Tennis: Football may lure Ivanisevic away from Davis Cup

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It ought to go against the grain for a tennis player but, as John Roberts reports, Goran Ivanisevic is apparently intent on putting the ball in the net - on the football pitch.

No matter that he is the mainstay of Croatia's Davis Cup challenge, it seems he would rather be playing for Hajduk Split come next February than upholding his nation's honour on the tennis court against Finland.

During the lean years, before the advent of Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, the Lawn Tennis Association never thought to offer a racket to Paul Gascoigne, who was a talented junior player. The oversight might have delayed Britain's promotion in the Davis Cup.

Such logic belongs to the realm of Goran Ivanisevic, who is threatening to play football for his home team, Hajduk Split, rather than compete for Croatia in their Davis Cup tie against Finland next February.

What seems a tall story, even for the 6ft 4in Ivanisevic, is given credibility by the football club's coach, Luka Bonacic. He has "seriously decided to pick Goran Ivanisevic for the team" to play Croatia Zagreb on 14 February.

An element of player power would appear to be at work. Ivanisevic, the runner-up at Wimbledon in 1992 and 1994, has vowed not to play for his country again as long as Suad Rizvanbegovic remains president of the Croatian Tennis Federation.

"For me," Rizvanbegovic said, "the story must be a joke. We are still counting on Goran to play against Finland, but it's his decision."

The 26-year-old Ivanisevic, who regularly delivers 1,000 aces per year, calls up the word "unbelievable" to describe just about everything, good, bad or indifferent, and a few pots at the Zagreb goal cannot be ruled out. After all, Ivanisevic has always been dangerous on grass - who could forget the volley he netted against Andre Agassi?

Tennis players are not exactly strangers to football grounds. Henman plays in goal for the LTA team, Fred Perry used to train with Arsenal, John McEnroe played soccer as a youngster and Boris Becker used to look longingly at Bayern Munich.

A word of caution, however. A few years ago, Ivanisevic had to undergo surgery for the first time in his life after damaging a cartilage in his right knee during a kickabout in Croatia. His only consolation was that the operation enabled him to watch Hajduk Split play Ajax in the quarter- finals of the European Champions' Cup.

Perhaps Ivanisevic needs another challenge, but playing top-flight football would surely be beyond him. At the very least it could overstrain his brittle temperament.