Ivanisevic Foresees Zagreb Return
Just prior to the 2003 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round draw, Goran Ivanisevic had a premonition about who Croatia would face, and where. He didn’t get it 100% right, but he still liked the outcome.
“I said that we would play America, but I thought we would play them away,” he said. “When I saw it was actually America at home, it was even better.”
Ivanisevic hasn’t hit a competitive tennis ball since he underwent shoulder surgery following last year’s quarterfinal with Argentina, but the Croatian has his sights firmly set on returning for the first round tie against the United States, in Zagreb, February 7 to 9.
“That’s my goal, to come back for the Davis Cup and try to play,” he said. “You don’t play America every day, it’s maybe one chance in ten years and we have a young, good team who can play anybody on any surface. We’re not scared of anyone and we showed that in 2002 [when Croatia defeated Germany in the first round].”
Anyone who witnessed Ivanisevic serving at half-speed as he helped Ivan Ljubicic keep their hopes alive against Argentina in the doubles rubber of last year’s Davis Cup quarterfinals, probably wondered whether he would ever return. He couldn’t even defend the Wimbledon title he won in 2001, and most onlookers thought he would retire. Not Ivanisevic.
The 31- year-old began intense rehabilitation, rebuilding the strength in his shoulder and working his way back to fitness. He remains determined to help Ivan Ljubicic, Zeljko Krajan and 18-year-old Mario Ancic, as Croatia attempt to mirror or better their exploits of last year.
“Every day I’m feeling better and better,” he said. “My forehands and backhands are good – actually better than before. My serve at the moment is at 35, 40 per cent, I can’t hit it harder, but doctors say that by the time of the Davis Cup tie I will be able to serve without pain. I plan to play at least doubles.”
Just to have Ivanisevic around will be a huge boost for Croatia. He is a talisman for the team and a hero to the nation. Even if he can’t play, he plans to be courtside, and he thinks his countrymen have a great chance to score an historic victory.
“The United States have a great team – Andy Roddick, James Blake, they’re a good, young team that can play on any surface, but they are not unbeatable and it’s going to be tough for them to come here [to Zagreb].
“I think Ljubicic is going to be a key player for us. He’s going to have to carry a lot of pressure and expectation. It’s not easy when you have to win and a lot of people are counting on you, but it’s an open match and we have nothing to lose. "I think we’re going to have great support from the crowd. If I can help at least in the doubles, that would be great. If not, I am going to sit there and support the team.”
Ivanisevic began his Davis Cup career in 1989 as an 18-year-old, playing for the former Yugoslavia. His first live singles rubber, a four-set victory over Spain’s Sergio Casal in the quarterfinals, took them to the semis, where they lost to Sweden.
Though he hails from Split and fanatically supports the city’s football team, Hajduk – big rivals of Zagreb team, Dinamo – Ivanisevic has fond Davis Cup memories of Zagreb.
Last year in Croatia’s capital, he won both of his singles rubbers against Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler, and the doubles in their victory over Germany.
For Ivanisevic, there is nothing quite like the Davis Cup.
“It’s great,” he said. “You travel alone all the year but for seven days we have the whole team together and it’s the team spirit which is so great. Especially with us, we are young guys who have fun, play football, go out, do everything together and for that week we are like a family.”
A family aiming for a victory that will allow them to reconvene for the quarterfinals.
Thanks to Antonio for sending the article in.