Photo by Stefan Djakovic

Wimbledon Champ Goran Ivanisevic Recalls His Wild Ride to the Top of Tennis

After three heartbreaking final defeats Goran Ivanisevic became Wimbledon champion in 2001. There have been few, if any, more popular winners in SW19. VICE Serbia sat down with the irrepressible Ivanisevic to discuss his rollercoaster career.

by Ivan Minic; translated by Nebojsa Radovic
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Jun 30 2017, 12:57pm

Photo by Stefan Djakovic

This article was originally published by VICE Serbia

If you were looking a single reason to explain why the former Yugoslavia has become a tennis superpower in recent years, Goran Ivanišević would be a decent shout. Though there were players before him who achieved significant results, none became a global star in the way that Goran did. The Split native was the one who showed the kids what was possible; in his footsteps came the likes of Đjoković, Karlović, Čilić, and many more.

Goran is the kind of guy who has always done things his own way. It's the reason he lost some matches he clearly should have won, and why he won many that looked impossible. He could beat absolutely anyone, yet he could also lose to absolutely anyone. He is the only Wimbledon champion who entered via a wildcard in the tournament's 140-year history. He is also the only player in the history of professional tennis who had to forfeit a match because he had nothing to play with, having broken all seven of his racquets.

In short, the man is an enigma. We recently we met up with Goran for coffee at a golf course in Zaprešić, roughly half an hour's drive from Zagreb, where we spoke about his beginnings, tennis then and now, and what he is up to these days.

VICE Sports: Hi Goran. So what got you playing tennis?
Goran Ivanišević : My father was a tennis player, and in Split there were always sports to play – football, tennis, whatever. Our family home was about 20 metres from the tennis courts. My father took me with him one day when he went to play, and that's how it started. I was seven. And you know what was interesting? The first time I went to play I broke the racquet! I don't know if I saw it from someone or if it was that talent for smashing things that woke up in me, but I returned home with a smashed racquet.

Those were different times. First, you had to go through some kind of tennis school. You had the first course, and then the second one, and only then were you able to start competing. I started tennis school and elementary school at the same time, and it went fast, so I played my first tournament in Zagreb when I was nine. My first big success was the Yugoslav championships final for my age group the following year in Zenica, which was a big surprise. No one knew who or what I was, but bit by bit I proved myself.

When did you decide that you really wanted to play tennis?
When I finished elementary school at 14 I found myself at a crossroads. Should I continue school or tennis? You can't do both – I would have neglected one or the other. The decision was on my parents, but there was no money. Nothing, not even close. We were barely making ends meet, I was smashing racquets, sponsors kept promising things, managers kept knocking, but that was all. Then dad and mum decided to sell grandpa's apartment and start the adventure of a lifetime without any guarantees. At 14 I was the best, not just in Yugoslavia but in the world. Still, who can say in that moment that you'll be a success and make a living out of tennis? No one had a crystal ball to tell my dad: "Your son will be one of the best in the world." My father, who had a university degree, told me then: "Son, you're better at what you're doing than I am," and devoted himself to my career.

Goran, stood on the right in the extremely loud shirt, in 1991 // Photo licensed to VICE Serbia by MN Press

As a kid, how did you adjust to the nomadic lifestyle?

You get used to everything. There is no one to travel with you, you don't have money for a coach, but there was at least something for me – I got a chance, and I had to take it.

The worst day in my tennis life was in 1988. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was going to Australia to play in the qualifiers for Australian Open and then a junior tournament. Before I left, my father told me: "I've got bad news. Your sister is sick, we have to take care of her, so you're on your own now." It's as if that woke up something inside me. The treatment for the kind of illness she had was very expensive. Not that much about it was known and a lot of people were dying from it. I didn't sleep that night. I left for Australia the next day, and I lost in the final round of the qualifiers but still made it as a "lucky loser" and ended up in the top eight. That put me in the top 300 in the world, and brought me directly into the draw for the Australian Open qualifiers. I got through and became the first person ever to go from the qualifiers to the quarter-final. In the end I never played that junior tournament.

So all of a sudden I was 121st in the ATP rankings, and all that prize money I earned in Australia I took in cash! I'd only seen that kind of money on TV. I was flying from Melbourne to Belgrade to play in the Davis Cup against Denmark, and I had that pile of money with me, on my own on the plane. Man, I did not sleep a wink from Melbourne to Belgrade! All that money was in my jacket. The flight attendant asked me about 16 times if she should put the jacket away, and I was like: "No, it's okay, I'm fine." And it's not like it wasn't hot on the plane. When I got home, all I said to my dad was: "Here's the money, and keep the jacket." I just wanted to get some sleep.

By the end of the year I was around 50th in the rankings, and then the managers finally started showing serious interest in me. But if it wasn't for my dad and my family, I wouldn't be sitting here today talking to you. A lot if it is down to them.

READ MORE: The Cult – Goran Ivanisevic

What was the transition from junior to senior tennis like? What are the biggest differences between the two?
Well, I remember at the 1988 Junior U.S. Open, there were Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, and myself. Chang was the biggest star there and no one could care less about Sampras. At that tournament there were at least 20 or 30 players who eventually ended up in top 50. In my time there were a lot of young players in the top 50 and not so many older ones. There is more of a balance nowadays.

But here's a more specific answer to your question. After that Australian Open I got an invitation to Scottsdale, Arizona, and there, in the quarter-final, I got to play against Ivan Lendl. Until three weeks before that I'd had a poster of Lendl in my room. I watched and cheered for him on TV, and all of a sudden there I was, walking on to the court with him. I couldn't feel my legs; had he said "Boo!" to me I would have fainted. We'd barely made it on to the court and he'd already won the first set.

By the end of the match I'd relaxed and almost took a set. There I was thinking: "This isn't that bad, he's number one, I'm 120 in the world, but there you have it, we're playing and I am close to taking a set." Afterwards, in Split, they asked me how it was to play Lendl and I was like: "Meh, it was nothing." So they were like: "Come on, don't get too pretentious, you want to beat Lendl now!" But that was the moment when I realised that I was good enough to play Lendl and others. I just needed a bit of time.

You mentioned the Lendl poster. Did you have any other tennis idols? I read that you loved John McEnroe, and there is some logic to that, but was there anyone else?
McEnroe for sure, because of the left hand, because of the temperament. But I went through all the generations. When I started, Jimmy Connors and McEnroe were playing, and I even caught some of Bjorn Borg when he was making a comeback. Then I went through Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker. Then there was my generation, and then I made it all the way to Nadal and Federer. So yes, McEnroe was my idol, but I liked watching all of them.

I went really fast from a boy who put posters on the walls to a man who all of a sudden had to think how to beat those guys from the posters. All of those idols became adversaries, some even friends.

Photo by Stefan Djakovic

You mentioned Boris Becker, who ended your first serious Wimbledon attempt in the 1990 semi-final. What was it like to play against him?
He is one of my favorite players. Before that Wimbledon I beat him at the French Open, and when I look at it now, I should have won that one as well. I was serving for 2–0 in sets, but somehow... Still, I was kind of satisfied with that semi-final. You know, semi-final, centre court, everyone watching me, no expectations from anyone. At the end of the day, I should have won against him. I had my chances and had I believed more... I was too relaxed for that. I was enjoying that semi-final and it's not a shame to lose against Becker, but it really could have ended differently. At that particular Wimbledon I saw that grass could be my surface, my game style. I didn't really like playing it at the time, because grass was so fast that it was easy for you to fall out of the shot. Then I started thinking: "My serve is good, my net game is good, I have a good return, maybe this will be my tournament." Over the next 10 years I could have won it five or six times but, thank God, it turned out the way it did. I've got one here in my home, but did I have a chance to win a few more? I did.

From your perspective, what makes Wimbledon so special?
As a kid I always loved watching Wimbledon the most. That grass fascinated me - how could anyone play on grass? Why on earth grass? Back then I thought that was the same grass we have in the parks; later I realised it wasn't like that.

The first time I got to Wimbledon, in 1988, it was an amazing thing for me. Why not Queens? That's a completely different grass! The grass at Wimbledon is somehow softer, caught my serve better, and dude, Wimbledon is Wimbledon – it's a miracle! Watching all those people queuing up, coming in the evening to stand in line and buy a ticket in the morning, that was awesome for me. Even though the French Open was the first Grand Slam where I achieved something, Wimbledon was always special for me. As a matter of fact, that reflected my results later on.

Except for when you lost to Nick Brown in 1991, a man who was 591 in ATP rankings…
Oh man, only I could do that! That is a very specific situation in my brain, but that was also why people loved me, because I was unpredictable. That man could hardly play tennis, he was some kind of a tennis coach. He drives his car and there's a sticker on it that says "tennis coach". And me, I came to that match as if I was going to the beach. Totally relaxed, thinking: "This guy is a coach, there's no way I can lose against him even if we played for seven days in a row." But bit by bit, here comes the third, the fourth set, things get a little complicated. My arm got shorter, he started getting the balls in and I ended up making history, losing to number 591 in the world and making this guy famous. Man, did I make some strange characters famous! But I was in luck that there weren't betting houses then, because if there were I believe someone would have suspected that I was losing on purpose. And really, one does wonder – how on earth could I have lost?!

READ MORE: Inside Wimbledon's Black Market Ticket Trade

You were part of the first two tennis tournaments at the Olympics where medals were presented, in Seoul and Barcelona. What was that experience like, and what's your view on Olympic tennis?
I was the youngest member of the team in Seoul and when you look at the people who were there – the handball team, the basketball team, the rowers – when you look at those names, it was weird being in their company.

In Barcelona, that tournament was probably played on the slowest surface in tennis history. I loved that surface, I played well, but during the tournament it was surreally hot, and I played all of my matches in five sets – both singles and doubles. That's why, in the semi-final against Marc Rosset, who went on to win the gold, I ran out of gas. But that tournament was damn strong: Sampras and Courier and Becker and Edberg were playing. Could it have been stronger? Not a chance. I'm still sorry about the doubles, where Prpić and I lost to Ferrer and Norval. We could have played Becker and Stich in the final, but it didn't turn out too bad this way either.

That feeling, when you win a medal and stand on that podium, when you're at the Olympics and in the Village... that feeling is special. Everyone is hanging out, everyone is standing in line, there's no "you're the man so you can cut the line"; you're queuing with everyone else and waiting your turn to get food. I am a four-time Olympian, and it was different every time, more interesting. It's different when you're based in the Village from when you're staying outside of it. When you're not in the Village, you're not at the Games. That thing just has to be felt.

In 1992, as well as the Olympics you played your first Wimbledon Final. It was a very strange tournament and a very weird final, wouldn't you say?
Well... yes and no. In '92 I had a very tough draw. Had I asked someone to make it tougher, I don't think it could have been done. Lendl, then Edberg, then Sampras in the semi-final. On the other side of the draw there was Agassi and McEnroe, playing at the same time because of the rain, and Agassi beats McEnroe and Sampras and I serve each other out. Then you've got the final, for which I was the absolute favourite. It was a question of whether I would win in three, four or five sets. I beat Agassi before on clay and on concrete and here he comes on grass which is "my" surface.

Goran on "the slowest surface in tennis history" during the 1992 Olympics // PA Images

But for the first time in that tournament I was playing a "baseliner", and that confused me a bit at first. At one point I felt that I was losing the match. I wasn't feeling right, even though my serve was good; I was holding on but it was slipping away somehow. Recently I saw it on YouTube – thank God there's YouTube now so you can watch whatever you want – and was thinking: "How did I lose this?!" But okay, I lost because he was better that day, and that's the way it is.

I did notice that I "wasted" a lot of games and that in those games he was mainly static. That was what the last game in the match was like. I was serving – double fault, double fault, ace, ace, then he makes a passing shot on a volley and, in the end, I dropped a sure bet shot with the backhand volley into the net. And that's it – a gift, simple as that.

I think that, again, I entered that match too relaxed. Had I had more of that finals experience, maybe it would have turned out differently. He had lost one or two French Open Finals... I don't know, maybe it was his time to win it that year.

You best Sampras in '92, but in '94 and '98 he was the one celebrating in the final. That 1998 match was... interesting, if we can put it that way.
Well, that was the first time in my life that I played Sampras believing that he couldn't beat me. That's how I felt, and that is how I started – I had two set balls for a 2–0 lead. Somehow I broke his serve when I felt like breaking it, I believed I was better, and then in the end you look at the result and see him lifting the trophy, and I end up with the tray again. That match is the biggest disappointment of my career. After that match things started going downhill. I couldn't get over it.

Being second is a big thing, but when you ask someone about who played the final… For example, at the World Cup, you always know who won, but for the losing finalist you have to think a bit. That's how it is in tennis. Big, big disappointment. That final was a very painful and heavy defeat.

The same year you had one of your stranger injuries. Generally, you had problems with injuries, but you seemed to have some unique injuries that happened only to you. Could you explain to me how Mark Philippoussis and you got the idea to hit the ball across the net with your head at the same time and hit each other?
I think I had more self-inflicted injuries in my career than anyone else. I even think I could write a book about it – "how to get injured the way no one else can". But this one that you're talking about, in that instance I am the least to blame.

I was playing doubles with this Australian, who doesn't know a single thing about football but still thinks he's good at it. I'm standing at the net and the ball is bouncing towards me and I want to pass it to the ball kid with my head – you know, easy. But, all of a sudden, I'm on the floor as if one of those Japanese bullet trains has hit me. I can see blood all around me, not a clue what's going on. It turns out Philippoussis, my trusty partner, had the same idea to pass the ball with his head. I don't know who to, and he ended up hitting me with his head, knocking me out completely. And on top of that the umpire asks me if I can continue playing!

They took me to the locker room right away, gave me three or four stitches. Afterwards I asked him: "Where on earth were you going?!" Even now it's still not clear to him, but at the end of the day I am the one with four stitches in my head and he's got none!



You also had some serious injuries. At one point you were close to quitting tennis, but you managed to turn things around. Remind us how it went.
That's a good question. Let's get back to 1998. As I said, that's when things started to seriously go downhill. I lost my confidence, my arm started to hurt more and more, it was a serious injury that affected my body mechanics. I needed that serve, I needed to serve well to win, and every time I did that my arm hurt.

And then it happened, like in that song – "Dotak'o sam dno života" (I hit rock bottom). It was 2001, I was playing the qualifier for the Australian Open. I was playing in the first round and I couldn't find the court. I had no idea where the court was, I was looking for it and I was going crazy. It was 800 degrees outside, and I couldn't find the court I was meant to be playing on! And I was thinking: "Bloody hell, is it possible that I've reduced myself to this?" Let alone that I was back playing a qualifier, now I couldn't find the court. I hadn't even heard that this court even existed; I thought that it was outside the complex, that they'd sent me to play in the car park.

In the end, I finally made it to the court, furious at myself, at the entire world, and lost that match royally. So I was done with that, I went home, and on the plane I had a conversation with myself. I told myself: "Look, you are either going to play tennis or it's time to retire. If you retire, your career wasn't half bad." But I couldn't just go on like that. Something was missing.

So what happened?
I went to the challenger in Heilbronn, where I played in the final, then I went to Milan, got into the final eight and lost to Federer. But I'd started playing a bit better, and then Queens happened. On the day I was supposed to get a wildcard entry for Wimbledon I lost to Christiano Caratti. Oh well, you can lose to Caratti, but the way I was playing that day… it was unwatchable. I wouldn't have given myself the wildcard for Wimbledon after that match.

But, fortunately for me, the English had eight wildcards so I ended up getting one. After that there was also one interesting thing. I went to Hertogenbosch and changed my racquet. And you know, you change racquet at the end of the season or you don't change it at all. But at the time I was thinking: "I can't play worse than this. I can only play better, or the same." And my racquet at the time, I don't know. I liked the colour – it was black – and they kept telling me it was the same, but it wasn't for me.

I will never forget my practice before Wimbledon, on the Saturday before the tournament. I was practicing with Ziki – Nenad Zimonjić, а great friend of mine – and he told me: "I've never seen you serve like that." He didn't return a single serve that day, none at all. Generally, when you serve with those "prestige" racquets from Head, they have a specific sound when you hit a really good one, and I had lost that sound. I hadn't heard it in a few years. But that day I could hear it, the sound was back. I don't have a clue what happened, it's a mystery.

His serves were brutal, but this calls for a gentler approach... // Photo by Stefan Djakovic

But your preparation was a bit more thorough than that. You went to London from Varaždin...
Yeah, I cancelled Paris and was preparing in Split and watching the end of the Croatian football season. Hajduk Split were playing a very important match in Zadar, so we went there and then to an away game in Varaždin against Varteks, where Hajduk had to win to take the title. The night before, 10 of us idiots went to Varaždin, singing all night. Hajduk won, so we went back Split for a party on the seafront. It's the kind of party only Split knows how to throw. And I was thinking to myself: "What would happen if I won Wimbledon?" It started in two weeks and I couldn't beat anyone at that point, but I was still thinking how great it would be.

At that point I was physically prepared, even though the arm was already hurting horribly. But I clenched my fists and told myself: "You're going to serve until your arm falls off and when it does, then you can leave the court."

When did you start to believe that your seafront party might happen, that you could win the tournament?
After the second round. In the first round I got some qualifier – some Swede, Johnson or something like that – and in the second I was playing Carlos Moya, a seed. That's where I felt my serve was back and that something big was going to happen. Poor old Moya was hammered at the press conference, like: "How on earth could you lose to that guy?!"

The bottom line was, the media kept writing me off after each round. The only one who kept believing in me was Pat Cash, who kept warning people: "Ivanišević knows how to play on grass, he is playing well, and you never know with him." I couldn't say before a match: "Hey people, I'm going to win Wimbledon," because they would have taken me to the madhouse right away, or locked me up in the Tower of London. But I played better and better each match, I won against Roddick, and Rusedski, and Safin, and then that semi-final with Tim Henman happened.

That was the last chance for Henman to do something...
It was the first time he was playing the semi-final against someone other than Sampras. That was a big boost for all the Brits, and for them it was as if that match didn't even exist. I got up in the morning and I was watching their TV coverage, and everyone was already talking about Henman playing in the final. Apparently I didn't even have to walk on to the court, Henman was already in the final. They were just waiting to see if it would be against Agassi or Rafter. So I'm thinking to myself: "Slow down, Henman, you still need to beat me." Okay, so I'd never beaten him before, but still, slow down!

Then the famous "three-day" game happened. I started well, won the first set, was supposed to win the second, and when I didn't everything changed. Henman started to totally dominate, I had zero chances in the third set, and he destroyed me. I remember it well, 2–1 to him, the fourth game of the fourth set, and it starts to rain – heavily. They sent us off to the locker room and I was angry with myself, angry with everyone, but at that moment Jovan Savić, the Williams sisters' sparring partner, walked into the locker room. He's a very funny character and he began telling jokes, talking about adventures, funny stories, and I started laughing. I forgot I was playing a final, that there was a rain break, that I was losing. He just relaxed me. After a few hours the umpire, Allan Mills, came and told us: "Guys, we're suspending the match, the rain is not going to stop and we'll continue tomorrow." At that moment I knew I would win the match.

To put it simply, Henman had the chance, but someone up above sent the rain. When we continued I played better and better, and he kept playing worse, and that's how it ended. He didn't take his chance.

And then the final with Rafter…
It's the final that will be remembered as having the best atmosphere in Wimbledon history. The atmosphere at that match was like a football game, the exact opposite to the usual at Wimbledon. I thought I was at a Premier League game, to be honest.

The fact that I played the final barely a day after the semi helped me a lot. Rafter had finished his job on Friday and waited until Friday night, then Saturday, then Sunday. I woke up that day at 5am. I couldn't sleep – I was waiting for the match to start.

It wasn't a particularly nice final. The tennis wasn't spectacular, but it was certainly one of the most exciting. It was my fourth final, his second, with me as a wildcard. We're great friends, but unfortunately someone had to win. He'd won two U.S. Opens, but this, this one was mine. That was a given.

READ MORE: Does Tennis Have a Race Problem?

And the celebration on the seafront that you'd dreamt about actually happened.
At one point I was thinking: "Is it possible that this many people showed up just for one man?" Split was on fire. The sea was on fire. Every living soul showed up for the celebration. There is no greater prize than when the town that would have at some point swallowed you lifts you up like this and shows you such respect. That is my town, and that's a special story. One love. I don't reckon I would have amounted to anything were I not from Split.

Okay, maybe I would have, but not like this. The town gives you some kind of special energy. If you make it from Split, then you've really made it. You know, there are those who say: "Man, I was good, but my mum didn't wake me up so I couldn't make it to practice," or they missed the bus, or their coach didn't like them, or: "Oh my God it's summer, how can I play tennis in the summer, we have to go play picigin at the beach." It's crazy down there. I've been around, but Split is a very special town, and as I said, it gives you a special kind of energy.

After that Wimbledon you played a few more seasons, and you got injured at the beach in Miami. It was another of those things that could only happen to you, right?
Ha! Yeah, that happened after a year off when my arm was totally gone. After a long spell of physical rehab I went to play Indian Wells and Miami, but couldn't serve at more than 150kmh [at his peak Goran served at well in excess if 200kmh]. In the first round at Indian Wells I was playing against Cuerten, serving at 150kmph, and boom, he returns. I was thinking to myself: "This isn't going to be good." I got to Miami and I realised I could even hold the racquet. It was over.

What could I do? At least I could go for a swim in Miami, so I go to the beach. When I was getting out of the water there's was a guy and a girl running around, and I was walking slowly to avoid them. I stepped on probably the only shell in a five-kilometre radius. It got so complicated – they didn't clean the wound properly, so I ended up in surgery, and then it got infected with some kind of bacteria. So from a simple swim in the sea I ended up at the operating table. Another of my crazy injuries!

After that surgery there was no coming back. Somewhere in 2004 I took six months off to at least try to get back into some kind of shape, to play my last Wimbledon. After all, that's where it all started. And that's where it ended: I said goodbye in the third round against Hewitt, on the most beautiful court there is. The goodbye couldn't have been nicer. The guy killed me out there – I didn't stand a chance – but I am still proud of that third round.

After you, tennis in the region began to open up. First Ančić, Ljubičić and Karlović in Croatia, and then a whole new generation of Serbian players.
That change happened really fast. They picked up where I left off. Ljubo was third in the world, Mario was unfortunately held back by illness, Ivo is still out there, better than ever. Later on Marin Čilić came. So it opened up and it "infected" Serbia as well.

After Boba Živojinović [whose last Grand Slam appearance came in 1991] there was a void in Serbian tennis. Everyone was struggling somehow. Okay, there was Ziki, but there wasn't anyone really serious, until…

I still remember it like it were yesterday. In 2000 I was with Niki Pilić in Munich and after lunch he asked me to spare half an hour for this kid. He was going to make it into top 10 for sure, and could maybe even be better than that. I'm like: "Okay, I can play for half an hour with a kid." And this tiny, skinny 13-year-old turns up. His name was Novak Đjoković.

You could see right away why Pilić said what he did, and he's been proved correct. Not only has Nole made it into top 10, he's dominated world tennis. Then Tipsa, and Viktor, and now Lajović came along. There's a lot of talent. We have to mention Jelena Janković and Ana Ivanović, too, who played a remarkable role on the WTA tour. All of the sudden this part of Europe became a tennis superpower.

Photo by Stefan Djakovic

How do you see world tennis right now? Borna Ćorić recently beat Andy Murray. Novak is struggling, Federer and Nadal are back...
Had anyone told me a year ago that Federer and Nadal would be making a comeback, after everyone had written them off... Okay, they shouldn't have written them off because they are Federer and Nadal. On the other hand, the two that were dominating last year, Murray and Đjoković, are playing below-average tennis by their standards. I think it will stabilise in time. Nole is too good not to get over this crisis, just like Andy.

But all of this is good for tennis, with young talents like Borna, Zverev, Kirgios getting a chance to prove themselves. There are a lot of changes in the ATP top 10, and anyone can beat anyone. That's a good thing. There are no more super-favourites. Wimbledon will be extremely interesting this year.

You are a tennis coach nowadays and are working with Tomáš Berdych. How did that start and how are you getting on?
It started in 2008 when Federer asked me to be his sparring partner before the Wimbledon Final against Nadal. He won, so I guess I helped him, and that's where the idea of a coaching job appeared. To be honest, I always liked working with kids, to help out, but when I stopped playing I sort of got lost. I didn't want to travel anymore; I stayed in tennis but I wasn't ready to get back to the Tour as a coach.

The desire to coach came back in 2011, after I spent some time at home resting. I started working with Marin in 2013. After the months with that doping scandal had passed we started working seriously the following year. Then Marin won the U.S. Open in 2014. He played tennis there that you rarely see. For me as a coach it was very satisfying to watch my player grow and improve.

That collaboration lasted as long as it did, it ended the way it ended, and then a new challenge came along - working with another player, someone who isn't from Croatia, another highly ranked player. Every new relationship brings its own problems, and new positives. With my experience I can help my player find his solutions, but when he steps on court the decisions are his and his alone. Then I become a fan.

Your interviews are full of various anecdotes about the crazy things you did. We know you're the only tennis player who had to forfeit a match because you ran out of racquets, but is there anything else that you never told anyone?
Well… okay, when I won Moscow in 1996, I remember that I would get back to the hotel at 7am every morning. After the match I would go out, I would head for the hotel around 5, get there by 7, sleep it off until 3pm, have lunch, and then without the warm up get on to the court around 6 or 7. And I won the tournament.

Let me say right away to younger players that it's not healthy and they shouldn't try to do the same! I would also say that I never drank during the tournament – if you drink you're done right away, but you know what, the atmosphere was good. As they say: "Moscow never sleeps", and by God, I didn't either. It shows you what confidence can bring. I didn't warm up, didn't sleep, and I won the tournament. And in 2000 I practiced for seven hours every day, went to bed at 9pm, and lost first round matches 11 times in a row. 11 times. Had someone tried to let me win, I couldn't have done it.

You recently got involved with Pro Sport Angels which, in essence, is a crowdfunding platform for young talents. Tell us a bit more about that.
Look, had I had this in my time, my life would have been much easier. Both for me and my family and everyone around me. When I was presented with this idea... you know, I get a lot of things proposed to me, but this is really amazing. No one has ever done anything like this.

It's a chance for every young player – for everyone who doesn't have the chance, who is written off, who cannot find sponsors, but has the quality. I think that with this service we will make it easier for young players and their parents, we'll ease the pressure a bit. The pressure is high. While you're on the court you have to keep thinking about the points and the finances. Will you travel here, will you hire a coach, save some money on the air fare, the hotel? And if you don't win here you can't go to the next tournament. This platform helps you to have your schedule, your people, your routine. If young tennis players become good, that means that those of us who have invested in them did a good job.

I grew up in a sport where people only promised things. "It's going to happen", then "come tomorrow", then "come the day after tomorrow". This is very simple and transparent. You've got the internet, you log on, present your schedule, get the funds, play the tournaments. It's going to be a revolution in sport – I'm telling you.

Goran, thank you very much for your time, and best of luck for the future.

This article was translated into English by Nebojsa Radovic and has been lightly edited by the UK office for clarity