One day after confirming his retirement from tennis, Ivan Ljubicic was back at the Monte Carlo Country Club. It was not that he couldn’t keep away – he had to come in to sign the documents to officially make him a former player – but in the coming months we might see the Croatian around the tour almost as much as when he was a player.
Having conducted himself with class and dignity throughout his career and represented his peers on the ATP Player Council for many years, the 33-year-old clearly has a lot more to give. In an exclusive interview, he discussed what that might be.
So how was the morning after the day before?
“It’s emotional to see the reactions of people, from press, from friends, from the people around the world. It’s nice. It feels like, now I know what I did, actually. It was definitely worth it. It makes me proud and very happy to see the people’s reaction, not only for what I achieved on the court but also off the court, which makes me really happy.”
It was nice to see the front page of the tournament programme say “Goodbye Ivan”.
“I really didn’t expect it. Yesterday I have to say I saw this “quotidian” and there was no mention of me playing my potential last match. But then I was thinking about it and I understood – what if I won one, two, three, four matches, they can’t put it in every day. So I thought. ‘Ok, they would probably put one small picture’. I didn’t expect this cover picture, basically dedicating this front page for me. It was really nice.”
The players gave you a standing ovation in the locker-room?
“It was emotional. I didn’t expect it. First of all, I didn’t think about it. I came into the locker room with my son and players just started clapping. He was running where he was not supposed to go, in the physio room and I was like, running between him and thanking everybody. It was nice to see the players’ appreciation for what I did and I guess for the way I did it. It’s one part of our sport that I am really proud of, the relationship between players.
“The atmosphere in the locker rooms is just great. It’s very relaxed, players chatting with each other. Of course if you play each other that day there is a little tension and it’s a little awkward – but other than that it’s really a good atmosphere. Players hang around and practice with each other. In my 725 matches I think I had only twice some issues on court, which disappeared the moment I got off the court. This is beautiful.”
I should say that during our interview, Ljubicic was greeted with affection by a number of well-wishers, including Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marc Maury, the on-court announcer both here and at the French Open. Maury had only arrived in Monte Carlo after Ljubicic’s defeat so missed his on-court tears but told him: “I would have cried with you”.
So what next?
“Well the thing is I am not the boss of my destiny anymore. I would love to stay in the sport, one way or the other. Everything I have in my life is thanks to tennis. I represented the guys for so many years, we’ll see, who is going to come up with the idea that I will like and which can work. I am really open to anything. I am going to take some time off but I am not the kind of guy who is going to enjoy lying down and doing nothing, so I am planning to come to the French Open, Wimbledon, just to hang around with the guys and see what is going to happen. I cannot say I want to be the coach of Roger Federer, it doesn’t really work like that. (laughs) Though that would be fun.”
Given your role on the player council, perhaps something similar would work?
“There is this (ATP) European Board Representative position up for election. (But) there are a couple of issues there. I have a month or so to decide if I am going to run for that because you have to run. But to start with, I did that already and that kind of job is a job that really creates all kinds of conflicts. It’s a part-time job. If that was a full-time job, if it was something I could do as something permanent, something that really makes a difference in the sport, I would definitely consider it. (But) it’s a part-time job so it’s kind of telling you that you can do other things but you really can’t. You can’t work with the tournaments… it’s still conflicted.
“I know some of the guys are still doing it – Justin (Gimelstob)’s doing TV, David (Edges) is co-owner or director of the Tennis Channel, Giorgio Di Palermo has a company that manages some of the guys. I just don’t feel comfortable (with that). I spoke with Brad (Drewett), the (ATP World Tour) president and said listen, I am available, try to think of the way you can use me best. I guess you know best. I told him a few things that I think can be better on tour and we’ll see what he’s going to come up with.I don’t think going in the office at 9 in the morning and leaving the office at 6, responding to emails (is my thing). I feel I have something more than that.”
What about coaching?
“I don’t see it at the moment as something I will do full time. Why not? I guess it would have to be a No 1 prospect, top 5 prospect, grand slam potential, something that I really….because honestly I can say openly I have no idea what I would do with a 14-year-old kid. I have no idea.
“What I would feel comfortable doing is the guy ranked top 10, top 20, whatever, who wants to make that step up. I would feel comfortable trying to do that. Probably weeks in and weeks out to start with and who knows how that would develop. Honestly, there are not many guys, that’s the first thing and then somebody has to see me as a perfect person for that job so honestly there’s a very slim chance for that.”