in a victory. If I thought about brilliant Davidenko, who played against Mario on day one, I would have frightened myself. There would be too much problematic thinking about what I should do, how to outplay him. There was no fear the night before the match. I decided to serve strong, play aggressive with simple lines, short balls, call him up to the net and give him what I know best. And that’s what I did.

NACIONAL: When you made your first serve, did you think about what would happen if you lost?

- No, not for a moment. I have great faith in Mario. Fortunately, this year I haven’t put him in the position where he has to play on 2:2. I have always won on 2:1. It is time for Mario to overcome his block. This year he hasn’t won a singles match. I am sure that at the crucial time, he will give his full contribution. That could be in early December in the finals against Slovakia. I told him earlier that there is no reason to be nervous, because he sees that I’ve won all my matches. Mario just needs to play his best tennis.

NACIONAL: Can the two of you lose the doubles match in the Davis Cup?

- We can. This year we won two matches in five sets, and were close to losing against the Romanians. It is absurd to say that we cannot lose, but while we’re playing this well, it will be difficult. The Slovakian doubles team Beck and Martinjak have been winning all their doubles games as well. It’ll be close.

NACIONAL: What can we expect in the final of the Davis Cup in Bratislava?

- It’s all open, all the matches can go either way. The timing of the final is very bad. We’ll be playing from 2-4 December, while our season ends in early November, meaning the finals will be played in the off season.

NACIONAL: Are the finals in Bratislava an opportunity not to be missed?

- Now we’re in the finals and we haven’t won anything yet. Finalists are soon forgotten, while winners are always remembered. This is an opportunity we should not pass up. We will be maximally ready for the finals. It is time that Croatian tennis be raised up to the level it deserves to be at. In recent days, there has been more press attention to the basketball failures than to our success. I am a little disappointed with the daily newspapers. I love basketball, and respect the sport, but tennis players do not get the treatment they deserve.

NACIONAL: What makes you most angry when you play tennis?

- My opponent never angers me. I get angry at referee calls, at poor shots, lack of concentration. There were moments when I got angry in these three matches, like the first set of the first match. But I don’t show when I’m angry with myself, I just talk to myself.

NACIONAL: What is important in modern tennis?

- Persistence. If someone is not persistent in tennis, success will be hard to come by.

NACIONAL: The president of the Croatian Tennis Association Radimir Čačić once said that Ivan Ljubičić is a very intelligent player.

- Of course, I’m flattered that the Association president said that. He is a very hard-working man, but I have to admit that the president of the CTA does not know too much about tennis. I’m glad to hear he said that. Davidenko is an intelligent player, a tough nut. This was a match of two stubborn men. Quality comes with experience. I have had over 400 professional matches in my career.

NACIONAL: You certainly didn’t have that quality when you started playing tennis.

- I was pretty talented, I moved up fast. I started playing tennis quite late, at 9 years old. At the beginning I was three or four years older than the other beginners. At first, I had poor results. But I moved up quickly and showed a real élan for tennis. I am happy to have succeeded. My advice to parents is not to force their children to play and train tennis at 4, 5 or 6 years old. It should just be a game and fun until they are about 12. Parents unnecessarily force their children to win matches at 10 years old. It’s completely wrong, because you have to work most on building up your child as a person.

NACIONAL: Who is responsible for your start in tennis at the age of 9?

- No one forced me. One day my father told me that he would like to see my brother and I play some sport. My father saw that I would grow to be a strong man. Then, Wimbledon was on TV, and when the tournament was over, I said, “Dad, I want to play tennis!”. And he accepted that.

NACIONAL: Your father was cheering you on very hard then entire match, while your mother kept to herself.

- My mom’s tears at the end of the match with Davidenko were not kept to herself. My father likes to show his emotions. He was jumping up and down and was in every second of the game. My whole family experiences this very emotionally, my wife and brother too. While I play, I don’t notice anything outside the court. I am a more closed person.

NACIONAL: Who are your tennis idols?

- Today, I no longer have tennis idols, but one really must admire Roger Federer. He can be an example to us all

NACIONAL: What was the role of Goran Ivanišević in the team?

- Goran lifted the atmosphere with his temperament, his advice. He certainly contributed to our great success. This is a team victory. I did win all three points, but this is Croatia’s victory, not Ivan Ljubičić’s.

After Ljubičić’s victory over Nikolaj Davidenko and Croatia’s entry into the Davis Cup finals, Mario Ančić did not hide his delight with the victory and the Split fans, particularly since he lost the first match to Davidenko. “Thank you Split for this. This cannot be found anywhere else. The chanting, cheering, support for Ljubo and me, completely crazy! Had Ljubo lost, I would have won against Južni. But Ljubo played a brilliant match. He outplayed Davidenko, who I recently lost to, though I beat him twice before. Ljubo just beat him in every segment of the game. When the result is 2:2, you have to only think about victory. The night before the match, Ljubo and I watched all our matches against our opponents. We exchanged opinions and everything was clear. Ljubo knew exactly how he would play against Davidenko, who is a top ten player. I will continue to work on my offensive game. Tomorrow I fly out for a tournament in Japan. They have criticized me for not being brazen. You judge for yourself whether I am or not.