[Mario Sports Superstars]The Tennis Conversation: Mario Ancic

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  With that tough decision really not being on your terms, how imperative was it to jump into something different, and separate yourself from the only life you knew? I’m not sure becoming a quintessential New Yorker was what you envisioned but it’s inspiring to any high-level athlete struggling with the concept of finding new meaning.

  ANCIC: I think it was important to make that change, really not knowing which direction your life is going take. They always say athletes have to die twice. And that’s true in a sense, because you’re leaving something you’ve been doing for 20-plus years and you’re going to something that is a little bit unknown. But I took that as a challenge. I was very blessed to have good people around me always showing me the value of education. (Ancic graduated from the University of Split before earning his J.D. degree at Columbia University)

  It gave me the opportunity to stay in the States and move to the finance world, where I worked a couple of years in investment banking on Wall Street. Then a couple years ago, I moved to a private-equity fund where I’m currently a vice president. We invest and buy companies around the world, looking to add value to grow them.

  I’ve been in New York almost 10 years. When I was coming to play the US Open, I never ever imagined that I’d be living here and would consider this my home. It’s been an interesting ride and I talk to a lot of athletes, not just in tennis, who are kind of in between. I try to tell them my story and help them to make the decision, one that’s always personal. There’s always, what if? I What if my tennis career went longer? But on the other hand, if it did, I wouldn’t be able to achieve stuff that I’m doing now, which I consider very exciting and brings me a lot of joy.

  You mentioned a commitment to staying in shape. How frequently do you get on the court? How’s your ball these days?

  ANCIC: Yeah, once or twice a week, usually weekends. Rest is in the gym or just working out. I’m in pretty good shape physically, so playing comes natural. I was able to hit last year with Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic. I warmed up Novak [Djokovic] a couple of years ago for Wimbledon and the US Open. Of course, I can’t compare myself with guys who are playing every day. But there’s a good group in New York that I hit with. A lot of people who used to play in college, who’ve moved into finance and some national champs who are in the city as well. We have a good group in the business world with people who played competitive sports. I still enjoy it and I have fun. Although sometimes I get annoyed with myself because I’m like, “how can I miss this?” I have to remind myself, well, you’re now doing something completely different and be happy that you can play at this level.

  Wimbledon is just around the corner. The event was canceled last year. With the added history on the line, where does this tournament rank on the list of events you’ve been looking forward to?

  ANCIC: For me, I have to say it’s the most special. When I was a kid, saw Goran Ivanisevic played numerous finals and then in the end he won it. So Wimbledon I thought, “Okay, this is the tournament where I have the most chances to win.” Then I pivoted towards playing really well on grass. Generally I felt if I could win a Slam, this could probably be it.

  Now as a spectator, I would say it’s even more special. Obviously, Novak [has done] something historical in Paris, coming to that 19 with a chance to go for his 20th Grand Slam at Wimbledon, Roger coming back as well, and we know how comfortable he is on grass. We’re waiting for younger guys to step up on grass and show good results. I’m very interested to see how things are going to play out.

  Let’s go back a bit. 2002, Mario Ancic defeats Roger Federer in the first round of Wimbledon for his first major match win. 2003, Rafael Nadal defeats Mario Ancic in the first round of Wimbledon for first major match win. In 2006, you beat a 19-year-old Novak Djokovic in five sets to prevent his first Grand Slam meeting with Roger. Is there any sense of appreciation for being connected to these amazing champions?

  ANCIC: The tennis world is big, but it’s also small. And I knew about Roger when my brother was ranked high in the juniors. When Roger turned pro, he was obviously an unbelievable talent at that time. The year before I beat him, he won against Pete Sampras on Centre Court. He was Top 5 already, and everybody knew that the sky is the limit.

  Same for Rafa and Novak. I mean, I’ve came across them at young ages and you knew, unless something injury wise happened, that these guys were going to be superstars. They were fierce competitors. They were fundamentally strong. They all had their own things to work on, but you just saw they were just an unbelievable talent, that they’re going to achieve incredible things. So yes, one of the things I look back on, is that I was able to beat each one once, and Andy (Murray). But just being able to say that you participated in probably the strongest era of ATP tennis is something I am proud of.

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