Cover picture: © Corinne Dubreuil
Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals

Zeljko Krajan: "Last year we were stronger because of the loss in 2016 against Argentina.”

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

After beating France to become 2018 Davis Cup champions, Zeljko Krajan’s Croatia will arrive in Madrid in November as defending champions and will open the event by playing the first tie of the week against Russia.

How did you get involved as captain?

I’ve been on the bench with the guys since 2012. I arrived on tour as a coach in 2009 and had some good results and the guys knew me from before. I’m not that old and played with many of them - Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig especially - so that’s where it all started and I’m very thankful to them to give me this opportunity. It’s made it more special to have been with players you know throughout your career.

Did you always think Croatia could achieve so much success?

As a nation we always had good sporting results and we won the Davis Cup in 2005. When I started we had Marin Cilic coming up and we had a promising team. We always had players in every generation coming up into the top 20, top 10 and winning Grand Slams which is amazing.

Did you plan as a group for Davis Cup success?

In 2016 it was the first time we got together and said ‘Okay, now everybody plays and we invest our time and we see how far we can go’. On paper we had a strong team with two good singles players and four or five top 30 doubles players. We lost in the final in 2016 but in 2018 we said if everybody plays again we’ll get the chance to win again and that’s what happened. Last year we were stronger because of the loss in 2016 against Argentina.

How special was winning last year for Croatian sports fans?

It was special. We’re a small country so we don’t expect thousands and thousands of people supporting. Football will always be the number one sport in Croatia and reaching the final of the football World Cup was the big story in sport in Croatia last year. But the football made us even more motivated for our final against France because they lost the football final against France. It was big. Huge!

“We have a very tough group - the toughest group on paper I would say. We’ll go match by match and every match will be like a final for us.”

What are you expecting in Madrid?

It’s going to be nice to see 24 nations in one place in tennis for the first time in history. It’s going to be different but on the other hand exciting.

The squad is looking good this year - Marin Cilic, Borna Coric and strong doubles players with Mate Pavic, Ivan Dodig and Franko Skugor and Nikola Mektic now playing together for the rest of the year?

Yes, as far as I know Mektic and Skugor will play the rest of the season which is great because we always had great doubles players but none of them played together on tour. I’m sure we’re going to have the same players again and with this team we have a chance of doing something.

What do you make of your group?

We have a very tough group - the toughest group on paper I would say with Russia and Spain and only first place guaranteed of advancing to the quarter-finals. It’ll be a big challenge for us to pass the group. We’ll go match by match and every match will be like a final for us.

Krajan is a former top 100 player and as a junior won the 1995 Orange Bowl doubles with Ivan Ljubicic. As a coach, he helped Russian Dinara Safina become world No.1.

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© Corinne Dubreuil

© Corinne Dubreuil