The recently-retired Ivan Ljubicic talks drugs and gambling with The Tennis Space, including how he told the gambling companies that they were putting “the sport in a dangerous situation”.
How big of a problem is drugs in tennis?
I don’t think it’s a big, big issue, really. If you have a guy who’s using doping and he’s caught, then people will say, oh, the guy’s an idiot, just kick him out, but the credibility of the sport stays there. I feel like we don’t have a really big issue and I hope it’s going to stay that way. I think the players’ problem is not the doping controller. Our problem is this whereabouts programme, which we feel that it should be personalised for tennis players.
The programme, to say the least, is ridiculous, because we have to say three months in advance, one hour every day, where we’re going to be. Of course, we cannot know. Eventually, I just said, OK, I am going to write, I’m going to be home three months – because I’m going to change it anyway. Eventually it happens that you forget to change – I got one missed test in Croatia this year, it was my first. Then you’re kind of under a bit of pressure because if you get a second then you have to be really careful. (Marin) Cilic told me also he had two.
Unless you have somebody who is on the case all the time, it does happen that you forget to change it, you accept wildcards, you do tournaments you didn’t plan to play. You change plans all the time. I don’t mind getting tests, absolutely, but I think the whereabouts can be better. Maybe they could have a guy (at tournaments) to be on the spot all the time so that when you see him you remember and say, oh, listen, next three days I’m going to be here. That would help us a little bit. Other than that I don’t mind the programme, really.
The guys are complaining that they get a knock on the door at 6am. But they are the ones who put that hour. I always put 8 or 9. I don’t put 6 or 7 because I am not going to do anything before 9-o-clock anyway. It’s totally up to you what time you put in. I just feel it can be done better. But I am drinking water most of the time, vitamins and stuff. You just have to be careful when you get sick what you take but that’s really about it.
So you think gambling is a bigger concern now?
I would be more concerned with the gambling issue. That’s something that can really damage the sport in a big way. I think the problem is that these betting companies are putting out (odds) on the matches that they shouldn’t be. Exhibitions, matches that don’t mean anything to anybody. Low level, like Futures, even Challengers – guys are playing matches for 100 euros and who can blame them when a guy comes by and tells them, ‘listen, 50,000 euros if you lose the match’. They’ll be thinking, ‘when am I going to make 50,000 euros? And I do just this time? Because then I can have money so I can do the tour’.
But then they start falling into that horrible situation when there is no way back. I had talks with some betting companies, directors, and I said guys, please, I know that you need matches, tennis is a sport that is played every day and I know you need to offer something to gamblers every day. But you are just putting our sport in a dangerous situation. I don’t think we have an issue at the slams, I don’t think we have an issue at the higher levels, guys are totally focused on being better, trying to win points and trying to climb the rankings but the danger is at lower-level tournaments.
I never placed a bet in my life. The way I see betting is there’s two of us sitting, and I think this guy is going to win, the other one thinks this guy is going to win, that’s it. I don’t get into, in a football match, who’s going to have the first corner kick, who’s going to have the first yellow card. It should be about success, this guy’s going to win or this team’s going to win.
Is it a grey area, at times?
I think it was in Italian football. One president of one club would win the league if their opponents lost so one president (of another club) wanted to give another club an incentive to actually play better. I was like, is that wrong, or not? At first, I thought, it’s not wrong, he’s just trying to double motivate them to do well. But then they should try as hard as they can anyway, that’s where it’s really difficult to see. If I play a match tomorrow and I put a bet on myself that I am going to win; I am thinking, ‘why should I not be able to do that? I feel confident’. But I cannot do that (because it’s against the rules). I don’t know about live (in-running) betting but one thing I would definitely try to do is leave the Futures and Challengers out of it. It’s just looking for trouble, I think.
I don’t know when betting started but it’s not something new. It’s just that it’s exploded and unfortunately the people didn’t realise early enough how big an impact it can have in the sport. Nobody really sat down early enough to say, the rules are this. Getting rid of betting at lower-levels would be a good start.