Croatia has produced both men and women’s slam champions and two Davis Cup titles. You don’t have to look too hard to understand why- Croatia has a deep love of sport and Croatians have a fiercely competitive spirit.
The Croatian Tennis Federation started in 1990. Tennis already had a high profile in the Croatian sporting world. Zeljko Franulovic reached the 1970 French Open final, Niki Pilic reached the 1973 Roland Garros final and their feats put the game in the spotlight when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. That success on clay was due to clay being the main surface in the country and it continues to be the predominant surface.
However, it was grass court tennis which inspired young Croats when Goran Ivanesivic contested the 1992 Wimbledon final versus Andre Agassi.
In 1993, Croatia competed for the first time in the Davis Cup. They went on to win the title in 2005 and 2018.
Croatia has regional tennis centers which have grown over the decades as more money has been invested in tennis.
Goran Ivanesivic is the country’s most famous player and is considered a national hero. After finishing runner up at Wimbledon in 1992, 1994 and 1998, Ivansevic finally won the tournament in 2001 in a riveting five set final versus Australia’s Pat Rafter.
Did you know?
The 2001 Wimbledon final was played on a Monday, the first time in the tournament’s history. Also, Goran Ivanisevic won the tournament as a wild card! The final, in which the Croat defeated Australia’s Pat Rafter, is considered a classic and ended in thrilling style. Ivanisevic won the final set 9-7 and double faulted on the first two match points. Rafter saved the third match point with a winning lob, but on the fourth match point, Ivanisevic finally won the title with a service winner. If you want to feel goosebumps, the image of Ivanisevic collapsing on the grass after converting his fourth championship point will do it!
Marin Cilic won the US Open in 2014 and reached two other Major finals, losing both to Roger Federer in Federer’s 19th and 20th slam tournament wins. Cilic’s coach was the last Croatian man to win a slam before him- Goran Ivanisevic.
Borna Coric has posted wins over Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. He even beat Roger Federer in an ATP 500 Grass final, in 2018.
Iva Majoli upset Martina Hingis in the 1997 Roland Garros womens’ final.
Mirjana Lucic Baroni was a teen phenom who reached the 1999 Wimbledon semi-finals.
Ivo Karlovic is one of the greatest servers of all time. Here are some of his records:
Ivan Ljubicic is a former world No.3. He was the 2010 Indian Wells champion, beating Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick on his way to the title.
Mario Ancic beat Roger in the Wimbledon 2002 first round. Ancic also won the decisive rubber for Croatia in the 2005 Davis Cup final.
Croatia won the Davis Cup in 2005 and 2018.
In the 2002 Fed Cup, Croatia beat the Czech Republic and reached the quarter-finals, losing to Austria.
At the Olympics, Croatia has won 3 bronze medals. Ivanisevic won 2 of them at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic won the other, in doubles, at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Umag, one of Croatian tennis’ hubs, hosts a clay tournament in July. Champions have included Thomas Muster, Carlos Moya, Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.
Croatia has earned a reputation for producing some of the best tennis coaches in the world. According to tennis coach Nick Horvat, 12 Croatian coaches were working with top 100 players in 2020.
Former ATP player Zelko Krajan coached Russia’s Dinara Safina to 3 slam finals and world No.1 in 2008/09.
Ivan Ljubicic coaches Switzerland’s Roger Federer. The pair partnered up at the beginning of 2016 with Ljubicic replacing tennis legend Stefan Edberg. Ljubicic helped Federer come back from a six month break from the tour to win the Australian Open ‘17 and a further two grand slams as well as reclaim the No.1 ranking at the age of 36, the oldest man to achieve that feat.
Did you know?
Federer beat his Croatian coach Ljubicic in the 2006 Miami Open final? Federer leads Ljubicic 15-3 in their head to head.
Split tennis club, Firule is famous for the players that have emerged from it, the most famous one is Goran Ivanesivic.
As for tennis academies, the Umag Tennis Academy is situated in one of Croatia’s main tennis hubs. The academy is located right beside the sea and has 25 clay courts, one hard court, and four indoor courts.