He’s sure Andy Murray will find a good one, but Ivanisevic doesn’t like the label for ex-major winners
GORAN Ivanisevic is not a fan of the term “super coach” now being bandied about. It has become a trend for players to appoint former Grand Slam winners as mentors, and Ivanisevic is part of this new phenomenon. He is coaching compatriot Marin Cilic and so is not thought to be in the running to replace Ivan Lendl, whose split from Andy Murray last month surprised nearly everyone, including Ivanisevic. The Croat is not throwing his hat into the ring. He is preoccupied with Cilic, who he predicts can be a top ten player again within months – “providing he continues to do what he is told!” While Ivanisevic, who finally lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2001 after his fourth final, bristles slightly when described as a super coach, he does believe that it helps to have someone who “has been there, done that” looking on from the players’ box.
“I was very surprised,” said Ivanisevic, when describing his reaction on learning of the end of the working relationship between Lendl and Murray. “Ivan, for me, was the perfect coach for Andy. He played the best tennis with him, he won two Grand Slams with him. Why did they split? Well, we might never know why they split. There are still some good coaches around. I am sure Andy is going to make the right choice.”
One of those reported to be in the running is Bob Brett, who coached Ivanisevic for four-and-a-half years and also worked with Cilic. Ivanisevic has described him as “one of the best in the world”. But, while Brett has produced champions, he was not a champion himself. The term “super coach” describes tennis giants such as Boris Becker, who is working with Novak Djokovic, and Stefan Edberg, now employed by Roger Federer.
“I do not like the phrase ‘super coach’,” says Ivanisevic. “Coaches are good and bad. Some can help you, some cannot help you. Guys that have never won a Grand Slam can be good coaches. Some guys who have won a Grand Slam are not good coaches. But it helps to have done something in the game. Because you have been in those positions, it is easier for you to explain to the players what they can expect.”
Some believe that Lendl’s contribution to Murray was best illustrated not in the performances which finally sealed the Scot’s first Wimbledon triumph last year, but in the way the player reacted to losing the final 12 months earlier. This is where Lendl, who twice finished runner-up in SW19, earned his keep. “Nobody can understand how you can feel to lose the final at Wimbledon unless you have been there, especially Wimbledon,” says Ivanisevic. “I mean I experienced it three times! I know how it feels.”
“It is not for me to say,” he continues, when asked to nominate some potential successors to Lendl. “It is tricky. There are many reasons to pick a coach. First of all you need a coach who speaks the same language! I always say the best tennis coaches are the ex-tennis players, because they have the time, and they know how it is, and can teach you something. You just need to find someone who can teach you in the right way. It is not easy. It is not something you want to do in a hurry. But Andy does not have to rush. He is going to find one sooner or later, and he is going to do OK.
“Ivan did a great job,” he adds. “He made Andy believe, and he made him more aggressive, and he made changes to his game. It was the perfect match.”
Ivanisevic is enjoying working with Cilic, who is continuing his comeback after being banned for a failed drugs test last year, after what was described as “incautious use of glucose”. Cilic, now 25, has already beaten Murray this year, in Rotterdam.
“I have known him since he was 14,” says Ivanisevic of Cilic. “I am his coach, I am his friend. I speak the same language so it is easier for him. It is my job to make him more relaxed, and hopefully make him better on the court. I can see him improving. He is still very far from what I have in my mind. He is on a good run. I am expecting him to be in top ten, hopefully pretty soon. In a couple of months’ time if everything goes well.”
The life of a coach can be stressful, admits Ivanisevic. On the road with his charge for over 20 weeks a year, the rewards are seeing slight improvements in Cilic’s game. “But in matches you can’t do anything,” adds Ivanisevic. “You can only pray!”
Ivanisevic makes sure he keeps himself fit as well since he still has his own playing obligations to fulfil, including a return to Edinburgh in June. As we know from Naples, where the Great Britain Davis Cup team. Murray included, are engaged in a World group quarter-final clash with Italy, nowhere is guaranteed good weather. So it is right that Edinburgh should be permitted a second chance to host Brodies Champions of Tennis this summer, after last year’s event fell victim to a combination of driving rain and a bespoke roof that proved unable to keep the court dry. Lessons have been learned. In any case, it takes more than rain to dampen the enthusiasm of the irrepressible Ivanisevic.
“We just hope the weather can be more kind,” he says. “I love Scotland. It was the first time I have been there.” He remembers sensing the excitement building as Murray prepared to go a step further than the previous year at Wimbledon. Ivanisevic reminds you that he correctly predicted a Murray v Djokovic final. But then he did get the winner wrong, plumping for Djokovic. Even super coaches cannot know everything.