One of tennis’ most famous people, Ivan Ljubicic, has been rarely cited in recent years, preferring to focus his communication skills on his coaching duties with his longtime friend and rival turned employer: Roger Federer.
Ljubicic, the 43-year-old Croat, and Federer, the 41-year-old Swiss star, have known each other since they were teenagers and play in the ATP minor leagues on a satellite tour. Soon they developed a strong relationship.
“Sometimes it just clicks, and we just clicked,” Ljubicic said.
Despite defeating Federer 13 times in 16 matches on the main tour, they became close friends, and so did their wives. When Federer parted ways with Stefan Edberg, one of his coaches, at the end of the 2015 season, Federer asked retired Ljubicic to fill the vacancy alongside long-time coach Severin Luthi.
“I mean what kind of hesitation could there be?” Ljubicic said in an interview from London on Thursday. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
At the time, 34-years-old Federer was older than Ljubicic when he retired at 33, and too weary from the daily drudgery required to maintain his aching body enough for professional tennis. Federer has also not won a major title in more than three years, but Ljubicic was convinced he had more.
He was proven right when Federer returned from knee surgery and rehabilitation in 2017 and proceeded to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon that year and add a 20th Grand Slam singles title at the 2018 Australian Open, helping him return to the No. 1 lead. Tennis age 36.
“These two years have been amazing,” Ljubicic said. “The fact that he was No. 1 in the world at that point in 18 was something we never thought was possible in the craziest dreams, because it was never a goal. Because to be No. 1, you have to play a lot and you have to win a lot, and our plan was to aim To achieve the biggest trophies, and he’s just starting to really roll.”
But the momentum was halted when Novak Djokovic pulled out of a long meltdown in 2018. The following year, Federer returned in sparkling form on the grass, earning two match points against Djokovic in the 2019 Wimbledon final and failing to convert, losing in five sets. It was a sudden, brutal plot of a man on the verge of his greatest achievement, but Ljubicic said Federer and his team approached the matter in a philosophical way.
“It’s obviously a painful thing,” Ljubicic said. “Personally, today I still can’t believe how he didn’t win that match. Not just because of the match points but just because of the whole match. He was playing really well and could have won every set he lost in that final. But honestly, I think a lot about 2017. For For me to compare, the feelings of happiness in 17 are much greater than the disappointment of 19. And in a career like this when you play more than 1,500 games, it is clear that everything happens.”
This profession is now over. Federer confirmed that he will play his last official match on Friday night in the Laver Cup, with his long-time rival and friend Rafael Nadal taking part in the doubles match for Team Europe.
Ljubicic made a trip to London from his Monaco headquarters for the occasion. It will be Federer’s first match in over a year: since he lost in straight sets in the 2021 Wimbledon quarter-finals to Hubert Hurkacz who has developed a right knee disease, which will eventually require more surgery and eventually end Federer’s career.
The past three seasons have been filled with pain, frustration and a forced break from the game that even tested Federer’s passion for the sport. “It was difficult, because he wasn’t one hundred percent, even when he played,” Ljubicic said.
“That was unfortunate, and now looking back, he made it to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2021 and maybe people couldn’t see what was wrong, but for us, who spent days and hours on the court, we were never able to fully train. So, it was tough, and the decision to have another surgery, we knew he was going into the unknown, and unfortunately it turned out to be the last Wimbledon and in that last set against Hurkacz, he wasn’t really there,” he added. “But what can you do? It is what it is, and we are definitely partying now again in London, celebrating an amazing career.”
There is only one more match left. “It won’t be easy, I can tell you,” Ljubicic said with a laugh. “He hits the ball really well, I can tell you. In that sense, I’m not worried. He’ll be fine. He’s more on the emotional side.”
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