EXCLUSIVE: Brian Vahaly on coming to terms with his sexuality, dealing with hate and making tennis inclusive - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Brian Vahaly on coming to terms with his sexuality, dealing with hate and making tennis inclusive

When former world No.64 Brian Vahaly spoke openly about being gay in a podcast in 2017 he received over 1000 hate messages which included threats to take his children away. Yet he is resilient and hopes his journey to acceptance is one others will be inspired by.

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America’s Brian Vahaly might have never won an ATP Tour title during his career but many consider him as a trailblazer in the world of tennis.

 

As a youngster the American showed immense promise on the junior Tour when he captured the Easter Bowl 18s title and broke into the world’s top 20. Following his success, Vahaly didn’t transition immediately to the Pro circuit and instead played college tennis in order to get his degree first. An approach which wasn’t as common back in the late 1990s as it is now. Representing the University of Virginia he earned All-American honours and reached the final of the prestigious NCAA championships whilst unseeded.

As a professional Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. During his career he played the likes of Michael Chang, Andre Agassi, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Lleyton Hewitt, Carlos Moya and Gustavo Kurten.

Towards the end of his career, injury started to hinder his performance on the Tour. The former college sports star retired in 2006 at the age of 27 but it was 11 years after that when he first spoke openly about being gay in a podcast. A courageous move Vahaly hopes will inspire others despite some of the negativity he received. He tells UbiTennis that following the podcast he shockingly received more than 1000 hate messages. In the Open Era there has never been an openly gay player participating in a Grand Slam tournament.

Now serving on the board of directors and thriving in the world of business, Vahaly speaks to UbiTennis about his journey to acceptance, making men’s tennis more welcoming to LGBT players, coping with his mental health as a player and many more topics.

Life as a player

UBITENNIS: You are a former world No.64 player who won five Challenger titles and played in seven Grand Slam main draws. What is the best memory of your career?

VAHALY: I think about it in a couple different ways. First, I was able to compete against Michael Chang, who was sort of my childhood role model. Being able to beat him was a personal achievement.

Secondly, reaching the quarter-finals of Indian Wells back in 2003 where I beat Juan Carlo Ferrero [who would have become world N.1 for eight weeks later that year], Fernando Gonzalez and Tommy Robredo. That was a big moment for me in my career.

UBITENNIS: Before you started life on the ATP Tour, you were also a regular on the college circuit.

VAHALY: I played at the University of Virginia and I was there for four years. I got my college degree and back then not a lot of college graduates were going on to the ATP Tour. There were only just a few. So I was proud at the time to be the only college graduate in the top 100. That has since changed considerably with John Isner and Steve Johnson among others. So it’s exciting to see more people going via the college route. For me personally getting my education (first) was very important to me.

Coming to terms with his sexuality

UBITENNIS: Towards the end of your career you suffered from injury and previously said you needed to be away from the sport in order to deal with issues concerning your personal life. Why did you feel the need to leave the sport completely in order to address your personal issues?

VAHALY: It was a rotator cuff issue and I had a bunch of surgeries. At that time most careers were done by the time players reached their late 20s. Obviously a lot has changed with some of my peers still playing when I thought it was time to exit.

I started to come to terms with my sexuality, and I was trying to understand who I am. I just didn’t feel safe or included in the sports field. More specifically tennis, it was a very conservative environment. So for me, when I stopped playing I very much disappeared from my friends, my tennis world and even my family a little bit. That way I could figure out more about myself and what I wanted. It’s a self-exploration process for sure and at the time I didn’t feel like tennis was a safe enough space for me to do that.

UBITENNIS: You said tennis was a very conservative environment for you. What do you mean by this?

VAHALY: There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment. You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBT issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.

UBITENNIS: Do you ever wonder how different your career might have been if you publicly came out whilst still playing?

VAHALY: I don’t allow myself to think about it because I don’t want to think about ‘what if’. I do wonder if I would have been able to play more freely and maybe the quality of my tennis would have improved. But I do know during that time in the 2000s I would have felt very uncomfortable travelling internationally. There were certain countries which used to be very unwelcoming towards gay people in general.

To me there was a risk component to coming out, as well as a financial fear. How would sponsorships respond? You sort of don’t know what you don’t know. When you worked 25 years as a tennis player it was just a risk I wasn’t willing to take.

“People were telling me they knew where I live and they were coming to take my children away”

UBITENNIS: Nowadays there is a lot of talk about mental health concerning players such as Naomi Osaka. 15 years ago these discussions weren’t as prominent, so how did managed to cope personally with life on the Tour?

VAHALY: When I was on the Tour I had a sports psychologist, a woman called Alexis Castorri.  She has worked with a lot of Grand Slam champions. She was really influential for me in terms of getting the most out of my tennis career and after I finished competing. Helping my transition from the Tour and coming to terms with my sexuality.

Mental health is critical to me. I’ve had a psychologist now for 19 years. I continue to do it (use these services) and I will always have tremendous support for anybody who wants to prioritise that aspect of their life.

UBITENNIS: It was back in 2017 when you spoke publicly about your sexuality for the first time. Were you expecting the kind of reaction you received?

VAHALY: I knew it was important for me to speak my truth when given the opportunity. I just wanted to say it and move on a little bit. I didn’t foresee myself being an advocate. But I didn’t want to feel like I was hiding and there was a part of me, even though I was already married, felt like I was hiding from the sports world. That was a process for me.

After having kids, it changed the way I thought about everything and I felt I needed to step up in a way. I’m very much an introvert, so I was quite happy living a very private life but kids have a way of changing your priorities.

UBITENNIS: Ever since you have opened up about your sexuality, have you heard from any other athletes seeking help or advice?

VAHALY: There has been no word from tennis players, which is fine. I certainly did hear from people that I grew up playing college and junior tennis with. But not on the Pro Tour.

After the podcast came out I got quite a significant amount of negative e-mails. Probably a little over 1000 messages from people who were very disgusted by the fact two men were having children (together). A lot of really strong hate came in my direction. Where I was fortunate is that I came out later in life and I was well prepared for that kind of hate so it didn’t necessarily impact me the same way.

When people were telling me they knew where I live and they were coming to take my children away, it was a little scary. My experience was not entirely filled with warm and fuzzy acceptance.

I have to be understanding that there is a significant part of the United States and the world who do not believe it is acceptable the way my family lives. I have to be OK with that. Part of what sports prepare you for is adversity and dealing with people who are tough.

ATP far from perfect when it comes to LGBT inclusivity

UBITENNIS: On the ATP Tour there are no openly LGBT members which may or may not be a coincidence. Do you feel the men’s Tour needs to do more to make the sport more welcoming?

VAHALY: If you look at what the NFL and NBA is doing compared to what the ATP is doing – it’s not really the same. One of the reasons why I serve on the board of directors on the USTA is to change the US Open. How can we have a Pride day? How can we have events and visibly show we support it? The USTA and US Open have taken some great strides over the last two years.

I do believe the ATP, certainly as the governing body of men’s professional tennis, if they were more open and accepting in their messaging, it would help. At this stage they have chosen not to do that.

I will say that the Australian Open has done an exceptional job and I hope that continues to expand. I’m not looking to go into these environments and preach, I’m just trying to promote visibility and acceptance so LGBT people feel that they can join the sport.

UBITENNIS: When it comes to LGBT sports the big story in recent days has been NFL player Carl Nassib coming out. How important is it?

VAHALY: They (NFL and tennis) are different sports but I think it helps. NFL in the United States is one of the most macho sports out there. Seeing how the fans and teams react is really important.

I thought Carl handled it very well. He posted about it (coming out) and moved on. It doesn’t need to be a big topic of conversation. I believe this as well, which is why I went with the podcast.

That just continues to change hearts and minds around the country. When people can see them (gay athletes) out there competing, just as tough and just as successful in the athletics sphere. It (change of views) happens slowly but I think certainly all athletes are paying attention to acceptance levels and the reactions of your teammates.

Advice to others and what the future holds

UBITENNIS: Given all that you have been through. What advice would you give to somebody else who may be going through what you once experience?

VAHALY: Find somebody to talk to, somebody you trust. Know that people like us are there if you have questions. It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to who can help you learn about yourself. What I try to do is in terms of putting my family forward is that we live a pretty ‘normal life.’ I have two kids, I have a house and I walked my kids to preschool this morning. It doesn’t have to be such a defining characteristic of who you are. In the sports world, it feels that it is magnified, but what I want to show is that you can have a great athletic career, meet somebody and have a family no matter your sexuality.

UBITENNIS: So now you’re have been retired from the Tour for a few years, would you consider returning in the form of a coach or mentor if an opportunity arises?

VAHALY: I honestly don’t think I would be a great coach. I am pretty good at strategy but as it relates to technique and mechanics. It’s just not my skill set. I have moved into the business world and I like it. I have had some great success with life outside of tennis.

Also, I don’t know if travel would appeal to me any more. It worked as a single guy in his twenties but in a family with kids I want to spend time at home raising my boys.

If I can be helpful to athletes by giving my input on mental toughness, strategy and things I feel that I excelled at which got me to a high level (as a tennis player). I am always happy to share my point of view.

UBITENNIS: So what have you learned as a tennis player which has helped you in the world of business?

VAHALY: I love tennis and what it taught me in terms of dealing with defeat, victory, changing strategies, different variables and crisis management. What it has done for me is that I am very competitive in the working world but I also have very good intuition and decision making skills. I have found that transitioning into the work environment from sport, that some people are a lot smarter than I am but they are using the wrong pieces of information to make a decision. I credit all my business success to the traits I learned on the tennis court.

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Vahaly now lives in Washington with his husband Bill Jones and they are parents of two twin boys. He currently is the Chief Executive Officer of Youfit Health Clubs.

Davis Cup

(Exclusive) Albert Costa: “Davis Cup Finals Are Going To Remain The Best Of Three Sets”

Last week at the Barcelona Open during one of the many suspensions due to the rainy weather UbiTennis had a chat with 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa in the elegant clubhouse of the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona.

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By Federico Bertelli, translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Born in Lleida, Albert Costa grew up as a tennis player at the  Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona and also won the tournament in 1997. When he retired from tennis he became the director of the tournament until three years ago when he handed it over to David Ferrer. One of the best stands on the centre court takes his name. Until the 1980s the tennis stadium was the Spanish team’s Davis Cup home.

 

Now, after stepping down from his role at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Albert Costa has become tournament director of the Davis Cup which is now advertised as “The World Cup of Tennis.” 

UBITENNIS: Players have asked to be able conclude their season before playing the Davis Cup. As a result, the group ties which will determine the eight quarter finalists have been moved to September and the final knockout stage will unfold over five days. What can you tell us about this? Is it going to be a definitive format?

Albert Costa: It hasn’t been confirmed yet but likely it will be six days starting on Tuesday until Sunday. It is not yet agreed with ITF but, as organisers of the event, our intention is to play from Tuesday to Sunday at the end of November. As far as the future is concerned, we are trying to find the best solution. We are aware that the first years will require some fine tuning but I believe that in the next one or two years we’re going to reach a consolidated format, which will enable us to work comfortably and to give certainty to our stakeholders. 

UBITENNIS: In 2022 and 2023 the Davis Cup will be played in Malaga. Can you tell us anything more about the selection process, considering that last year they were speaking about Abu Dhabi and then at the beginning of 2022 a neutral location was being considered?

Albert Costa: Actually we were in negotiations with Abu Dhabi, there was a concrete proposal. Then Malaga came up with a very attractive proposal and at that point we considered other factors which led us to choose the latter: tennis tradition and culture are at a different level in Spain and this was an aspect that drove Kosmos to choose Malaga. Other considerations are involved as well: an easier destination to reach for tennis fans. Europe is the centre of tennis in terms of countries and players, the ATP finals are played indoors in Turin. This last aspect is particularly relevant: in fact it is very simple to move to Malaga just a few days later and the environment is similar. Besides, Malaga is a city which is growing very fast and sees Davis Cup as an opportunity to gain visibility and to pair with its tourism.

UBITENNIS: The first edition of Davis Cup with the new format was played at the Caja Magica in Madrid, where the Mutua Madrid Open usually takes place. One of the advantages of the facilities is the possibility to use the three indoor courts simultaneously. Has the idea of playing simultaneous matches been put aside? Playing more than one match at the same time could allow them to go back to the 5-set format like in the old Davis Cup. 

Albert Costa: I know very well the format of the former Davis Cup, but we have ruled out going back to five set matches. We haven’t taken into consideration the option of playing simultaneously.

UBITENNIS: But with the current three match format, the double counts very much, much more than before; amazing runs like those of Djokovic or Murray, who a few years ago carried their teams on their shoulders and led them to victory, now would no longer be possible.

Albert Costa: It’s true. With the new format, having a great number one isn’t enough. You need a balanced team with a good doubles. But in this way the format makes competition tighter and more open and potentially there is a great number of teams that can win the trophy. This makes it all more exciting. For instance Serbia, in spite of having Djokovic, who has dominated tennis over the last years, hasn’t yet succeeded in winning the Davis Cup with the new format.

UBITENNIS: Summing up, the 3-match format, two singles and one doubles, isn’t going to change.

Albert Costa: Yes, I confirm this is the direction we are taking: 3 matches in one day.

UBITENNIS: Speaking about the calendar, which are your expectations in terms of public, now that tennis fans have got two months to make arrangements for going to watch their team? Last year it was very complicated since the teams qualified for the quarter finals were known only one week before they actually played.

Albert Costa: Now it’s much easier. We are going to work with travel agencies in order to set up interesting packages. We are also going to work with the national federations in this direction. We are aware that environment and support are the distinguishing traits that make Davis Cup so special. Our target for 2022 is to have at least 1000 supporters for each team cheering their players from the stands. The environment is definitely one of the key factors to success. This means that we want at least 8000 supporters coming from the different countries for the final eight. If Spain were to reach this stage, the number would be even higher. Then we have to add the neutral public that simply comes in to enjoy tennis. Our idea is to create an experience which combines Davis Cup with the possibility to have a trip to the Mediterranean and enjoy the city.

UBITENNIS: The old format was no longer viable. For many players winning Davis Cup once in their career was enough, whereas Majors are never enough. How do you think you can succeed in attracting the best players to always play Davis Cup?

Albert Costa: when I used to play from 1995 to 2005, I remember that the players were already asking to change the format. It was impossible to dedicate four weeks to the Davis Cup, which often involved moving to different surfaces from the Tour schedule. With the new format the workload is different. The players of a team that reaches the final stage have to invest three weeks. In terms of surfaces and event preparation it’s all much simpler: the final stage of Davis Cup is played indoors, just like the rest of the indoor season. As the matches are played best of three sets the players are much less impacted in terms of physical engagement, which is an excellent thing considering the increasing amount of injuries we’ve seen recently. It’s true that in the past many players were content with contributing to winning one Davis Cup only. We aim at providing a comfortable scheduling so that players will be eager to participate every year.

UBITENNIS: Wouldn’t the event be made more legendary if at least in the final the matches were played best of five sets?

Albert Costa: I understand the historical point of view, but also the finals of the ATP Masters 1000 and of the ATP Finals were played best of five sets and now things have changed. Especially with the stress, both physical and mental, which modern tennis brings in. Players are already pushing their limits. It’s already three matches, which means at least six hours of competition. It’s enough both for the public and for the players. I believe that the value of a Davis Cup victory cannot be measured on the basis of the physical toll paid by players. It’s the overall value of the team that ought to be rewarded, which is also the reason why it is fair that the most well-balanced teams, with a strong number 1, a good number 2 and a good doubles, are the most likely to win.

UBITENNIS: Under a communication profile the claim that has been delivered since 2019 is that it’s a World Cup of Tennis. This theme has already been broadly discussed, but I’d still like to hear your opinion as a former player.

Albert Costa: Before the format we used to play with, home and away ties, Davis Cup was like America’s Cup, where the winner of the previous edition waited for the challenger selection series. Changes are in the order of things. I believe that going towards a World Cup type of format, with a group stage and a knockout stage is an excellent solution.   

UBITENNIS: A last question: until 2023 everything is scheduled, in terms of format and location. For 2024 could there be an agreement with ATP Cup?

Albert Costa: We are working at it. Having Davis Cup at the end of November and ATP Cup at the beginning of January doesn’t make much sense. Kosmos and the other parties involved have to get into talks. We’re trying. Let’s see what comes out of it.

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(Exclusive) Viktor Troicki: “I’d like to win The Davis Cup as captain And With Djokovic Anything is possible”

The Serbian Davis Captain was interviewed by Ubaldo Scanagatta in Belgrade in the modern Novak Tenni Centre: “We aim at being one of the best tennis clubs in the world.”

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By Antonio Ortu

A nostalgic smile appears on Viktor Troicki’s face as soon as we evoke his victory in the 2010 Davis Cup Final. He won the decisive fifth rubber against Michael Llodra and Serbia was crowned Davis Cup Champion for the first and – till now – only time. 

 

“Hopefully there are going to be a few more coming! But now as a captain. Not anymore as a player. When you have Novak (Djokovic) in the team, the chances are pretty high. Now we have (Memoir) Kecmanovic who is playing very well, and there are also (Filip) Krajinovic and (Laslo) Djere. We have a really good team and I think we can go far this year.” Troicki tells UbiTennis. 

Last year Serbia lost in the semifinals to Croatia, who was then defeated by Russia in the final.

Winning a team event like Davis Cup would mean a lot for the country and their tennis movement. In fact, in 2011 all the players got a boost and played at their highest in the following season. 

“Novak had an unbelievable year, winning basically everything, Janko Tipsarevic started his best season in 2011. He also reached number eight in the world. Zimonjic was number one that year in doubles and I reached my best ranking, number 12, not so bad! It gave us the confidence to play our best tennis and helped us achieve the best results.” Troicki recounts. 

Thanks to this result in 2010, and above all thanks to the records established by Djokovic, who is now considered as one of the greatest tennis players in history, tennis has risen to an important role in the Serbian sportscape which had been historically centred on team sports. 

“Tennis is really popular. It’s one of the most popular sports in Serbia. People love to watch it and love to play it. They’ve really followed tennis since Novak, Ana Ivanova and Jelena Jankovic, and also Zimonjic in the doubles, became number one in the world. Novak is absolutely the hero and the best athlete ever of Serbia, so people really love and enjoy tennis.”  

The Serbia Open has just ended with Djokovic’s defeat to Andrey Rublev in the final. The tournament is scheduled in the ATP calendar as a 250 event. Yet the Novak tennis Centre features state-of-the-art facilities and a number of courts which equals the most prestigious and well-known clubs.

“Right now we have thirteen courts, but we are going to have some corrections. We are planning to have some indoor courts and we are going to lose some courts. But we are also going to extend the land we’ve got to make some other courts. In total we’re looking to have around 15 courts we can use all year during the winter and the summer,” Troicki outlines.
“It’s going to be one of the best centres in this region of the world. We’re trying to bring up players to raise the interest for tennis and bring more competitors. After tennis was very popular in 2010 and 2011 there was a slight decrease, so we are trying to get as many players as we can. We have really good players here in the centre who are among the best of their age in Serbia and across Europe. We’re really looking to attract as many good players as possible to have a base here and to train them.” 

Currently there are about 1500 official players in Serbia, but with the Novak Tennis Centre this number is surely destined to grow over the coming years.  

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Exclusive Interview With Goran Ivanisevic: ‘Djokovic Will Be Ready For French Open’

In Montecarlo, Ubaldo Scanagatta has a long talk with Djokovic’s coach who speaks about his work with the world No.1, as well as his own experiences as a player.

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Goran Ivanisevic is a name embedded in tennis history. His run to the 2001 Wimbledon title as a wildcard stunned the Tour and made headlines around the world. As a player he peaked at a high of No.2 in the world and won 22 ATP titles. Once his professional career came to an end, Ivanisevic found success as a coach and has worked with 20-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic since 2019.

 

During this week’s Monte Carlo Masters, UbiTennis sat down with 50-year-old Ivanisevic to discuss his own experiences in the sport and the current state of Djokovic’s form. 

UBITENNIS: Good morning Mr Ivanisevic. We met many many years ago. You also played the final at the tournament in my hometown, Florence.

Ivanisevic: Yes, it was one of my first. 

UBITENNIS: When you were a kid. But in Italy you also had a great story as a junior: the Trofeo Bonfiglio, the Avvenire title. 

Ivanisevic: Yes. I started at Avvenire, Bonfiglio. After that I went to Florence, Milan Indoor. I also won the doubles with Omar Camporese. Also in Florence I played the final with Diego Nargiso. 

UBITENNIS: That was a major achievement! Not easy to bring him to the final… 

Ivanisevic: (laughs) Italy first of all is a neighbouring country, very close to my hometown, Split. I love Italy. I always play well in Italy. They like me there. I’ve got good memories. 

UBITENNIS: I remember you also played very well in Rome, once. 

Ivanisevic: Yes, till the final. But in the final I didn’t show up. (In Rome 1993 Jim Courier defeated Ivanisevic 61 62 62)

UBITENNIS: What did you do the night before? 

Ivanisevic: Actually nothing. I went to sleep at 9.30 in the evening. That’s maybe the problem.

UBITENNIS: You weren’t used to it!

Ivanisevic: I was too rested…

UBITENNIS: I remember one great moment when Marin Cilic won the US Open. Was it one of the best experiences you had as a coach?

Ivanisevic: Oh yes. It was my first coaching experience. The win for Marin was a very impressive thing, in the years when all these three guys were dominating. It only happened with Marin, (Stan) Wawrinka and (Juan) Del Potro.  And (Andy) Murray of course. That was a very impressive thing. That was the beginning of my coaching career. Yes. It was really an incredible feat.  Nobody really expected Marin to win. He played unbelievable tennis. And the way he played the last three matches, (Thomas) Berdych, (Roger) Federer, (Kei) Nishikori…he destroyed everybody.

UBITENNIS: I’m not saying this just because I’m interviewing you,  but in my rankings of attending a press conference when I say who the best people to talk to are, I say No.1 Goran Ivanisevic, No. 2 Goran Ivanisevic, No.3 Goran Ivanisevic, No.4 Andy Roddick. No.5 I don’t remember. I remember Wimbledon 2001, that year was unbelievable. 

Ivanisevic: Yes, that was an interesting 15 days. But I had fun with the journalists, I had fun in the press conferences. Maybe sometimes I was too honest. About my game, about describing whatever I saw, saying whatever I thought, and you loved it. I had fun. We all had fun. Times have changed. It’s all different. Now every PR tells you that you have to know what you are saying. I actually enjoyed those times, those press conferences. 

UBITENNIS: Do you remember when you said there were three different Goran Ivanisevic’s?

Ivanisevic: The good one, the bad one, the 9-1-1 the emergency! It created a good story. To cover myself,  have fun, and to win the tournament.

UBITENNIS: And now, what is the experience with Djokovic? First of all we could start from the end. The end which is yesterday. He didn’t play his best but, as you said to me, he wasn’t feeling well. 

Ivanisevic: He wasn’t feeling well before he came here. He was sick. Let’s say he’s not fit one hundred percent to compete. First of all in this situation. Three weeks ago he was not allowed to play here because of the Covid decision. Then France opened and he was allowed. And it’s difficult mentally. You can play to the semifinals. But you can’t prepare the way you would need to. And then he got sick. And, to be honest, I didn’t expect something spectacular from this tournament. But he’ll be going to the French Open in five/six weeks, he’s got a couple more tournaments and he will be ready.

UBITENNIS: Don’t you think that if he had won against Fokina Davidovic, since he had to play second round against Goffin or Evans, not heavyweight players, they don’t hit as strong as Davidovic, he could have found his form round after round and maybe go to the end?

Ivanisevic: You never know. This guy for me is the best player in the history of tennis. He always finds a way to win, he always finds a way to get out of trouble. About yesterday first of all, he was supposed to win the second set 6-0.  One moment he was losing three love when he was supposed to be leading three love. He had break points and game points. He lost a lot of energy.   But he’ll find his way out of this in his constant playing. He only had three matches prior to this tournament. Clay is not easy. Last year he started pretty badly here, he lost to Evans in the second round. Then in Belgrade he lost in the semis. He started to play well in Rome where he got to the final, then he won the French Open. So I’m not worried. He just needs some continuity, he needs to play more and more matches and he’s going to find his way.

UBITENNIS: Last year he decided to play the Olympics when was running to complete the famous Grand Slam. Wasn’t it too much? Do you think he maybe shouldn’t have gone there? Was it a matter of pride because it was his country?

Ivanisevic: First of all he’s very proud and he loves to play for his country. Every Davis Cup he’s played, every Olympic… 

UBITENNIS: You like this, don’t you? You were like that. 

Ivanisevic: No one could stop him from playing in the Olympics. I don’t think he made a mistake. I just think he made a mistake playing the mixed doubles. That was not necessary, because in the end he was tired. He didn’t even play for third or fourth place. I don’t think that because of this he lost the final of the US Open. (Daniil) Medvedev was very good. You can never underestimate him at any time. He’s an unbelievable player. He was a better player that day. But Novak was not Novak. Something was missing. But again, I don’t think it was because of the Olympics. It just happens. It happened in a bad moment. It happened in the most important match. Probably it would have been the history of tennis to win after… so many years. The first guy who had the chance to complete the Grand Slam in the same calendar year. 

UBITENNIS: A little bit like Serena Williams when she missed the Grand Slam losing to Roberta Vinci in 2018.

Ivanisevic: It can happen, but he’s human, he can have these days like that. But when you have Medvedev on the other side of the net you need to be one hundred percent. 

UBITENNIS: I’d like to ask you a few last questions. First of all, how did you react? Did you try to convince him to have a different schedule this year? There is this famous problem of the COVID-19 vaccination.
I also wonder – you are Croatian, he is Serbian: you seem to always be friends. I also see the journalists, they are friends. Croatian and Serbian now are friends. How has this changed so much in the last few years?

Ivanisevic: I wouldn’t say it happened just now. The war finished twenty years ago. Politicians sometimes have problems, not only in our country, but everywhere in the world. We are all friends, we speak the same language. That’s helpful. About another schedule, that’s impossible. Like I said before, three weeks ago he was not allowed to play here by the vaccine rules. 

UBITENNIS: Did you try to persuade him to have the vaccine? Or didn’t you even try? I know everyone is a person…

Ivanisevic: It’s his life, his decision. I respect his decision, his family. He said it truly that he’s going to risk his career. I even love him more for that because he’s standing by what he’s saying. He’s the only person in the world who says what he thinks. You know, one day they say one thing, one day they say another. He, from the beginning, is straight and this is why I respect him even more. Hopefully this pandemic is going to stop. Only now he can play all the tournaments. I hope that America will open so he will be able to play the US Open in September. 

UBITENNIS: Are you going to follow him in all the tournaments before the Roland Garros?

Ivanisevic: We need to talk first today, to see what the schedule is going to be. He’s going to play all and we’ll see how things are developing and we’ll decide day by day.

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