When a legend calls, it's probably difficult for anyone to say no.
And so, as Roger Federer returns from a vacation and gets his 2016 ducks in a row (that includes a decision on whether he will play mixed doubles at the Rio Olympics with fellow Swiss legend Martina Hingis), he has made a major change to his coaching team.
Gone is Stefan Edberg. In is ...former Milos Raonic coach Ivan Ljubicic.
Just two weeks ago, Canadian Milos Raonic announced the end of his collaboration with Ljubicic, but the cryptic language left little doubt as to whose decision it was.
Federer made the announcement on his website and on various social media Tuesday.
It would have been nothing short of amicable between Federer and Edberg, who extended his collaboration an extra year but said in a statement through the ATP Tour that he worked with Federer in 2015 with the clear intent that it would be the last season.
“Roger and I had a wonderful two years together. When he originally approached me at the end of 2013, I committed to work with him for only a year. It became very clear from the start that this was going to be a special partnership, working with the greatest ambassador tennis has ever seen. It was exciting for me to be back out on tour and to see that the sport has made so much progress," Edberg said in the statement.
“The quality of tennis today is stronger than it has ever been. After an amazing 2014, I decided to continue on for another year, but with a clear understanding that it would be my last year given the time commitment. I believe Roger still has a lot left to give to the sport of tennis and is capable of winning the big events. Roger and I will remain close friends and I will always feel part of the Federer team. I hope to try and come watch Roger play some tournaments in 2016," he added.
Just two years older at 36, Ljubicic is very much his contemporary.
They met 16 times on court (curiously, never in a Grand Slam); Ljubicic won two of their first three meetings, only one of their final 13 (Federer won the last 10 straight, ending in 2010). But he defeated Federer twice in his home country of Switzerland.
He's also a close friend.
It appears Ljubicic will replace Edberg in the sense that he won't be a full-time coach; Federer stated that Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Lüthi will remain his main coach, and will "be joined" by Ljubicic.
That likely means the Croat will be there for the bigger events; he logged more weeks than that with Raonic, in partnership with Ricardo Piatti (who remains on Team Raonic). But Ljubicic has a host of other business interests, television commentary commitments and also is the manager for Czech star Tomas Berdych. The flexibility of his new gig likely suited him just fine.
Edberg's pure serve-and-volley style as a player meant many gave him full credit for Federer's return to more of a forecourt game (including the now-infamous SABR net-rushing play). In reality, Federer always had those tools in his kit; they had just been in storage as the men's game evolved into more of a baseline war of attrition over the last decade.
As a player, Ljubicic was resolutely a baseliner – which of course doesn't mean that Federer won't still continue with the aggressive style that has helped him remain one of the best players in the world at age 34.
The first meeting between Raonic and Federer should be fascinating, assuming Ljubicic is in attendance for it. Although with a 9-1 head-to-head record against the Canadian, Federer probably doesn't need his help.