Tennis is filled with wild, zany characters; Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Marat Safin, Nick Kyrgios and Serena are some who come to mind.
But few are more benign or endearing than the gentle, big-serving Croatian giant, 6’ 4” Goran Ivanisevic. Yesterday, it was announced that the 2001 Wimbledon winner and coach of Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and now Novak Djokovic will be inducted this July into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, along with Spain’s Conchita Martinez, who won Wimbledon in 1994.
Goran, who spanned three generations of players and is famous for his three personalities, has an endearing, bemused quality, together with a been-there, done-that wisdom that was on full display in this interview with the media yesterday.
Q. All of tennis knows there are three different Gorans: you, 911 Goran and emergency Goran. Are all three of them going to go to Newport?
GORAN: Yeah, they all are going to go. I think we are going to agree on one speech because Todd [Martin, who heads the Hall] told me I have five to seven minutes. All three of the Gorans are a part of this journey. You cannot leave them all at home. They’re all going to come there as a package, but one is going to go into the Hall.
Q. They’re all pleased – no fights?
GORAN: This is the first time there are no fights. The first time they agree on the same thing. Really it’s a privilege. When Todd told me, he was like, “You cannot tell anybody.” So I was happy, but I want to tell somebody, tell the whole world. But I’m not allowed.
Newport is going to be a nervous time. I know my speech and I’m going to practice…[But it will] probably vanish when I come to the stage. But it doesn’t matter, speech or no speech – it’s a great honor.
Q. Will it be harder to be there or on court when you won Wimbledon?
GORAN: Definitely. On the court, there you feel at home. The court is my back yard, I know what I’m doing. I know what I want to say. I know who I want to thank.
Q. You had one of the most unique personalities. Now we see a guy who’s similar to you – Nick Kyrgios. How important is it for the game to have unique personalities?
GORAN: It’s great to have Nick. I congratulate him from last night. He was behaving well, fighting till the end. Tennis needs Nick. Tennis needs more Nicks. They were always telling me I was crazy. I am nothing compared to some guys now. They can be pretty difficult. But we need that. We need a little bit of difference in tennis. Look how many followers Nick has. With me it was three Gorans, but with him there are at least 10 Nicks. So it depends which one is going to show up. Tennis-wise, he is unbelievable. He can be No. 1 easy.
Q. As a coach, are there still three Gorans?
GORAN: No, just one. It’s too much. When you coach you need to be very focused. One Goran is enough, although sometimes I have arguments with myself.
Q. As you look back, what are some of your biggest moments?
GORAN: Definitely Wimbledon. Even those Wimbledons I lost. There are a lot of regrets, all the Wimbledon finals I lost, but that makes the one I won too sweet. So was the Olympic Games in ’92. In the end the journey was very interesting…I was with three generations. I caught up with Connors, McEnroe, then my generation with Todd Martin. I also stayed for a generation with Federer and Nadal. I was privileged to witness a lot of interesting moments.
Q. Can you imagine you playing now?
GORAN: Why not? You adjust. But I’m happy that I played in my period. It was a different time. We had good times. We were good friends. Now it’s different. Every player has a team with three or four guys and they stick with their teams. Before, we were more in the locker room talking to each other. But these are good times, too. Probably the future is going to be good times. Every era brings something fresh and different.
Q. What are your new challenges?
GORAN: My challenge as a coach is to stay on the team with Novak and try and witness him becoming the best tennis player in history. Over the last nine years he’s [been the best] by far in every aspect – Grand Slams, winning matches, Masters 1000 – Novak is by far the best. He’s still missing a couple of Grand Slams. He’s going to get there. How many, I don’t know. I hope he and Nadal will break 20. They push each other – they make each other better.
Q. How do you assess Novak’s tournament so far? If he plays Federer, do you think the Wimbledon final will play any part? Will Roger have any scar tissue?
GORAN: The ATP Cup helped Novak a lot because of the way he finished last year, by his standards. I don’t say he did poorly, but [in] the match against Roger he didn’t show up – mentally he didn’t show up. He was a little bit down. The ATP Cup really lifted him…He played unbelievable. The Serbian community was unbelievable.
He needed that positive energy. Here he’s playing every match better and better. But the match will be a completely different match than Wimbledon, and especially the one we saw in ATP Finals. Here Novak has beaten him every time. But let’s see.
Q. Novak said he worked a lot during the off-season. What kind of improvement did you want to bring to his game? How satisfied are you with his improvement?
GORAN: He is the guy who wants to improve every day. He’s not afraid of improvements. He’s not afraid to ask. He wants to be better. That’s why these three guys are still the best, because they’re not afraid of changing and learning. Look at Nadal changing his serve, now finally after six years he’s serving good. Roger changed the racket. Novak also wants to improve his serve and make it much better, especially second serve…I didn’t come to change his techniques, but a few little technical things we talk about. Now everything comes together. You come to the No. 1 guy and you’re not going to change something. But it’s easy for me because he wants to improve. His coach Marian, who has been there for 11 years, and I are really a good team because Marian is the easiest guy to work with. That makes our job much easier.
Q. Players these days have a lot to deal with, like social media. Would you have liked to have been playing in this era?
GORAN: I’m happy I was back then – less stress. It’s not only social media, but now we’re in the era that’s all about statistics. I don’t like that. It’s too much, too much detail. Sometimes you forget what you have to do on the court. Back then it was pretty straightforward – I was pretty happy and I enjoyed it more
Q. Statistics don’t have a place in tennis?
GORAN: They have a place, but not how much. They talk for three hours about how a guy served for three years. Who cares how and where he served three years ago? It’s too much information, too many things. In the end I don’t care what the other guy does. I just need the player I coach to do what we agree to. These players play and practice with each other so many times, they pretty much know everything. I think it’s gone too far.
Q. The focus is still very often on the Nadal-Federer rivalry. Do you think this is unfair to Novak?
GORAN: Maybe. He doesn’t care what rivalry people talk more about. All three guys are playing different. Some like Novak-Federer more, some like Rafa-Federer, some like Rafa and Novak. It’s three completely different types. Novak’s concentrating on himself and what he needs to do.
Q. What things do you feel you bring to Novak?
GORAN: First of all, our mentality is the same. We speak the same language. We come from two countries that were one before. We have the same Balkan mentality. I already know what he thinks before he thinks [it]. Probably 90% of the time I will think the same thing he does. I’m a pretty positive guy. I tell him straight away, “I’m not going [to mess] around, I tell you the way it is.” Sometimes can be good, sometimes not, but that’s me.
There’s no lying in tennis. With Marian…it’s working perfectly so far. I knew [Novak] when he was 14 and a half. I always have been supporting him. Now I’m part of the team. Being his coach sometimes is easy, sometimes not. For guys like him, just to be in the final is not good enough. For some guys, after they reach a final they are probably drunk for two months. If Novak loses a final he’s not happy. You always need to be 100% positive. There’s always a little stress. But stress is good, sometimes. Positive stress is good.