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Mario Ancic Blogs From Dusseldorf

We are the champions!© Getty ImagesWe are the champions!

Saturday, May 27, 2006   
 
We are the champions! The Croatian flag will again be flying on top and our national anthem will be played. It's a great feeling to have won the two biggest team titles in tennis in the space of six months. Not too many countries can claim to have done that. And the blog continues to bring good luck!

We were in a tough group. We won the semifinals 2-0 and the final today 2-0. I am very proud of the team and believe that we can be at the top for many years. This is great for the country and all our supporters who were disappointed we lost in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup. I won all three matches that I played so I am glad to have been part of it.

Last night was a long match and I was having trouble with my back again so I decided to let Ivo play in the final today. He and Ivan both played very well to win in straight sets.

Now the big rush begins. It would be nice to stay here and celebrate but Roland Garros begins tomorrow. There is a flight to Paris tonight and I need to be on it. I play Monday so I'm keen to get there and get a feel for the courts. Ivo and Ivan probably play Tuesday. Some of the team may take the five-hour car trip to Paris but for me that's too long to be sitting for my back, so I will fly.

This is one of the busiest periods of the year. Right now I have to start from the beginning and forget the recent success. I play Nathan Healey in the first round of Roland Garros so that is now my focus.

Take care,

Mario

 
Friday, May 26, 2006  

We’ve been a little bit unlucky with the weather here, and today it’s extremely hard because it’s been raining all day. This morning after breakfast, I went to the gym and did my normal stuff for my back, then waited around to see what would happen. We heard very early about the possible change, and as soon as we got the news that we would be playing indoors at the ice hockey stadium, we came here straightaway to warm up.

There was a lot of emotions and a great crowd here – it was packed! I love this atmosphere, this Davis Cup electricity in the stands and the players, where everybody is pumped, everybody wants to win. Ivan and Gonzalez played a tremendous match, and Ivan gave us the 1-0 lead against a Chilean team that is very strong on clay, and then I played great tennis when I came on court.

This is unbelievable for Croatian tennis. I think we play great on faster surfaces, but we showed this time that we are great team on all surfaces. We had a really tough group, and we came out as the winners. It would be an unbelievable achievement for the team, for our fans, if we can win the final. We lost this year in Davis Cup, and it would be great to replace it with the World Team Cup. This means a lot to the Croatian nation and I hope we can put a smile on everyone's face. But this is only today’s thinking. Tomorrow, when you go on the court, you have to be professional and think of only one thing, and that’s how do I play the next point. We are playing against tough opposition who won last year, and they want to repeat. They have a great team, and they have the home crowd.

I’m happy that I’m keeping this big tradition of Split tennis, going from Pilic, Franulovic – all of us who live on the same small street, ten meters from the club. Maybe different towns like Barcelona have given more players, but I don’t think any street in the world has given more good sports players!

Of course it helped that Goran Ivansevic was in the same town. My older brother, Ivica, was a top 10 junior, reached around 350 when he was 18, and played for the Davis Cup squad. Because he was such a promising junior, Goran practiced a lot with him when he came back home. I was already showing a lot of potential when I was 10 and there was this story that Ivica’s brother can be good, so he began hitting with me too and supporting me. Even when Goran was playing in the final at Wimbledon, he would still come and watch junior matches. Not just mine, but Ivan, my brother, Karlovic. When you’re a young player and he tells you that you can be good, it’s really something that can inspire you and, of course, he was much bigger than just tennis in Croatia – he was a big personality. Hopefully we continue playing well and, maybe at the end of my career, some other young kid will come along and continue this unbelievable tradition.

I feel really, really good in terms of my tennis, but physically there is a still a little bit of a problem with my back and the cold weather is not helping too much. I’m still doing therapy and then stretching and getting hot cream before the matches. I’m playing doubles with Karlovic today since we agreed as a team that is better for Ivan to rest today after his long match, and I will see after doubles how my back is for tomorrow. I need to prepare seriously for tonight because all the injuries come when there is not too much pressure, you've already won and have to go out on the court. I hope the crowd will enjoy the match even if the tie is already decided! Of course we will try to win, and try to put on a good show.

Take care,

Mario

 
Thursday, May 25, 2006  

The Japanese restaurant last night was very nice. For us big guys, sometimes the Japanese food is great, but you need to have a couple portions more. We had a big plate of sushi, big plate of tempura, then a lot of meat. Karlovic, Ivan and I had two portions because, even if the meal is nice, we need quantity as well!

We actually finished late because we met with the Italian team at 9 o’clock since matches were going for a long time. It was Fabio Fognini’s birthday yesterday so we made a toast to celebrate both our victory and his birthday.

All the teams get on pretty well here, especially with the relaxed atmosphere. My closest friends on the tour – Jarkko Nieminen and Thomas Johansson – aren't here, but I get along well with a lot of the guys, even if I’m just trying to really focus on my tennis. I’m not really the kind of person that would go and discuss about somebody else when he’s not around or try to put my nose in his business. I’m really an open guy, and whoever needs to speak or needs advice or needs help, of course I will help him, but otherwise I will not go and approach everybody myself.

Yesterday was a very long day, and after dinner, the bed was my best friend! I needed to recover because of my back and sleep a lot. Even though it may not be that long when you’re playing the match, you take everything into consideration – coming here, warming up, rain delays, everything. We came around 11:30am and we were here until 9pm, so it takes a lot of energy off you.

Today was just another day in the office: gym as usual before practice to keep my back strong. It’s now as important as my tennis, since I need to put some muscle on my back to prevent injury. I’m doing it a lot so hopefully it helps! It's been drizzling the whole day, so I’m really lucky that I got to hit with David Ferrer earlier. My back felt a little bit sore afterwards, but it's going to be fine for tomorrow.

It’s unbelievable that there are so many people at the club at the moment, even though it is drizzling. It shows that there is so much history at this tournament, a lot of tradition, and also that we’re putting a good show out there on the court. That’s the reason why you play. You love playing in front of the packed stadiums, being in these big situations. That’s something I think you cherish for all of your life. I still remember some points in final of Davis Cup when we won, the Olympic Games, and even at such a young age, I have great memories. Hopefully I can have many more!

Take care,

Mario

 
Wednesday, May 24, 2006  

Because of rain, we had no football yesterday. It’s bad luck that it was postponed for today because the day was completely busy! We had our match so it was impossible to play football.

Today was my first match after Hamburg, and I was really happy to come back and play for the country. It’s nice to get some rest, but of course you are here to play and I was really looking forward to start. I played the second match after Ivan and it was a completely different situation than last week. You’re coming from a great week, you played really good and are coming to the semis, but you have to really change straightaway and put in your head that it’s a different situation, a different tournament, everything is new and you have to start all from the beginning. This is a team competition, and it’s nice if you can give back a chance to play the deciding doubles, but the focus you have is just this point, this game. You just have to be positive out there, think what you have to do, and it’s a great event, so I try to enjoy it out there.

Luckily today, I won 6-4 in the third. The conditions were a little bit different from last week – the court is a little bit faster, but the balls are a little bit slower – so I was having a little bit of tough time in the beginning, especially playing with Feliciano Lopez, who is a guy you would not like to play in the first match! He can serve big, he’s playing a lot of slice and going around and hitting big, so I find it very difficult to find my rhythm against him. You know if you play a couple bad games on your serve, basically you’re done because he really goes for his serve since it’s his main weapon.

Today, I really fought well. I was putting a lot of balls in and as the match was progressing, I was playing better and better and I gave the point to Croatia, so we were 1-all. In the beginning I was planning to play doubles, but it was really cold conditions today with a lot of wind. In the last couple games of the match and especially when I came to the locker room and cooled down, my back – what I had a problem with in the Davis Cup with the disc – was really starting to hurt. I spoke with the guys and it was better for me to rest, even though I was really looking forward to play.

Ivan and Karlovic, they came out again and really did an unbelievable job. They played some great doubles and we just won, so on Friday we have a chance to go to the final! Of course you’re looking that far ahead, but still you have to go through one more match and we're playing Chile. This is the tournament where they are winners and they always play good, play confident, but I really believe that we can go all the way. But, of course, we’re expecting a really, really tough game and hopefully the weather is going to be nice. The other thing on Friday is that we’re going to be up against big Chilean supporting team. They always have so many people coming and supporting them, but we know our strengths as well.

Since Goran Ivanisevic, Goran Prpic and that generation, we have continuously had people coming to support Croatia, and now we are playing good and winning Davis Cup and bronze medal, so a lot more people are coming to watch. Many people are following us abroad when we play, but I really hope it’s going to be even more! It’s really nice to keep in touch with others from your own country even when you live abroad, and also, there are so many Croatians who live outside the country so you have somebody you know always coming and supporting, which is really nice for us. Our General Consul just came over right now and said hi as I was doing this blog, and I think he wants to meet us and call us for dinner.

When we played the Davis Cup final, our Premier was there and after we won, we were invited to the Premier’s office along with the President. It was really big honor for all of us, and it was a very nice achievement. We still have a very young team with Ivan and Karlovic, at 27 the oldest guy. After that, I have hope in a couple juniors. There’s (Marin) Cilic, who is now playing French Open and won last year the junior Roland Garros, and we have two more guys in Top 200 – (Roko) Karanusic and (Sasa) Tuksar. Even though we’re a small nation, we have a good generation and I hope, and I really believe, we can repeat Davis Cup victory again.

After Ivan and Karlovic finish their press conference, we are going out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant with the Italian team so we can celebrate tonight and start focusing from tomorrow on Friday's important match. I live on the Croatian part next to the sea where the food is influenced by the fish as well as some Italian specialties, but it’s always nice to go out for something different. Even though in the beginning I wasn’t a big fan of the Japanese cuisine – not only Japanese but Asian cuisine – over the years with playing tournaments there, I really start loving this. It’s always nice to find out a little bit about each other country – the food they’re eating, their way of life, all these kinds of this important things. In my region of Croatia, we have a little of everything – lamb and meat, to fish and seaside specialties like mussels. Even if we’re really small, we have different environments with the seaside, the hills, and the country, so we really have a big variety and all these different ways of eating.

I was in contact with home, and it’s already 30 degrees there and people are swimming. I've seen a lot of the world, but just being as objective as I can be, it’s the nicest part I've been in. Whoever is reading this blog, I recommend you go and check the islands, the seaside, the country and I’m sure I will get good feedback because I always do.

Take care,

Mario


Tuesday, May 23, 2006   
 
I really enjoyed the Gala last night. I didn’t get to go to the Player Party on Saturday because I was in Hamburg, but I heard it was unbelievably nice as well – organized great, good buffet, and then a fun party. Last night, I went for the first time to the official dinner, and it was very nice music, great, great food, and James Blake got the award as the Fair Play winner – so my prediction was good! This kind of tournament is really nice because the atmosphere is so relaxed and players get together in the night, dressed outside of tennis clothes, and talk easy. It’s of course nice preparation for Paris, and I think everybody is taking this week relaxed outside, but on the court very serious.

We didn’t get a chance to watch the Laureus awards on TV, but Ivan got an SMS with the news while we were at the dinner and he told me the Renault team won. From Croatia, Janica Kostelic won (as Sportswoman of the Year). I’m very proud that she’s won. She’s really, really nice and a down-to-earth girl, and the last time she was nominated, even though she won three gold medals and one silver, she didn’t win. It’s nice that now she is on top of the world where I think she belongs.

As well, tennis got awards for Roger and Rafa Nadal. I think they both had extraordinary years and deserved it 100%, and it’s great for our sport. I think it’s really good for tennis that we had a lot of nominees. We had Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis as Comeback Player, and then us as a team. So almost every category there was someone picked for tennis. The more these stories, the more good characters we have – like our story, the Davis Cup – it’s better for promoting tennis and I’m really happy we are a little part of that.

After the nice dinner, most of the players went back to the hotel. This morning I slept in because I was still tired from Hamburg, so I came down for breakfast pretty late. I met with some journalist from Croatia, talked a little about what was happening in the country, and also met with some sponsors and signed autographs.

But, we're having a tough time with weather again. It has not really been a big friend of the tournament because there have been many rain delays already. But I've already finished my workout for today. I was in the gym this morning, and was able to hit and the conditions are almost similar as in Hamburg. Like I said, it was very important to feel the ball, to feel the court, and to get in shape for tomorrow’s match.

If the weather helps, the coaches and player will get together at 6:15pm to play football, which is something I'm really looking forward to! I played for Hajduk Split when I was 12, and I played a little bit of basketball and also water polo because Split is on the seaside and we have a lot of water sports. Even though my town is small – it’s only 250,000 people – we have so many big sports names. The whole country is so talented, but especially my region. We have basketball players like Toni Kukoc who won with the Chicago Bulls and Dino Radja who played for the Boston Celtic, then Goran Ivanisevic, Zeljko Franulovic and Nikola Pilic for tennis. There’s really no need to list them all because it would take 15 minutes and I don’t want to forget somebody! In every sport we have somebody unbelievable – soccer players, basketball players, now handball players. The best handball player in the world, Ivano Balic, is from Split, so whichever sport you take, we have somebody in history or at the moment. We have unbelievable name athletes. Even though I was not in tennis, I would do some kind of sport. We are very competitive from that part – we always want to win!

I'll let you know how the football match goes tomorrow!

Take care,

Mario

 
Monday, May 22, 2006  

The best laid plans... Ivan Ljubicic and I were supposed to be in Barcelona tonight to attend the Laureus World Sports Awards, which is like the Oscars of sports. The Croatian Davis Cup team had been nominated for the Laureus World Team of the Year for winning the 2005 Davis Cup, so we had the tickets in our hands and were ready to go. Originally we were supposed to play our first match at the World Team Championship on Sunday and our second match Wednesday, which would've given us enough time to make our Laureus appearance and play in Duesseldorf. But I think because of my late showing in Hamburg - where I made the semifinals - the tournament thought it best to put our first match back till Monday.

The winners won't know they've won until the night, so it's pretty exciting. It's an unbelievable honor just to be nominated alongside the Barcelona and Liverpool football teams, the New Zealand rugby team, the Renault Formula 1 team and the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. We're just a small country nominated alongside these giants of world sport. I really hope we have a chance to win, but being nominated itself is such an unbelievable thing. Our team had a tremendous year in 2005, beating the odds to win the Davis Cup.

I arrived in Duesseldorf Sunday afternoon from Hamburg and of course I feel a little tired after a big couple of Masters Series weeks. It's a good feeling to be tired like this though. I played in the quarterfinals in Rome with a lot of tough matches, and twice came back from match point. In Hamburg, I came to the semis and I was three times down a set and a break, so it's pretty unbelievable. I showed great fighting spirit and I was leaving heart on the court. It was so tough to come back and win those last two matches, and it means a lot to me that I won against two top 10 guys back-to-back. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence!

Croatia has played the World Team Championship before, but this is the first time that Ivan Ljubicic, Ivo Karlovic and I are here. I'm really looking forward to it because I love playing for my country! I spoke with Ivan and Karlovic and told them I'm tired and a little stiff in the back, so that it's better that Karlovic plays for me today and can give 100% while I get back ready for Wednesday.

After some exercise this morning, I came on site to watch a bit of the Italy-Germany match and to support the team. Ivan won against James Blake and Karlovic lost, so it was great to win the doubles rubber to clinch the win over the United States. They had unbelievable effort in a great doubles match, and it was a great achievement that they beat the Bryans on clay. All three of us are top players, and it’s nice that I could have one day off, the guys can still win and I can prepare for Wednesday. Even if we are already out of Davis Cup, maybe we can go all the way here this week and win this.

Instead of the Laureus, we'll be at another award party tonight here in Duesseldorf. We have the gala dinner, where the Fair Play Trophy will be given out. I didn't get a chance to vote, but I'm excited to see who will be selected. My guess is that James Blake will be the guy to win it. My coach, Freddy Rosengren, has been to Duesseldorf many times and he and a lot the players say that it's one of the best weeks of the year with the great matches. Also, there's always a lot for the teams to do, like the Gala dinner, so I'm looking forward to being part of this whole experience!

I'll get back into practice tomorrow, but sometimes it’s nice to have one day off without racquets so the head can rest and you can get your energy back. I’m a really good worker and I give 100% in every practice, but I learn with the more years on tour that rest is just as important as working hard, and that in the end it could be much, much better for your career and for your tennis.

Talk to you tomorrow,

Mario

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