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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 16:52 GMT
How Ancic carries a nation's hopes
By Piers Newbery

Mario Ancic
Ancic has been bruised by the pressure of unfulfilled expectations
If Andy Murray is looking for some guidance on how to deal with carrying the hopes of a nation, he should look no further than Mario Ancic.

The 21-year-old Croat has had to fill some of the largest shoes in tennis as the natural heir to former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.

His countrymen have certainly taken to their new hero, as anyone who has seen an Ancic match at the Australian Open will know from the football-style crowd he attracts.

"The atmosphere is always unbelievable here because there's such a big Croatian community," Ancic told BBC Sport.

"It almost feels like playing at home or in the Davis Cup. I feel very relaxed here - it reminds me of home in the summer."

As the last man to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2002, and having since reached a semi-final at SW19, the expectations levels surrounding Ancic have never been anything but high.

But after four years on the tour he has been bruised often enough to shy away from making predictions.

"Now I'm top 20 and I'm still looking forward but really it's just about building up my game," he said.

Croatian tennis player Mario Ancic shows off his football skills
Nowadays everybody is returning great, so you have to develop other strokes to get to the net

"It's easy to say which number you want to be. I'm working very hard on my game and hopefully it can bring me up to top 15 or top 10."

It has not always been a smooth rise to his current position of 21 in the world, but having finished last year with a dramatic Davis Cup win and started 2006 with a final place in Auckland, Ancic looks ready for another push up the rankings.

His form in Melbourne, where has had two solid wins and has a number of clay-court specialists ahead of him in the draw, suggests he could still be a contender next week.

And with Tim Henman long gone, Ancic is himself something of a curiosity as one of few players left in the draw who relishes getting to the net.

"That is something I'm working hard to achieve, trying to be aggressive, and it doesn't matter which surface - try to keep to my gameplan," he said.

"I think I'm a big guy and I have to use my advantages, which are a big serve, coming to the net and volleying.

"The other guys have maybe better groundstrokes and are faster, and nowadays everybody is returning great, so you have to develop other strokes to get to the net.

"You cannot just come to the net and say 'here I am' because everyone can pass you now."

That is a fact that Henman spent the best part of a decade learning, and something that tempers Ancic when many regard him as a future Wimbledon champion.

"Wimbledon is big, like all Grand Slams, and I've felt great playing there but I still think I'm an all-court player and play well on all kinds of surfaces. I don't really put too much pressure on just winning Wimbledon."


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