WORLD CUP XIs: Croatian Tennis Players

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What is Croatia known for?

Beaches? Just did that one.

War? Saving this for later.

Kings? Again, there will be better opportunities.

So then, what does it do well besides tourism, and convincing Western Europe it belongs in their camp more than its South Slavic neighbors?

 

Somewhat regrettably, I’m turning to a sport-related topic earlier than I’d like. But for a country of its size, Croatia has punched far beyond its weight in the world of tennis. During the Communist years, the Yugoslavia Davis Cup Roster was occupied predominantly by Croatians. After independence, Croatia’s tennis acumen has extended well beyond the Balkans in both team and individual play. In 2005, the Croatian Davis Cup team were World Champions. In a sport where gender balance is exemplary–though not perfect–it’s a shame I’ve picked a country whose success on grass, clay and hard courts has been almost exclusively male. For most other tennis powers in the world it would be far easier to include a balanced team. Imagine an attacking partnership of Pete Sampras and Chris Evert, or the strength of Novak Djokovic and Jelena Jankovic in central defense. However in the case of Croatia, only one female cracks the starting eleven. And it’s she who starts on serve.

 

ST: Iva Majoli

CF: Ivo Karlovic*

LM: Goran Ivanisevic

CM: Mario Ancic

RM: Marin Cilic

DM: Ivan Ljubicic

LB: Dragutin Mitic

CB: Nikola Pilic

CB: Franjo Puncec

RB: Boro Jovanovic

GK: Josip Palada

 

Attack: One hit wonder Iva Majoli surprised all comers by winning Wimbledon at age 19 in 1997. After upsetting Martina Hingis in the final, Majoli only once made it past the third round of a grand slam. Could she similarly shock Brazil on the opening day of this tournament? Her ground strokes hold-up-play will be critical at keeping the hosts in check. At centre forward, Ivo Karlovic’s thunderous right arm and 7-foot frame are likely to serve up a few goals and strand keepers in the process.

 

Midfield: Ancic as attacking midfielder and Ljubicic as holding midfielder form a formidable duo dating back their days as doubles partners, which included a victory over the Bryan Brothers in the 2005 Davis Cup, run. Good for the USA then that they’re not likely to face Croatia in this tournament. One of the best lefties around, Goran Ivanisevic will be looking to replicate his success on Wimbledon grass (7 top four finishes, culminated by lifiting the silver gilt gup in 2001) on the finely manicured lawns of São Paulo, Manaus and Recife. On the other flank Cilic is a bit of wild card, whose best days may yet be ahead of him.

 

Defense: The back line is comprised of stalwarts from the Communist Era and thus information is rather limited. Pilic the best known internationally, was the cause of the 1973 Wimbledon Boycott. Expect no such dissent this time around. The goalkeeper and dean Josip Palada is tipped to be the coach for the next campaign.

 

Verdict: Win or lose, the excitable Croatians won’t settle for straight sets.

 

*Pardon the lack of diacritics

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