The Daily Telegraph - 02 December 2005
Ivanisevic championing Croatia's cause
By Mark Hodgkinson
Whether Goran Ivanisevic swings a racket or not, this weekend is likely to be remembered as his Davis Cup final should Croatia win the sport's most prestigious team competition. His charm and humour are just as powerful as that fearsome left-handed service, and he will undoubtedly be highly influential as Croatia's cheerleader-in-chief, the amusing eccentric on the side of the court.
The 34-year-old, who came out of retirement to train for the final, will only play an active role against the Slovak Republic if Ivan Ljubicic or Mario Ancic hurts himself in today's opening singles and a space needs filling in tomorrow's doubles. If the tie is already decided, Ivanisevic may be asked to play in a dead singles rubber on Sunday, but he said yesterday that "there would be no point playing as everybody would be drunk and the hall would be empty".
Ljubicic and Ancic, known on the tour as 'Baby Goran', adore Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion. He has given them plenty of encouragement during their careers, and his presence in Bratislava could help with their mind-set.
Ivanisevic is prepared to play, having trained hard to work off the effects of retirement and, in particular, spending last summer lounging, eating and fishing on his boat. He wanted to ensure he did not arrive here "as the fourth guy with a fat stomach", and has not had any discomfort from his shoulder.
The weekend already has a quirky feel, contrasting with the blockbuster final last year when Spain and the United States, two of tennis's super-powers, played in front of a 27,000 crowd in Seville that set an attendance record for a sanctioned match. This year's trophy will be contested by two Eastern European nations making their first appearances in a Davis Cup final, and at a modest venue with a capacity just a shade over 4,000.
The Slovakians appear to be enjoying the ride as much as the Croatians. They beat Spain, last year's champions, in the opening round, wet-shaved their heads after reaching the final, and have been appearing for some official functions in national ice hockey shirts, a dress code which gives an indication of their refreshing take on Davis Cup tennis.
But there has been one distraction. The Slovakians have been denying rumours that Karol Beck, their second singles nomination, failed a drugs test during the semi-final. Beck, also returning from a knee injury, plays today's opening rubber against Ljubicic, who is attempting to replicate John McEnroe's record of winning 12 rubbers from 12 in a Davis Cup year. Ancic and Dominik Hrbaty, the home nation's leading player, then follow.