Roger Federer-Edberg split: New coach Ljubicic has remarkable tale to tell

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Roger Federer has appointed a new coach who has one of the most remarkable stories in tennis -- whose route to the elite included fleeing the Balkan Wars by cargo plane and bus before living in a refugee camp.

Ivan Ljubicic's tale of escape, and of being "a refugee of war", is one that Federer knows well. The Croatian he has appointed to replace Stefan Edberg has been a close friend for many years.

Living in Banja Luka, an area dominated by Serbians which is now part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ljubicic grew up with his family watching on as "people disappeared".

After growing increasingly concerned for their safety, they left on a plane, before a long bus journey around Hungary and Slovenia took them to a refugee camp in Croatia.

From there, the Ljubicic family rebuilt their lives, and Ivan, who ended up training at a tennis academy in Italy, went on to become an extremely accomplished player. He never made it into the same tennis stratosphere as Edberg, a winner of six singles majors, but he reached world No.3, played in a Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros and propelled Croatia to a Davis Cup triumph.

One of the most popular figures in tennis, he has become known for his intelligence; Federer once described his friend as "very bright" and "a natural leader".

Off the court, Ljubicic has been an extremely influential figure. In addition to having served on the ATP Player Council, he was on the ATP Board of Directors, which no other active player had done for the best part of 20 years.

There has been top-level coaching experience, too, as, until last month, Ljubicic was working with Milos Raonic. The highlight of their time together saw the Canadian make the Wimbledon semifinals in 2014 before his path was blocked by a certain Mr Federer.

Reflecting on their collaboration, Raonic spoke of Ljubicic's "tremendous amount of support, knowledge and understanding".

Since his retirement as a player, Ljubicic has stayed connected with the sport, his other commitments including managing Tomas Berdych and television commentary stints.

He is a physically imposing man -- with his 6-foot-4 frame and his shaved head, some have suggested that he looks more like a nightclub bouncer than a former tennis player -- but is much more brains than brawn, and will bring no little thought to his adventures with Federer.

Ljubicic will have a very tough act to follow, however. Edberg was always Federer's hero and guided him to three Grand Slam finals during their partnership: Wimbledon in 2014 and 2015, and this year's U.S. Open.

There is no doubt that Edberg transformed Federer after his distressing 2013, when he lost in Wimbledon's second round and some outside the camp started to use the r-word: retirement.

This year, only Novak Djokovic stopped Federer from adding to his collection of 17 Slams, with the Serbian beating him in the London and New York major finals.

Federer's adoration of Edberg smoothed their player-coach relationship; there was already a base. Their relationship only came to an end, they both said, because it had never been designed as a long-term partnership.

This time, with the Swiss' new coach, there is a friendship in place before work has started. And Ljubicic will know Federer's game from their 16 matches on the Tour (of which he won just three) as well as their time practising together when they were both competing.

It will be interesting to see whether Federer will continue to be as aggressive with Ljubicic as he was with Edberg. During the Edberg era, Federer attacked the net more than he had done in years.

Ljubicic was fundamentally a baseliner, who only made rare excursions to the net. But whatever direction Ljubicic takes Federer in next year, he won't do so without first putting a great deal of thought into it.