Ljubicic, a former ATP world number three, is one of the most revered Croatian tennis players of his generation. The 44-year-old coached Canada's Milos Raonic, guiding him to a maiden Masters 1000 final in 2013, and played an integral role in his development to become his country's no.1.
Ljubicic then coached Roger Federer, helping him to win three Grand Slam titles in the final phase of his career. The bald-headed Croat is credited with improving Federer's one-handed backhand amid its declining effectiveness against two-fisted opponents.
Ljubicic and Federer had a fruitful and special partnership both on and off the court. However, their brief, but highly successful time was marred by debilitating injuries and forcing Federer to pull the plug on his playing career. Ljubicic admits when the moment came, it was difficult for both parties to digest the news.
" It was a phone call. But it didn’t come out of the blue. It was some time that we had kind of doubts if he ever will come back. But it was silence. I didn’t know what to say, honestly."
"I felt his pain. I felt it was not an easy phone call for him, so I tried to give him comfort as much as I could, you know, but I needed comfort, too, so it was a difficult, difficult moment. But again, you know, it did not come as a surprise. We kind of all felt like it was coming sooner rather than later."
Their time together created one of the major storylines in the tennis calendar in 2017 as Federer, who spent six months nursing a knee injury, came back on the Tour and ended his five-year drought for a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. Ljubicic says he had doubts initially about his abilities coaching the legendary Swiss, but stuck to his work day by day.
"So there was the time there, of course, you have doubts in your abilities, in your work. I think every single person has that. You just then go day by day, try to go into his head, you try to understand the way he’s thinking, what is the kind of thing that could make that little push forward, right? So then you just go through it."
Ljubicic said had it not been for the injury, he believes the Swiss would still be playing irrespective of his age. He attributed Federer's genius as sufficient in keeping him in the top five.
"Well, I think that was the only way for him to stop (injury), honestly. I don’t think there was any other way. His ability would not go down. His fitness would maybe, with time, he would be slightly slower, slightly this, slightly that, but his genius would still keep him in the top, whatever, five.