The Visit Croatia guide to Croatian tennis, one of our favourite sports! Read more on some of the most famous Croatian tennis players, male and female, past and present.
Croatian Tennis – Men’s
When you think of Croatian tennis you undoubtedly think of Goran Ivanisevic, who is one of Croatia’s most famous tennis players…at least certainly in the eyes of Wimbledon fans. The lanky Croat reached the final there four times – in 1992 (losing to Andre Agassi), and in 1994 and in 1998 (losing to Pete Sampras both times).
Finally, in 2001, Ivanisevic won his most coveted title in a truly thrilling final, beating Australian Pat Rafter 6–3, 3–6, 6–3, 2–6, 9–7. Ivanisevic was a wild-card entrant at that year’s tournament as he was only ranked at a lowly 125th in the world at the time. Nearly 30 years old, he had also been struggling with a shoulder injury for the preceding few years – hence his low world ranking. He remains the lowest ranked player, and the only wild card ever, to win Wimbledon. (And he also unusually won on a Monday, as the schedule of the second week of that year’s Wimbledon was delayed by bad weather.)
Watch the final game of this epic match – and the immediate celebrations – below (commentary in Croatian):
Ivanisevic also won 21 other ATP Tour titles during his career, as well as bronze medals in both the mens’ singles and doubles tournaments at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the first Olympics in which Croatia competed. He was the proud flag carrier for Croatia at that Games.
In September 2014, Croatia celebrated its second ever Grand Slam champion! Then 25-year-old Marin Cilic won the U.S. Open, defeating Kei Nishikori of Japan in straight sets, 6-3 6-3 6-3. Coached at the time by none other than Goran Ivanisevic, Marin had an amazing run in the second half of the tournament, winning his quarter-final, semi-final (against Roger Federer, no less) and the final without losing a set.
In 2017, Marin made the final of Wimbledon but lost in straight sets to a resurgent Roger Federer who won his – incredible – eighth Wimbledon title and nineteenth Grand Slam title overall. Marin then met Roger again the the final of the 2018 Australian, losing in five sets – 2–6, 7–6, 3–6, 6–3, 1–6.
A ‘next Gen’ player that is sure to have a very bright future is Borna Coric, Winner of the 2013 US Open Junior tournament, he reached a career high ranking of 12 at the end of the 2018 season. He was also instrumental in Croatia’s 2018 Davis Cup win (see below).
Another top player is Ivo Karlovic, who is also famous for being incredibly tall – 6ft 10! – and has the fastest serve ever recored in men’s tennis, at 251km/h (156mph). Ivo is also a highly amusing personality on Twitter – make sure you follow him on @ivokarlovic. Ivo is still at active tennis player at age 40!
Mate Pavic is one of the world’s top doubles players, reaching number 1 in the world in doubles in 2018. With his then regular doubles partner, Oliver Marach of Austria, Mate won the 2018 Australian Open. He also won the mixed doubles title at the same tournament with Gabriela Dabrowski, and won the 2016 US Open mixed doubles title with Laura Siegemund. He has also reached the final of the mens’ doubles at the French Open (in 2018) and Wimbledon (2017) and the mixed doubles at the French Open (in both 2018 and 2019).
Ivan Dodig is another Croatian player who has been ranked in the top 50 in singles. Ivan is probably better known as a doubles player, having reached a top world ranking of 4. In 2013, with partner Marcelo Melo, he reached the Wimbledon mens’ doubles final; in 2015 they won the French Open mens’ doubles title.
One famous recent name in the Croatian tennis world is Mario Ancic (who, like Goran Ivanisevic, is also from Split). Mario unfortunately retired from tennis in early 2011 at the age of only 26, having battled with injury and illness in the previous few years. He was also famous for having studied law (at the University of Split) during his tennis career so don’t worry, he has something to fall back on! The New York Times featured a great article on what Mario is up to these days – namely, studying at Columbia Law School: Former Tennis Star Makes a Mark at Columbia Law School. Mario and Ivan Ljubicic (below) won bronze for Croatia in the mens’ doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Ivan Ljubicic was another big name in Croatian tennis. He reached a high of number three in the world rankings, and won 10 ATP titles – most notably the Indian Wells Masters event in 2010. Ivan retired from tennis in April 2012 and has since become a coach. He joined Roger Federer’s coaching team in late 2015.
Another top achievement for Croatia in tennis was winning the 2005 Davis Cup, defeating Slovakia 3-2 in Bratislava. The only players to play in the matches of the final were Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic; they played all the singles matches and then partnered up for the doubles as well.
In 2016, Croatia reached the final again. Despite playing at home, they lost 2-3 to Argentina in a very tight contest.
Just two years later in 2018, Croatia reached another Davis Cup Final, playing France in Lille. (A France – Croatia final – just like the 2018 World Cup!) In an epic win, Croatia won the tie 3-1 with two straight sets wins for Marin Cilic and one for Borna Coric. There were wild celebrations!
Croatian Tennis – Women’s
Croatia’s most famous female tennis player is Iva Majoli. Iva won the 1997 French Open, beating Martina Hingis in the final.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who turned pro in 1997 and achieved her best result reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1999, is still active. After quite a few tough years both on and off the court, Mirjana had a great 2014. She reached the fourth round of the US Open and won the Quebec City tournament (defeating Venus Williams 6-4 6-3 in the final). Mirjana’s win in this tournament meant that sixteen years and four months had passed since her last tournament win – a WTA record. Here’s a lovely article on Mirjana’s achievements in 2014: Magic, 16 Years in the Making (Tennis.com, 17th September 2014). Mirjana has gone on to some further great achievements; she made the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2017, losing to eventual winner Serena Williams.
Other top names in Croatian women’s tennis include Donna Vekic, who became one of the youngest tennis players to reach a WTA Final (the Tashkent Open in 2012) at the age of only 16. Another is Ana Konjuh who won the prestigious juniors’ tournament, the Orange Bowl, in 2012, as well as both the Australian Open and US Open Junior events in 2013. Donna reached a career high ranking of 19 at the end of 2019; Ana was ranked as high as 20 in 2017. Petra Martic is another top Croatian player – she reached a high of 14 in January 2020.