In February 2011, Mario Ancic hung up his tennis racquets at the age of 26 when a string of injuries and illnesses ultimately proved insurmountable. Adept at serve-and-volleying, Ancic translated that tactic into hitting the books, eyeing another ambitious world that eventually landed him on Wall Street. Ten years later, the former world No. 7's second act has proven as joyful as his first, all while staying connected to tennis as a hitting partner, coaching consultant, open line of communication and entrepreneur through FanSlam, a fantasy platform he co-founded.

In our latest TENNIS Conversation, Ancic opens up about his past decade, excitement for the upcoming Wimbledon Championships, The Big Three, and what tennis should do to stand out in a sea of other sports.

It’s hard to believe a little more than a decade has passed since you retired from professional tennis. To start, can you reflect on going through that process and the way you see it now?

ANCIC: First of all, sports has been and still is a huge part of my life. Even now, there's not a single day where I don't work out, when I don't exercise. That has been with me since I was a kid. So from that perspective, nothing really changed. Sometimes people are asking me, "Why are you still training so hard?", "Why do you cycle over the weekend?", or "Why do you go to the gym every day?" Being an athlete is also a lifestyle.

From a perspective of being competitive, everything changed. I won an Olympic bronze medal when I was 20, and won a Davis Cup, reached Top 10 when I was like 21. In hindsight, we've seen where the tennis went. You see people now. Roger is couple of years older than me. Feliciano Lopez won Queen’s two years ago. And with Novak and Rafa, what these guys are doing in their mid 30s is incredible. You see that one’s prime has been shifted now to 28, 29 30. Being able at such a young age to have extraordinary results, it's been a dream come true. And then, from one day to another, my life as it was came crashing down.

I spent a couple of years then rehabbing and trying to come back, but end of the day, I had to be real with myself and said, it's not possible to be at that level. And you got to make a tough decision. Whether you want to fool yourself and try to run around couple of years. If you're not able to train every day between six and eight hours a day, then you can't expect results. Everybody who knew me knew I was one of the hardest working guys on tour and extremely dedicated to the game, and understood the reason why I couldn't do it anymore was due to my health issues and then later injuries.

In the 2005 Davis Cup final, Ancic won a decisive fifth rubber over Slovakia's Michal Mertiank to clinch Croatia's first title.

In the 2005 Davis Cup final, Ancic won a decisive fifth rubber over Slovakia's Michal Mertiank to clinch Croatia's first title.


With that tough decision really not being on your terms, how imperative was it to jump into something different, and separate yourself from the only life you knew? I’m not sure becoming a quintessential New Yorker was what you envisioned but it’s inspiring to any high-level athlete struggling with the concept of finding new meaning.

ANCIC: I think it was important to make that change, really not knowing which direction your life is going take. They always say athletes have to die twice. And that's true in a sense, because you're leaving something you've been doing for 20-plus years and you're going to something that is a little bit unknown. But I took that as a challenge. I was very blessed to have good people around me always showing me the value of education. (Ancic graduated from the University of Split before earning his J.D. degree at Columbia University)

It gave me the opportunity to stay in the States and move to the finance world, where I worked a couple of years in investment banking on Wall Street. Then a couple years ago, I moved to a private-equity fund where I'm currently a vice president. We invest and buy companies around the world, looking to add value to grow them.

I've been in New York almost 10 years. When I was coming to play the US Open, I never ever imagined that I'd be living here and would consider this my home. It's been an interesting ride and I talk to a lot of athletes, not just in tennis, who are kind of in between. I try to tell them my story and help them to make the decision, one that’s always personal. There’s always, what if? I What if my tennis career went longer? But on the other hand, if it did, I wouldn't be able to achieve stuff that I'm doing now, which I consider very exciting and brings me a lot of joy.

You mentioned a commitment to staying in shape. How frequently do you get on the court? How's your ball these days?

ANCIC: Yeah, once or twice a week, usually weekends. Rest is in the gym or just working out. I'm in pretty good shape physically, so playing comes natural. I was able to hit last year with Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic. I warmed up Novak [Djokovic] a couple of years ago for Wimbledon and the US Open. Of course, I can't compare myself with guys who are playing every day. But there's a good group in New York that I hit with. A lot of people who used to play in college, who’ve moved into finance and some national champs who are in the city as well. We have a good group in the business world with people who played competitive sports. I still enjoy it and I have fun. Although sometimes I get annoyed with myself because I'm like, “how can I miss this?” I have to remind myself, well, you're now doing something completely different and be happy that you can play at this level.

Wimbledon is just around the corner. The event was canceled last year. With the added history on the line, where does this tournament rank on the list of events you've been looking forward to?

ANCIC: For me, I have to say it's the most special. When I was a kid, saw Goran Ivanisevic played numerous finals and then in the end he won it. So Wimbledon I thought, "Okay, this is the tournament where I have the most chances to win." Then I pivoted towards playing really well on grass. Generally I felt if I could win a Slam, this could probably be it.

Now as a spectator, I would say it’s even more special. Obviously, Novak [has done] something historical in Paris, coming to that 19 with a chance to go for his 20th Grand Slam at Wimbledon, Roger coming back as well, and we know how comfortable he is on grass. We’re waiting for younger guys to step up on grass and show good results. I'm very interested to see how things are going to play out.

Let’s go back a bit. 2002, Mario Ancic defeats Roger Federer in the first round of Wimbledon for his first major match win. 2003, Rafael Nadal defeats Mario Ancic in the first round of Wimbledon for first major match win. In 2006, you beat a 19-year-old Novak Djokovic in five sets to prevent his first Grand Slam meeting with Roger. Is there any sense of appreciation for being connected to these amazing champions?

ANCIC: The tennis world is big, but it's also small. And I knew about Roger when my brother was ranked high in the juniors. When Roger turned pro, he was obviously an unbelievable talent at that time. The year before I beat him, he won against Pete Sampras on Centre Court. He was Top 5 already, and everybody knew that the sky is the limit.

Same for Rafa and Novak. I mean, I've came across them at young ages and you knew, unless something injury wise happened, that these guys were going to be superstars. They were fierce competitors. They were fundamentally strong. They all had their own things to work on, but you just saw they were just an unbelievable talent, that they're going to achieve incredible things. So yes, one of the things I look back on, is that I was able to beat each one once, and Andy (Murray). But just being able to say that you participated in probably the strongest era of ATP tennis is something I am proud of.

Ranked No. 154 and making his major debut at the age of 18, Ancic stunned then No. 9 Federer in straight sets 19 years ago at Wimbledon.

Ranked No. 154 and making his major debut at the age of 18, Ancic stunned then No. 9 Federer in straight sets 19 years ago at Wimbledon.

The Olympics are scheduled to take place next month. They’re not universally regarded as a priority for tennis players, but what does it mean to be an Olympic medalist alongside Ivan Ljubicic?

ANCIC: I grew up in a country that became independent in the early 90s. And athletes were its main ambassadors. For the Olympic Games or Davis Cup, you're not playing only for yourself, there's a huge amount of people watching you and supporting. And being able to see what joy you brought to the people when you come back with a medal was incredible. For me and Ivan, if you look at our careers afterwards, we just went sky high after that. It gave us a huge boost of confidence that we could do some amazing stuff. We both made the Top 10 afterwards. We won Davis Cup together. Ivan had amazing run when he was number three behind Roger and Rafa. The Olympics was just a stamp of approval that we were ready to do something big.

You have a pair of former teammates in the corners of two out of the Big Three, Goran Ivanisevic with Novakwho you once consulted at Wimbledonand Ivan with Roger. That’s really something, isn’t it? And with Ivan specifically, did you envision him getting into coaching having spent so much time together as doubles teammates?

ANCIC: What are the chances that one is coaching Roger Federer and another one is coaching Novak Djokovic? It’s unbelievable. It's like you're coaching Real Madrid and Manchester United. Coming from a small country, that's an incredible achievement. I think it's a testament to both of them. With Ivan, yes. He was always a thinker, looking at how he can develop his game and scouting the other players as well. I think that analytical mentality Roger recognized as something he could add to his team. I'm truly proud for them and happy with the work they've been doing.

As part of your business endeavors, you co-created FanSlam. Why this venture? What’s the end goal? Share anything you’d like about it.

ANCIC: When I came to the United States to study, NBA and NFL fantasy sports was huge. I had never participated in anything like that before. With my friends at Columbia, we started to participate in these events. And very soon, I was a fan of NBA and NFL.

So this concept was like an eye-opener. By the end of the Fantasy League, I knew a lot of players. I knew what they ate, I knew how they behaved. It’s a game of skill, so you start following their personal lives, how they played earlier, how they play later. You look at their strengths and weaknesses. I almost felt like this is something tennis lacks. You have this global sport with amazing players, you don’t know somebody who's ranked number 25 in the world as much as you can. There is not much recognition down the rankings.

Knowing how hard it is, I wanted to do something. So together with a colleague of mine from Columbia, we started FanSlam. We put our business and tennis hats on to come up with a team (model) that’s based on how deep you know tennis. Everybody is going to choose Novak, Rafa, Roger, Andy before his injuries. Because you pick eight players, you need to know the draw really well. If you're picking for Wimbledon, which guys are good grass-court players?

And that translates into people following more tennis. They're able to trash talk. It just creates more interest, which tennis needs. The fundamentals will always stay there, but you need more of that outside interest. You need younger fans, more engagement, more enthusiasm. And I felt this is one of the ways to hopefully bring it.


So for the men’s field, should everyone grab Novak at this point and then get resourceful for their other seven choices?

ANCIC: Exactly. But if I choose Novak and you choose Novak, the difference between the two of us is going to be the other players you pick. For that, you need to do some research. That create interest and it will help bring players recognition. You start following them. It's almost like your team in the NBA. You become more passionate about what Andreas Seppi, Fabio Fognini, or Reilly Opelka is doing. You become more engaged.

In 2008, you wrote a thesis titled "ATP Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” How would you approach the “today” in the current climate now?

ANCIC: I see it from both sides being a player but then now working seven, eight years in New York. I have a great relationship with both, and everybody has my number if I can be a helpful resource. I think there are two things that you got to be mindful of. There's more and more competition from sports than say 20 years ago. Tennis has its peaks, but it has to stay competitive.

I think how to do that is to have platforms where tennis engages younger fans. That will be crucial. Players and the organization will have to understand it's all about the fans. It's all about consumers. What is their feedback? What are they telling you? How can you improve the game? it's all about engagement and then taking advantage of that global sport. Tennis has so much to give.

And the strength of both men's and women's tennis. One of the rare sports that can offer both at such a high level. We have a lot of good stuff, but there's also things that we can improve.