The Sunday Times
17 March 1996
At the end of last year, Goran Ivanisevic's career was at a crossroads. One path led to success, another to oblivion. A few weeks earlier, Bob Brett, his coach for four and a half years, had walked out on him and he headed for the Grand Slam Cup in Munich without a title to his name in 1995.
This was the moment for the 24-year-old Croat to show just how much character lay beneath the frequently frenzied exterior. He did not fail. He won the title and immediately donated $100,000 from his $1.6m prize money to a new charity he set up to help the children of Croatia.
It was not his first contribtion to his war-torn land nor will it be his last, but it had a cleansing effect on his soul and he has not looked back. With the Rotterdam Indoors under his belt and a couple of losing finals, he is, to date, the most successful player of the year.
Further responsibility was heaped upon him when Zeljko Franulovic, a fellow Croat, was forced to switch the franchise of an ATP Tour event he had bought, from Geneva to Zagreb. Swiss sponsors had proved too tight-fisted and Franulovic, with the tournament looming, turned to Ivanisevic for financial help.
Ivanisevic responded and, as co-owner of an ATP Tour event, discovered what it is like to be in a tournament director's shoes.
"I arrive from Australia to find that Kafelnikov has pulled out and somebody else is injured," he said. "So I start making calls. The players won't come. They are busy. They are tired. They have problems. It is tough."So my colleagues on the tournament committee say, 'You must win tournament yourself or we're in trouble'. Great! Never felt such pressure. They're going to hang me if I don't win."
Franulovic laughed when told what Ivanisevic had been saying. "It was tough for him," he said. "The difference was 400 spectators a day if he was out or 4,000 if he was still in. But he did well. Maybe the responsibility helped his game."
And his psychological game, at least, needs assistance. At the Milan Indoors two weeks ago, Ivanisevic was in a temper because he had dropped two match points. He started walking away from Forget's serves, conceding the points and pointing an accusaing finger at his temple. Eventually a tournament supervisor ordered him to "play properly or quit." Ivanisevic chose the former and went on to win the tournament.
So which Ivanisevic is the true one - the petulant, racket-breaking adolescent or the intelligent, concerned Croatian citizen who takes his responsibilities as a national icon very seriously? The answer is not clear-cut because, like his fledgling nation, he is in a state of transition.
"I am learning to think for myself," he said. "before, Bob Brett did everything for me. Now I have a coach, Vedran Martic, but he is more of a friend. Being so involved in Zagreb made me look at things from the other side. It is important players live up to their commitments even if they have to suffer a bit. It is not so bad. I have seen what is bad."
Spending time with friends who have been fighting a war has made an impression on Ivanisevic, and Brett has seen the effect it has had on him: "Goran is capable of doing crazy things, but he is not stupid. It was frustrating trying to get him to accept basic tactical instructions. But now I am no longer around, he seems to be getting the message."
At least Ivanisevic's ambitions have not changed: "My first aim is to win that lovely grass-court tournament," he said. Ivanisevic has always had the game and now he might, at last, have the maturity to become a Wimbledon champion.