Talented Ancic the new Split personality

Mario Ancic, for some reason, has grown to be known as "Baby Goran". This is odd because he has also grown to be an inch taller than the man who first established the Adriatic port of Split as a breeding ground for tall, nationalistic serve-and-volleyers.

Mario Ancic, for some reason, has grown to be known as "Baby Goran". This is odd because he has also grown to be an inch taller than the man who first established the Adriatic port of Split as a breeding ground for tall, nationalistic serve-and-volleyers.

Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, bid farewell to the championships on Centre Court on Friday after a third-round defeat to Lleyton Hewitt. The Croatian mantle was on the peg for just five days as Ancic can now claim to the "New Goran".

The two men are no strangers. Ancic was once a ball boy to his predecessor, in a Davis Cup tie, and later came into the competitive realm of the man who was to become a national hero. Ancic began playing aged seven and the game almost came to him. The 20-year-old lives on a road called Put Firula, at No 39. The local tennis club is at No 34.

Ancic practised there with Ivanisevic from the age of 10. He is different in that he is right-handed, but has picked up several of his mentor's movements and mannerisms. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics they were a doubles team.

Ivanisevic now believes they can also come together in terms of achievement. "I think he can be a great player," he said. "I don't know how good stories he's going to tell you in the press conference, but he is a funny guy. He's a nice guy and he's still young, but he is going to learn. He can be the next future star."

It was three years ago that Tim Henman suffered his first Croatian grilling in the glare of Wimbledon's latter rounds. In a semi-final against Ivanisevic which started on the Friday, Henman won the third set 6-0 to take a 2-1 lead when rain intervened. By Sunday, though, the home favourite was out in five sets. Ivanisevic went on to beat Pat Rafter in the final on People's Monday.

It is not a passage they will forget in Croatia. "I was watching," Ancic remembers. "It was just remarkable. Everybody just waiting the next day. And then the whole town was silent. There was nobody doing anything, nobody working, just watching Goran. That was the biggest happening of the day. I mean quarter-final, semi-final and final, the place was just focusing on one thing. We were all really nervous cheering for him.

"You have to remember we are a small country," he added. "He's one of our ambassadors, not only for a game, just ambassador for Croatia. After he won, half of Croatia cried. I was happy that I knew him and I went to welcome him when he arrived in Split.

"He's just a great character. People don't appreciate him only for tennis, they appreciate him also because, in time of war, he was carrying [the] Croatian flag. Also, he was just staying so normal even when he won so many titles. He's still huge. People recognise him a lot.

"I'll be really lucky if that momentum from when he was playing can also happen if I play. That means tennis in Croatia is popular and lots of people are going to try to take a racket and start. You know, that's a great thing."

There are, of course, differences in the Split personalities, but there are similarities too, especially as Ivanisevic has been moulding his protégé for over a decade now. "Goran is Goran. Not me," Ancic said. "[But] we are both Split. We are typical. That's our character. We are not too much different with our temperament.

"When I was small - 15, 16 - I was playing more from the baseline. And he was saying, 'Keep on improving that volley game, keep on going to the net'. He also said when I was 12, 'You know, keep on breaking rackets'."

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