Skip to main content

From war zone to playboy's paradise: Ljubicic ends his tennis journey

By Matthew Knight, CNN
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Mon April 30, 2012
Ivan Ljubicic bows out of the Monte Carlo Masters and leaves the stage of men's professional tennis for the last time at the age of 33. Ivan Ljubicic bows out of the Monte Carlo Masters and leaves the stage of men's professional tennis for the last time at the age of 33.
HIDE CAPTION
Ljubicic bids fans farewell
'A true gentleman'
Famous friends
Family man
Old master: Indian Wells champion
'No. 1 for normal people'
Croatia create Davis Cup history
Rapturous welcome in Zagreb
Celebrating Olympic bronze in Athens
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ivan Ljubicic retires from professional tennis after a stellar career which included 10 titles
  • The 33-year-old was also part of Croatian Davis Cup team which beat Slovakia in 2005
  • Says Djokovic displayed mental strengths as a youngster but was not the best technically
  • Ljubicic claimed ATP Indian Wells Masters title at the age of 31 in 2010

(CNN) -- He predicted it would be an emotional occasion, and so it proved.

Ivan Ljubicic could have chosen to bow out from tennis on a grander stage, but the Monte Carlo Masters was the perfect place for him.

"I picked this one as my last because in 1999 I beat (Russia's Yevgeny) Kafelnikov, which was my first big victory, my breakthrough. So I felt like it was the right moment, the right place to finish it off," the 33-year-old told CNN.

His first round defeat to fellow Croatian Ivan Dodig this month brought the curtain down on a stellar career which took him from his war-torn homeland to the international stage, becoming one of the game's most polished performers, on and off the court.

"As impressive as his achievements were on the court, Ivan will also be remembered for the way he carried himself away from the court," the head of the ATP Tour Brad Drewett said after the former world No. 3's tearful exit in his adopted home -- a haven for the rich and famous, and a far cry from his birthplace in the former Yugoslavia.

Fmr. #3 tennis player calls it a career
Victoria Azarenka targets 2012 success
Novak Djokovic under the spotlight
Tipsarevic mentors young tennis stars

"A true gentleman and ever popular amongst his peers, we thank Ivan for his first-rate contributions to the sport throughout his career, and wish him the very best for the future," Drewett added of Ljubicic, who will now spend more time with his wife and two young kids.

Federer hails 'wonderful friend' Ljubicic

Ljubicic bagged 10 ATP Tour titles during a 14-year career, his last coming in 2010 at the Indian Wells Masters in California when he beat American former world No. 1 Andy Roddick in the final.

It was a deeply satisfying result for Ljubicic who, at the age of 31, became the oldest first-time winner of an ATP Tour Masters 1000 title in history.

But his success wasn't limited to individual events.

Together with Mario Ancic, Goran Ivanisevic and Ivo Karlovic, Ljubicic was part of Croatia's victorious 2005 Davis Cup team, becoming the only unseeded country to win the event.

The dramatic 3-2 victory over Slovakia sparked wild celebrations in Zagreb's main square and followed on from a bronze medal he and Ancic won in the doubles at the Athens Olympics the previous summer.

Both occasions were proud moments for Ljubicic who was forced to flee his home as a 13-year-old in May 1992 as Croatia battled to maintain the independence it declared the previous year.

"I was living in the Serbian part of Bosnia, so it wasn't a pleasant place to be at that moment," he recalls.

"I left with my mother and my brother. My father stayed, but he managed to get out in November the same year."

It was during this time that Ljubicic was invited to attend a tennis club in Moncalieri, a town near Turin in northern Italy.

"It was the beginning of my tennis career," he says. "My parents thought it was a good idea, so I left Bosnia in 1993 and stayed for three years and in 1996 I started to have some good results."

An appearance in the Wimbledon juniors' final the same year was followed by his first sponsorship deal, marking his arrival in the professional ranks.

I felt like I was No.1 because at the time it was impossible to get to these guys. It is something I am really proud of. I felt like the No.1 of normal people
Ivan Ljubicic

A decade later, Ljubicic would reach the pinnacle of his career, rising to third in the world rankings behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal -- an achievement which remains a tremendous source of pride.

"I felt like I was No. 1 because at the time it was impossible to get to these guys. It is something I am really proud of. I felt like the No. 1 of normal people," he said.

With their opposing personalities and playing styles, he says Federer and Nadal have created a unique era in tennis which will be difficult for a new generation to repeat.

"In the past we had a little bit of that with Agassi and Sampras but they were both American. Now we have a Swiss guy and a Spanish guy," Ljubicic said.

And with current No. 1 Djokovic "coming from another world at the moment" -- these are great times for tennis, he thinks.

Ljubicic recalls practicing with an 18-year-old Djokovic back in 2005 and wasn't immediately struck by the Serbian's game technically.

But what he did observe, even at that young age, was a steely determination.

"Mentally he was ready. You could see it when you met him. He was so ready to be the best player that you could see it was going to happen, one way or the other," Ljubicic said.

He predicts the top three will continue to dominate for another couple of seasons but with youngsters like Canada's Milos Raonic, Australia's Bernard Tomic and American Ryan Harrison coming through, a more varied set of grand slam champions looks set to emerge.

For Ljubicic, the labors of the tennis court may now be over, but family responsibilities at his home in Monte Carlo will more than fill that void.

"I have two kids now -- a three-and-a-half-year-old boy and a girl who is four months," he said.

"We're going to spend a lot of time together. This period before they go to school is special and I want to spend as much time as possible with them."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:08 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.
Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
updated 8:42 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A year that began in uncertainty for Roger Federer ended with a historic title for the 17-time grand slam champion and his country.
updated 12:16 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
French Tennis player Rene Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers' who won the Davis Cup in 1932, at Wimbledon. He is wearing his embroidered crocodile motif. Original Publication: People Disc - HH0434 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Marin Cilic follows in the footsteps of his coach Goran Ivanicevic by claiming a grand slam crown for Croatia, winning the U.S. Open.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.
Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Canada and tennis? Really? Yup. The North American tennis power balance is swinging away from the States.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
As a player he was as fiery as his hair -- and as Novak Djokovic's coach, Boris Becker says he has to battle to keep his emotions in check.
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Tennis great Boris Becker says he was stunned by the level of criticism he received after being appointed as Novak Djokovic's coach.
updated 7:01 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
When Agnieszka Radwanska refused to look her opponent in the eye after losing at Wimbledon, it raised more than eyebrows.
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Sun June 22, 2014
It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
He's regularly voted France's favorite famous person, but many of the nation's youth have "no idea" about his glorious sporting past
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.
ADVERTISEMENT