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.
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.
LGBT Rights: Is It Fair To Criticize FIFA For Staging Its Event In Qatar When Tennis Have Been Doing So For Years?
Is it time for tennis to take note of the concerns raised over the staging of the FIFA World Cup?
November 20th will mark the start of one of the world’s most-watched sports events.
32 teams and thousands of fans will travel to Qatar for the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup which is being held in the Middle East for the first time in history. In what is set to be a landmark event for the region, the build-up to Qatar 2022 has been marred by concerns such as corruption in the bidding process, the controversial treatment of migrant workers and LGBT rights in the country.
LGBT football fans have expressed fears about travelling to Qatar where its penal code states that those living in the country can be jailed for up to seven years if they are found guilty of committing same-sex sodomy or sexual intercourse. The country’s World Cup Chief, Nasser Al Khater, recently told Sky News that LGBT fans will ‘feel safe’ at the event. Not that this is of any consolation to those who have to follow such strict rules or risk prosecution.
Whilst it is highly commendable that the World Cup has triggered a discussion about the topic, other sports have managed to stage their events in Qatar without having to address these concerns with tennis perhaps being the best example.
Doha, which is the capital of Qatar, has been staging top-level ATP and WTA events since 1993. On the men’s Tour, the country holds a prestigious ATP 250 in January which has been named the best tournament in that category four times between 2015-2021 in the annual ATP Awards. The event has been won by each member of the Big Four at least once and a sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil has guaranteed it will continue until at least 2027.
As for the women, the TotalEnergies Open is categorized as a WTA 1000 event and was won by Iga Swiatek earlier this season. Doha has also staged the WTA Finals three times between 2008-2010.
So is there some hypocrisy surrounding criticizing FIFA for staging its premier event in a country which is hostile to LGBT rights when tennis has faced no such backlash?
“The two are not comparable as the (tennis) tournaments in the Middle East are nowhere near as high profile or prestigious as the men’s football World Cup,” Pride In Tennis founder Ian Pearson-Brown told Ubitennis.
“The process is also very different to that of FIFA’s to allocate the area which hosts the World Cup. In turn, the LTA is working with the ATP to ensure any LGBTQ+ athletes are properly supported to create a healthier environment for players to play as their authentic selves. So I’d be wary of drawing comparisons.” he added
Parson-Brown makes a legitimate point. The 2018 World Cup in Russia had a global audience of 3.57 billion viewers which is more than half of the global population aged four and over, according to FIFA.
“In terms of visibility, we are working with the LTA to improve things domestically like our Friday Pride days during the grass-court season,” he continued.
“It is better for Sport to make a presence in countries where it is illegal to be gay in the hope that the values held by sports international governing bodies contributes to changes to a more progressive culture over time. It’s a better way than to force people to change their cultures after banning, disengaging and cutting ties with them.”
Pride in Tennis is a network supporting all British-based LGBTQI+ tennis players, coaches, officials and fans. The network was officially launched in February 2022 in partnership with the British LTA.
Qatar’s treatment of LGBT people has once again come under scrutiny following a new report published by the Human Rights Network which has revealed that as recently as September 2022, there has been evidence of LGBT+ people being arrested by authorities and subjected to ill-treatment.
Between 2019-2022 HRW has documented 11 cases of abusive treatment. Six of those cases were repeated beatings and a further five were sexual harassment. One woman said she lost consciousness during her beatings. Security officials are said to have inflicted forced confessions and prevented those arrested from accessing legal help. Transgender women were released on the condition they attend a government-sponsored ‘behaviour support’ centre.
“I saw many other LGBT people detained there: two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men, and one Nepalese gay man,” a Qatari trans woman told HRW. “I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.’“
Rasha Younes is an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who published the report. In an email exchange with Ubitennis, she said it was the duty of all sporting bodies to ensure that their events are staged in countries which respect human rights.
“Sports’ governing bodies have a responsibility to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts. This includes staging any major events in countries that do not protect human rights, including the rights of LGBT people,” Younes told Ubitennis.
Tennis’ governing bodies have all previously stated their commitment to making the sport open to the LGBT community. Earlier this year, the ITF told Ubitennis they ‘embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form.’
The WTA, which was co-founded by Billie Jean King, says that their Tour was founded on the ‘principles of equality and opportunity.’ Finally, The ATP has recently launched a multiyear education programme with You Can Play, a foundation which works to eradicate homophobia in sport.
Tennis is in a strong position when it comes to its approach to the issue of LGBT inclusion. However, it is a tougher situation when it comes to staging events. Will the uproar surrounding the FIFA World Cup change things? In reality most probably not. But that doesn’t mean that concerns shouldn’t be raised.
EXCLUSIVE: Chief Of Kosmos Tennis Addresses Davis Cup Concerns, Staging Event Outside Of Europe
The managing director of Kosmos Tennis speaks exclusively to Ubitennis about the historic team competition which is currently taking place across four European cities. Enric Rojas isn’t somebody to sugarcoat things and confirmed that some aspects of the event will be ‘reviewed’ in the coming weeks.
Since its birth in 1900, the Davis Cup has gone through its fair share of changes but nothing as extraordinary as what happened four years ago.
At the International Tennis Federation’s annual AGM meeting a motion was passed which saw the competition remodelled into an 18-team event held at the end of the season. The move divided tennis with critics furious at the decision to remove the tradition of home and away ties. In the coming years, further adjustments have been made to the event with this year’s competition featuring four group ties held in different cities in September with eight qualifying for the finals in November.
The revamp was only made possible following a huge 25-year investment from Kosmos which was valued at $3bn (£2.15bn). Kosmos is a Spanish-based investment firm founded by Barcelona FC footballer Gerald Pique. The company has their own specific branch designated for tennis which has been led by CEO Enric Rojas since 2020 who had previously worked for IMG. It is fair to say that Rojas has his work cut out as he continues to deal with critics of his organization to this present day.
Over the past week, some players and fans have criticized the Davis Cup concerning a couple of issues. Ubitennis raised these concerns during a call with Rojas who also outlined Kosmos’ current position and their future plans.
UBITENNIS: The Davis Cup has undergone many changes in its history. This year four cities are hosting the group stages and then the final is in Malaga. Is this the final format or do you foresee any additional changes being made to the schedule of the event?
ROJAS: We have done this evolution (on making adjustments to the Davis Cup formats) until this year with four groups of four in September and then the finals in Malaga. This format of having the qualifiers in week five, group stages in week 37 and the finals in week 47 are going to stay.
We don’t expect any changes going forward, it’s a format that is working. We need to improve a few things as you can imagine. But it’s a format that is going to stay.
UBITENNIS: You mentioned improvements, one thing that has raised concerns is the late-night finishes. For example, Great Britain’s tie with the USA didn’t end until 0100 BST. Do you think the ties should begin at midday to make it fairer?
ROJAS: That’s a good question. Although this format is staying, we still need to improve a few things and this is one element that we will put on the table at the end of the group stage for us to review together with the ITF. We thought with these timings that these slots would be great. Especially in central Europe, and western Europe.
We thought starting around this time when people were starting to finish work would be better but this has had an effect on the match times. We review this and are open to making changes if we feel that it is better to start earlier.
UBITENNIS: Another thing people have been speaking about is the prices of tickets. In Germany, one player was quoted in their press conference as saying that he felt it was ‘totally understandable that a lot of fans won’t come (to the Davis Cup) because it is brutally expensive.’ When a player is saying these things, how do you address this?
ROJAS: There are federations, even private promoters, involved in the organization of the group stages. We (Kosmos) are also the promoter on behalf of the ITF and with our investments, we need to keep everybody happy and also have a bit of return on our investment because in the end there is also a private element to those investments.
It’s true that the attendance was not as great as we were looking for. This is another thing we are going to review. We are going to speak with the promoters there, as well as the German federation, to see what we have done wrong and what we can do differently. One of the aims is the pricing because we thought we did our benchmarking for thinking what is the best price for having full attendance. Not having a full attendance, which is our main goal, is something that we need to review again.
UBITENNIS: You have spoken a lot about reviewing certain aspects of the competition. What exactly is the review process?
ROJAS: It’s a combination of three parties – ITF, Kosmos and the host cities. We have worked really hard together. Sometimes we have different views on the organisation and operations, as well as the pricing and everything. But we will sit down together at the end of the Davis Cup and see what we can do.
UBITENNIS: One of Kosmos’ aims is to market the Davis Cup to the world. So when do you think ties will start to be held outside of Europe?
ROJAS: We have another year in Malaga, we have many years with different promoters and federations for the group stages in Europe. It all depends on who will be classified (qualified) for the next group stages.
It could happen that one of our promoters for the next five years is not from a European federation and their (national) team has not qualified. We will need to find other places if that happens if we can not give them a wildcard etc.
So it can happen at any time (moving ties outside of Europe). During the next five years, we could go to another continent. The beauty of this change we did last year is that playing in week 37 after the US Open, as well as going into the Asian swing, opens the door for us to be everywhere.
With the Davis Cup Finals, we still have another year in Malaga. With this calendar we agreed with the ITF and ATP, we have the freedom to go anywhere. You can stay in the Americas after the US Open or you can go back to Europe or even somewhere in Asia. This is another reason why we changed the format to have this door open.
UBITENNIS: There have been reports about staging events in The Middle East in the past. Is that still on the cards?
ROJAS: It’s quite public that we were having conversations to host the finals in the Middle East. It’s an option as well. We are not having any active conversations now, we are waiting for the end of this year. At the finals, we are inviting a lot of potential cities, countries, promoters and governments to come to discuss what is next from 2023 onwards.
The calendar now allows us to go everywhere. It’s true that the ATP Finals will happen in Europe for a few years and it is always better to stay as close as possible to the ATP Finals. But the Middle East is always an option. The process is very open right now and finding the next host cities for the finals will start next year.
If one of the host cities doesn’t qualify, then we will need to find a replacement for the group stages, as well.
UBITENNIS: Kosmos is focused on the Davis Cup but do you have any ambitions to expand elsewhere in tennis?
ROJAS: Currently, we organize the Davis Cup and we also have a management company which manages a few players. At the moment we are going to keep doing these two businesses. We expect to grow quite a lot if possible in the management business. We have our eyes open for opportunities but at the moment we are going to stay as we are. But as a group Kosmos always have their eyes open to see opportunities. In the last few months, we have not been discussing or starting any opportunities but you never know.
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) ITF President David Haggerty ’Satisfied’ With Davis Cup Format Despite Issues
During an interview with Ubitennis in Bologna, the tennis chief addressed some of the concerns raised about the event.
The head of the International Tennis Federation believes the development of the Davis Cup in recent times has been positive but admits there are still areas to work on during an interview with UbiTennis.
Davis Haggerty, who has headed the ITF for seven years, stated that there was nothing about the team event that he is ‘unsatisfied’ with. In recent years the historic competition, which started in 1900, has undergone significant changes. In 2019 the Davis Cup was changed to an 18-team event held at the end of the season at one location. However, further changes to the structure were made in 2022 with the four group stages being held in various European cities in September and the top two of each group then progressing to November’s finals in Malaga.
“This year with the four group stages it has added a new dimension which I think is very good. You have a home and away atmosphere in four different cities, we’re taking the Davis Cup world wide and the finals will be in Malaga. Every year we will continue to look at the Davis Cup and say ‘what can we do better?’” Haggerty told UbiTennis.
As with every event, there are issues and the Davis Cup is no exception. Earlier this week Andy Murray called for ties to begin earlier after Great Britain’s clash with America didn’t finish until 0100 BST. There are also concerns about low attendance to some of the ties which involve teams playing at a neutral location.
“We have to continue to work on making sure that we have the fans in the stands. Some matches we do, some matches we don’t and will continue to work on it (addressing attendance issues).”David Haggerty
It appears that the current format is one that the ITF aims to keep for the foreseeable future. Citing player fatigue at the end of the season, Haggerty ruled out the idea of reintroducing best-of-five matches in the finals. Something that had for so many years been a pivotal aspect of the Davis Cup.
Ubitennis’ full interview with David Haggerty can be watched below:-
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