Opponent, friend, mentor, coach. Ivan Ljubicic, a fundamental piece in Roger Federer's career, has spoken about his relationship with the Swiss phenomenon, who played his last match on the circuit (after more than a year of absence) together with Rafa Nadal in the Laver Cup.
In the long shoulder-to-shoulder interview with Severin Luthi, the Croatian recounted the first meeting, the sixteen challenges and, of course, the most intense emotions that he lived with Federer. "Ljubo" went through the stages of history from the beginning.
"We actually met a bit late, around the year 2000. We both won our first title on the circuit the following season. The extraordinary thing is that we met sixteen times and all sixteen times he played completely differently.
Absurd. He always managed to find a different tactical plan, to read the difficulties of the opponents from him, he never gave reference points. I have never faced such a player in my career," he explained during a lengthy interview with the ATP website.
The fondest memory? Linked, of course, to the historic victory at the 2017 Australian Open. "I will never forget it. He had just returned from injury. It was the 18th for him and the first Slam title for me as a coach. I felt the pressure, the emotion.
I confess that not even as a player did I experience the emotions of that tournament with Roger. Also because when you're not on the pitch you can't do anything but cheer and give some advice. Sometimes it is very difficult to accept sitting down and just watching what happens.
In any case, it was an incredible success for me, for him, but in general for the whole family."
Federer thanks Nadal
Roger Federer recently expressed gratitude to his friend and long-time rival Rafael Nadal. "I called him after the U.S.
Open — I waited for him to finish that tournament — just to let him know about my retirement. And I just wanted to let him know before he started making some plans without the Laver Cup at all. Rafa told me, 'I will try everything I possibly can to be there with you.'
And that felt obviously incredible for me," he said. Federer said that their rivalry and friendship are proof that players can be both super competitive and have a great relationship. "It showed again how much we mean to one another and how much respect we have.
And I just thought it would be just a beautiful, amazing story for us, for sports, for tennis, and maybe beyond that as well, where we can coexist in a tough rivalry and come out on top and show that, hey, again it’s just tennis," Federer said.