Nacional Magazine- 17 July 2001
Ivaniševic's Wimbledon Trainer
Mario Tudor (23), tennis trainer from Split who as of the beginning of this year travels with Ivaniševic as his friend, sparring partner, trainer and room mate at Wimbledon, reveals what happened to Ivaniševic in the period that they worked together during the two-week tournament.
Everyone who has been following the Wimbledon miracle of Goran Ivaniševic, has wondered who the black-haired youngster was who was sitting in the VIP box, making fierce gestures and cheering loudly for every point of Goran. Tennis fans understood that the new face was Goran's friend and trainer, but only people from Split knew that his name was Mario Tudor, Goran's friend and young tennis trainer, who doesn't leave his side for the past couple of months. They spent the whole Wimbledon tournament together in an apartment. "No matter how difficult and dramatic it has been on court, that we couldn't see a way out at certain moments, we knew how to relax, to make jokes and to burst in tears from laughter. And these days come back to mind, especially the intervals against Henman, which you'll remember all your life," Mario Tudor says with enthusiasm, while we're waiting for the hovercraft to Bol. There, after the welcoming party for Goran Ivaniševic, are the preparations for an incredible party in the discotheque of Igor Stimac. "We're tired and haven't slept late. Goran is exhausted, but we'll enjoy ourselves like never before. We'll sleep for the coming 15 days", 23-year-old Mario said. Since Mario Tudor has been with Goran, Goran plays better and more secure. Many wonder who Mario Tudor is and how big is share was in Goran's great expedition at Wimbledon.
It started at Firula
"I believed in Goran, I saw he played excellent. The question was which day he would explode", Mario Tudor, a professional tennis trainer, who feels his merit obviously comes in second place. "Look", he says, pointing at his finger nails, "everyone bites nails out of nervousness. That's the price of being at the club when Goran is playing." Goran is convinced that of all people, Mario brings him luck and that his career is on the move since Mario Tudor became his sparring partner and trainer six months ago. Tudor was also a talented tennis player, the were of the opinion that he was yet another player of a generation who was born in Split and was trained at Firula. But his career went into another direction that Goran's. Mario was surprised that people tried to make contact with him, such a welcoming and lunacy in Split. "Before Wimbledon I was a complete anonymous tennis trainer. Today I give interviews as his friend and trainer."
Who is Mario Tudor?
"Since I was a child, Goran and I have been very good friends, although he is seven years older than me. When I started to play tennis at Firula, Goran noticed me as a talented boy. I was ten years old and the best of my generation in former Yugoslavia. At that time Goran was already a well-known tennis player, my tennis idol and my example. Someone said in 1988 to Goran: "Little Tudor is very good, he's got potential! He's getting somewhere." Although Goran had a good name in tennis, he came up to me, introduced himself and wanted to play a game with me. He wanted to support me and test my fighting spirit. And that tradition lasted. That's how the friendship started. Whenever possible, Goran played with me. But Goran supported all young talents at Firula. He is an idol and hero for all of us. You have to admit it's not usual for renowned players to be among children, teach and help them, play with them and give them advice. That's how our friendship started which still lasts today."
Are you just the friend or also the youngest trainer who Goran accompanies?
"First of all I'm a friend to him, then a sparring partner, and then a trainer. And all together. In that sequence. Goran is a grown and experienced tennis player. I'm convinced he doesn't need a trainer who teaches him the basics, no new things as far as tennis is concerned. Goran follows everything and he knows everything about tennis. He doesn't need a trainer who suppresses him, forces him. He needs a true friend who honestly says what he thinks about his game and who can bring happiness and sadness. We both travel around the world since the beginning of this year. We travel, play, train and go out together. In London we shared an apartment for a month."
How did the cooperation between the two of you start?
"At the beginning of this year, when he'd lost the qualification in Australia, he called me: "Mario, where are you?" "At home!" "What kind of job do you have?" "Nothing special." "Mario, would you want to go with me to two tournaments?" Goran asked me. Of course I agreed. We went to Milan and a tournament in Germany. At both tournaments, Goran played well. After a long period of time he was satisfied with his performance. So he draw the conclusion that I was bringing him luck. And that he would take me with him. "Now that we've noticed that I play well when you're around, go with me to America!" he said. And that's how it started. In America he didn't play bad as well. We did Miami, Indian Wells, Memphis and two other tournaments. It has been going well up till now. How long Goran will keep on playing well, nobody knows."
Did you believe in Goran and his return to the top?
"Of course. I knew and saw that everything was better. I saw that he was prepared to invest everything in his comeback among the best. That was good. I encouraged him in that. The shoulder injury is a unwilling muscle, which really hurts, he endures it easier. He took medicines and learned to ignore the pain. Many were sceptical, didn't believe in Goran anymore, underestimated him. But as of the beginning of this year Goran is playing fantastic. We worked intensely, his motivation was strong. It was a matter of time that it would pay off, he would explode. Thank God it happened at Wimbledon. When things were going bad for him, people in Split lost faith in him. Except his family and closest friends. On the ranking he dropped further and further, but that was not a real reflection of his abilities, of his form at that moment. Luckily Goran was fortunate, everything came together at the best moment. At the tournament that was most important to him his whole life and career. That is extremely beautiful. I'm proud, because I'm his friend and part of his team."
What did you practice in particular in the preparation for Wimbledon?
"You can't practice anything specific with Goran. He's 30 years old. He was second in the world. You can't give him an order: "Now, you play diagonals for an hour!" Our system was: When we were in the mood to work, we worked intensely, for three of four hours. If it wasn't a day on which he did weight training or had to improve his game, we watched movies all day. Goran started to enjoy life more this way. He discovered himself. In this way, he can enjoy his tennis more. That's the way to get the belief in capability back. There was no pressure anymore, it was never like: "You have to, Goran!" That was a remarkeble change.
Does it mean you have the same understanding of tennis and professionalism?
"Our opinions are the same in that respect. We are both tennis fans. But we understood that playing well and good results don't have to be in contrast to some needs in life which belong to the younger generation. If you play professional tennis, it doesn't mean you can't laugh and enjoy yourself.
Have you ever had a conflict with Goran?
"No, there was no reason. Our opinions about tennis and life are the same. They complement each other. In the six months that we have spent on tournaments, we never had an argument. We have a very good and correct relationship." Would it be possible for Goran not to get angry when he's making mistakes? Of course. He may be Ivaniševic, and been a while in the top 10 of the world, alongside the court some things, strokes or mistakes, are better seen than on court. We both know that. Goran accepts my advice, punishments, remarks, because we trust each other.
Did Goran have a premonition that something at Wimbledon might happed that would change his life?
"Yes, exactly that. The first day, when we came through the gates of the All England Club, Goran said to me: "Mario, it makes my skin crawl all over! Something's going to happen here!" Goran was aware how much Wimbledon and the three finals he played mean to him. Already after the first round and the victory over Jonsson, I felt some positive energy. I didn't want to say it, but I was convinced Goran could go far. I didn't want to talk about it, because I knew that in matches sometimes few points are decisive. Goran could play fabulous, and lose against Henman because of some doubtful points or double faults. Then everything would be over. Goran believed in himself. When he beat Moya in the second round, we both believed that Goran would go very far."
I saw you were very nervous in the VIP box. Nikola Pilic and Srdan Ivaniševic also sat restless. How did you feel at the moment you couldn't give Goran no advice at all?
"Here, look at my hands. I don't have any nails left. I bite them all when I was following the matches from the box. Especially during the last one. That's how I say best how I lived Goran's matches. It is extremely difficult to sit in the box and watch. I don't know how mister Srdan Ivaniševic 's heart survived. To play a match of watch it are two totally different things. I have to watch and I can't jump or yell, I will have to control myself! That is for us, Dalmatians, horrible. Insane!"
When Goran was convinced you brought him luck, couldn't your name have been Srecko (=destiny)from that moment, instead of Mario?
"No problem. Goran made his own destiny! Although by chance. We laugh and talk about what would have happened if Goran continued to play bad after Australia. He could have played bad in Milan, lose the first rounds. Maybe he would have gone home! Maybe we would never have travelled and worked together again. Destiny decided otherwise."
What ranking did you have as a player?
"I was around 550th on the world ranking. I played challengers and satellites. I played Davis Cup once. I was good enough."
What did you lack as opposed to Goran?
"Very much. Play and physics, I wasn't as powerfull as Goran, although I look giant. Decisive things for the development of every tennis player are luck and money. You need a lot of money to make progression. My parents were not capable to invest that much, neither was the association. In our tennis the family will be a source of support for a long time. So I became a private trainer. I registered with the High trainers school in Zagreb and I hope I will finish it with success."
Do you expect your price as a trainer will go up extremely after Wimbledon?
"Probably. This Wimbledon can be the turning point in my life. Until yesterday no-one ever heard of Mario Tudor. Maybe tomorrow there is someone who wants to be trained by me. But I prefer staying with Goran. To help him and be part of his hunt for the world tennis top. That will be interesting and exciting! I've devoted all my life to tennis, it's the only profession I've had. But I never thought I'd give away interviews.
So you reckon with a joint future with Goran?
"That's hard to say. Goran improved his ranking considerably and wants to be on top for the next three years. Goran is now 10th in the Champions Race, 16th on the Entry list. He came from the 125th place. I'm sure there will be no-one in future at such a position and win a Grand Slam. On CNN it was said that Goran's history was the greatest sports history ever written."
How did you live with Goran at Wimbledon for a month?
"Excellent. We lived in an apartment at Wimbledon Village, at 5 minutes from Wimbledon. Mister Srdan Ivaniševic was in another apartment with journalists. We cooked, made the preparations, made jokes…"
What did you cook?
"Actually, Goran cooked. I can't cook, and in our work schedule, Goran was the cook. And that was excellent. All honour for him! On the menu was - chicken. Every day! The chicked was thrown in the pan, baked and then put together with bread. I had the wings. Because of the wild chickens, I could crow like a cock at Wimbledon. And if we had wanted to eat different things, we would have decided to live seperately! As for the cooking, all honour for him! In that he wasn't a loser!
Rain as salvation
Can you describe a day in your Wimbledon house?
"We woke up at 9 am. We watched every morning Teletubbies. One morning we switched the television on, we watched for two minutes and cried out laughing. They are so stupid, those blue, red and green little people with televisions instead of bellies, that we laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Both times, after the first and second match, we watched Teletubbies. Goran decided that it was for good luck and that we couldn't miss it. We believed Goran would lose if we didn't watch this stupid broadcast in the morning, you really can't watch it longer than two minutes. In our free time we worked like mad. We hired video's and watched movies, of which 90% was a total failure. Goran likes criminal movies, thrillers and action movies. But those were so bad, that we put the television off after 10 minutes. We practiced once or twice a day, depending on Goran playing a match or not. Thank God there was not much rain. Except during the match against Henman."
How did Goran cope with the many interruptions during the match against Henman?
"The first day it rained and that was Goran's salvation. The interruption came at the right moment. Goran said to me: "Mario, if it hadn't started to rain, it would all have ended differently!" He said God had sent the rain. In the evening we talked about the match. Goran was tired and sad. He didn't believe he could beat Henman. I encouraged him, I said to him: "Goran, the match isn't over yet. You have chanced, he's leading 2-1. You can turn everything around with one break!" And that what happened. Goran likes it when he's been told the truth. If I say to him: "Goran, you played like hell", he knows I mean it and that it's true. That's how it was that evening. Goran knew I wouldn't just comfort him, but that I really believed in a turnaround in the match against Henman. In the beginning, he really wasn't convinced he could beat Henman. That night he didn't sleep much. But when he woke up he was calmer. I saw he had his self-confidence back. I knew Goran couldn't lose."
Darling of the English
What happened after the second interruption in the match against Henman?
"That was a completely different story. I was already sure he would make it to the final. He also had the feeling that he couldn't lose. It was in the air that Goran wouldn't allow to lose. When he beat Henman and we held each other in the locker room, we embraced each other, jumped, screamed, sang for a long time. Those cold Englishmen stared at us in astonishment, they can't be as happy as us. I have to say that the English public really love him. They were supporting him, even after he beat Henman. That surprised us. He is the player with the personality, and that is rare these days. There are so many players who work and behave like machines. People really felt for Goran, they knew he had lost three Wimbledon finals. The English understand that Goran speaks honestly and from the heart. And they appreciate that."
How did you experience the moment Rafter hit the ball into the net, Goran won the match and became champion?
"Believe me, I couldn't sit for long when he had won the match. We were all in shock, so I didn't even see Rafter's ball into the net. I was totally unaware of what was happening. I begun to jump out of joy. We all hugged each other in the box and cried from happiness. I can't remember I cried so much. Goran walked across the court, came crying to the box, hugged mister Srdan and said: "Papa, we did it!" We all had goose flesh when he said that. It exactly expressed how much they had worked for Wimbledon, how much they wanted Goran to succeed. We all cried, kissed and hugged each other. Such a feeling you can't experience another time."
How do you see your career from now?
"I said to you that I would like to stay with Goran until the end of tennis career. After having been through all of this, we need to ask the question how to go on. I was with the man who won Wimbledon. It seems strange to me to return to Firula and teach little children. Maybe a door will open for after Goran's career has ended. Maybe Mario Tudor will become a well-known tennis trainer. I'm still young!"
Will you go sailing with Goran? I heard he will spend the break on the boat and the first stage is Palagruza.
"First, we're going to Bol for the craziest night. I won't go sailing with Goran. Some others are going. I wanted to go to my parents, home and Split."
Thanks to Petra for translating, typing and submitting this article.