He hasn't played a sanctioned match since spontaneously inserting himself into Bosnia's Davis Cup lineup in 2015—a retired team captain can do that—but Amer Delic will soon return to competition. Not at the tour level, mind you. No, that's firmly in the rear-view mirror for him, but rather for the Pearson Ford Open in Indianapolis, a city where he saw early promise and had some success at the RCA Championships during his ATP career.
In the impending Pearson event, Delic may encounter another American stalwart in the draw, 2015 Pearson Ford Open champ Robby Ginepri. Ahead of that, the Spin caught up with him to talk college days (super-successful, at the University of Illinois), career highlights (local and global), thoughts on today's TV commentators (he has them) and Wimbledon predictions (those, too).
What’s the best memory of your ATP playing days? Your favorite accomplishment on court?
In my professional career, there’s been a few. The first one, actually, does come from Indianapolis. In 2003, after I won the NCAAs, I won a Futures tournament in Peoria [Illinois]. Craig Tiley at the time was in touch with the [Indy] tournament directors, and they were kind enough to give me a wild card. So I made my ATP debut in 2003 and won my first-round match, beating Ricardo Mello in three sets. Then I played Paradorn Srichaphan. He was No. 9 at the time. I had a lot of friends from Champaign, Ill., friends from Indy, and friends from college who came in. I ended up, after having two match points, losing a tiebreak and lost the third set by one break. Thought maybe there is a little bit of hope for me out here.
My ultimate memory from professional days was playing at home [in Bosnia] in Davis Cup for the first time. After my first knee surgery, I went back there. I had been a practice partner for the U.S. team twice, but with [Andre] Agassi, the Bryan brothers, and [Andy] Roddick, I wasn’t seeing a sniff in that lineup. So I played in front of my grandparents and cousins, who hadn’t seen me play before, and 6,000 other people in my hometown arena.
You came out of the former Yugoslavia, as so many players did who represented that country, or later repped Bosnia or Serbia, or even the United States. Who did you look up to as a kid and then as a collegiate player?
I picked up a racquet in 1988. Goran Ivanisevic was making his run early, but believe it or not—a lot of people forget this—Monica Seles played for Yugoslavia. I grew up watching more of her than Goran or somebody else. The guys I was surrounded by—Todd Martin, MaliVai Washington—were just class acts. My idol growing up was Stefan Edberg. That was another guy I watched early on, and that was the mix of people I watched.
My family packed our belongings into 4 bags 25 yrs ago. We thought it was temporary. War finished. We're still on the run #WorldRefugeeDay— Amer Delic (@AmerDelic) June 20, 2016
What do you think of how Novak Djokovic, who draws huge crowds when he appears at big events in Serbia, has changed the public's morale there?
There’s no better representative of your country than a successful athlete on an international platform. The optics of the country have really turned around. The war in Serbia, Serbia was the aggressor, and that’s not forgotten. But people don’t think of that when you ask them about Serbia now. Novak Djokovic is what comes first to their mind. He’s associated with the country.
About college, you have some Midwest ties, playing for University of Illinois and winning the NCAA singles and team events in 2003. What’s your take on the flavor of those events, and the climate at the Indy ATP stop?
I loved playing at Illinois, playing at a lot of Big Ten schools. The fans were passionate. My freshman year, I traveled to Northwestern and played at the bubble there. We were inside warming up, and frat guys would walk around the bubble and pound on it, creating noise to intimidate us. They’d have tailgating parties. We would pack the Atkins Center [at Illinois]. Ohio State had great fans. It was great fun playing. People were not just tennis fans but fans of the schools.
Going to the pros, you have the Indianapolis event, rated [by players] the No. 1 ATP event for a bunch of years. It was very sad to see it leave. Cincinnati now, another event with great turnout and fans. I’m shocked that Chicago doesn’t have a larger event. You would think somewhere there’d be a slot there for a tournament event.
Are you an advocate for players going to college before entering the pros, like yourself and your fellow Illini, Rajeev Ram and Kevin Anderson?
Absolutely. It’s funny, I had this conversation with a gentleman who was Top 10 in the world and a semifinalist at Wimbledon. An Olympic medalist. Sharp guy, super well-liked. After injuries, he ended up going and getting his law degree at Columbia. Now he’s an investment banker. We were chatting and he said, his own words, “If I were to go back right now, I would be all over playing college tennis.” This is Mario Ancic. He absolutely loved it. Such an advocate for it, and I am, too.
The success rate [on the pro tour] of somebody coming from the juniors, it’s impossible. Now, Jack Sock is having success, [coming from high school]. But these guys, if they somehow get injured, they can’t go back to school, while somebody who goes to a university plays for a year and can turn pro and come back in six or seven years to finish up their degree.
I had my first knee surgery in 2009. I went back to school, took 22 hours in a semester, and got my degree. That opens a lot more doors for you down the road. Tennis is only a short part of your life, and you’ve got to be ready for it. I’m a big fan of that parachute you can fall back on. Not to be a pessimist, but it’s great to have options.
You’re good on Twitter (@AmerDelic), and you like to good-naturedly rib other players on there, as when James Blake recently admitted to stealing one of Roger Federer's towel once upon a time. How do you keep it real on social media? Do you ignore the so-called trolls?
I do. Honestly, I’ll put stuff up on Twitter or even on Instagram (@AmerDelic), and it’s all fun. It’s good not to take it too seriously. There are certain things I’ll voice my opinion on, and it’s a good platform. Most of the people on there read it for humor or some sort of information. I get financial news, weather, on Twitter. I feel like people get too serious or too negative, and I don’t have time for that. I don’t think that’s what Twitter was made for, and I don’t need to be contributing to that. It’s an information platform—nice, short and sweet. During the [NBA Finals] basketball game this year, it was great because every once in a while, you get some great laughs from people about things happening live. It’s a great way for people to interact and vent alongside tennis tournaments.
I’m probably most active around Grand Slams. That’s when I really watch a lot of tennis. I’ll throw in some fun about the guys or make fun of the situations that they’re facing. A lot of the time, I’ll make fun of the commentators. For the most part, I’ll give my opinion on why a certain player is playing a certain way. I think certain people appreciate that. It’s not just, "This guy serves big." No, he’s using body serves because it opens up this … and so on.
So what’s your take on the current crops of TV commentators?
I’m really good friends with Darren Cahill. He’s very credible and very sharp, prepared, and even his interaction on Twitter is great. He can be fun and connect with viewers. The other guy I think is fantastic is Robbie Koenig. He’s a very crafty doubles guy and knows how to win a lot of matches. Guys like that have a better sense of vision on the court and can filter their thoughts to relay it to the captive viewer so that they can connect.
Brad Gilbert is very opinionated but knows his stuff for the most part. He has an unbelievable track record as a coach. He sees the game very well. I’ve sat courtside with him. Some people don’t like his opinions, but I think he’s very good. He’s got his shtick, and it works. The combination of him, [Chris] Fowler, and Darren Cahill—I think that is the "A" team.
If I wake up super early (4am), turn on my TV & hear Pam Shriver's voice, I will turn it off & go back to sleep. #AustralianOpen— Amer Delic (@AmerDelic) January 25, 2013
In the past I’ve kind of gotten into it with Pam Shriver. It goes back to a few years ago at the Australian Open. Now people expect me to react to her all the time. She’s more of a comedian now and plays into her role perfectly now that she understands that people are not going to take it too seriously.
@AmerDelic we agree on something???!!!! Great Post article and thanks for sharing.— Pam Shriver (@PHShriver) March 31, 2015
So what’s next for you as tennis goes? You’re captaining the Bosnian Davis Cup team, and beyond that...?
Tennis obviously will always be a big part of my life, and still is through that Davis Cup platform. I’ve actually transitioned more to a corporate setting. I work at a firm for a year and a half now, and that’s in finance. And we have the Finance Cup. Mario Ancic and some other guys, some of the golden guys and Wall Street guys. We had a team from New York play against guys from Europe [last year]. They’re bringing guys this year including Stefan Edberg, who works at a hedge fund in Sweden. We’re playing it at Queen’s Club. Last year we played it in New York at Randall’s Island, [John] McEnroe’s place.
I still sort of connect to people through tennis, but going forward, it will be a lot more fun tennis. Casual tennis. Less of me competing or spending a lot more time on the court. I will still want to help out any of the kids, especially in Bosnia, open up some doors for them. I want to help out anyone who really wants to learn and, if I’m still capable, do more of that. This morning at about 7 a.m., I was working out with a kid who’s going to be a very good college player. Sort of help him out and guide him and tell him my transition from junior tennis to college tennis Even just playing college tennis is a great accomplishment for a lot of these kids. I try to relate my background and guide them away from mistakes I made, steer them in the right direction.
Finally, your Wimbledon predictions?
Serena [Williams] is obviously always a favorite everywhere she goes, especially on grass. She’s so powerful. First-strike tennis, overpowering a lot of the players. I’d love to see Venus also get through. She’s a friend of mine from Jacksonville. Shorter points, on grass, she can really make a run at it.
The men’s side is a much tougher discussion. A lot of guys are playing great. There are guys like [Nick] Kyrgios and [Tomas] Berdych who can overpower. Guys like Sock and Sam Querrey, I would like to see them make runs. Then there's [Andy] Murray and Djokovic and Federer. Out of those three, I’d say it’s Djokovic, Murray, Federer—in that order. The confidence that Djokovic has and what he’s trying to accomplish is pretty spectacular. He’s on a different plane right now. When you’re playing him, and his eyes really open up and he steps up to return—you see that with LeBron [James], he’s zoned in. Even when Roger was dominating, he was more relaxed. But Djokovic is impenetrable. Murray and this Ivan Lendl [coaching] thing, it’s good for him. It’ll be interesting.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.