Croatia’s westernmost city, Umag, is the host of the Croatia Open in July. The ATP 250 tournament is played on outdoor clay courts and has become one of the country’s most popular annual sporting events.
The first Croatia Open - initially known as the Yugoslavia Open, was held in 1990, when Goran Ivanisevic was beginning to make an impact on the men’s tour. Fittingly, the final in Umag that year was a contest between Ivanisevic and another Croatian, Goran Prpic, who won in three sets.
The tournament is staged at the city’s ITC Stella Maris tennis complex, which seats up to 4000 spectators.
Thomas Muster became the first multiple champion in Umag when he won back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1995. He made it a hat-trick when he lifted the trophy in 1995, the year he won the French Open.
The Austrian’s record stood until 2003, when Carlos Moya won the title for the fourth time. The Spaniard had first triumphed in Umag in 1996, and was victorious again in 2001 and 2002. He went on to win a fifth title in 2007.
Other notable champions at the Croatia Open over the years include Moya’s compatriot and fellow Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, as well as former world number one Marcelo Rios. In 2012, Marin Cilic became the second home-grown player to win the event, thrilling the local fans with a straight sets victory over Marcel Granollers.
Verdasco def. Andreev, 2008 final:
In 2008, Fernando Verdasco was bidding to become the fourth Spanish man to win in Umag. Both he and his opponent in the final, Igor Andreev, had reached the showpiece match without dropping a set, setting up one of the hardest fought title matches ever played at the Croatia Open.
Andreev won four games in a row to take the first set 6-3, using his explosive forehand to dictate rallies and put pressure on his rival. The Russian’s blistering form continued at the start of the second set, and he even had a point for a 3-1 lead, but Verdasco at last found the range on his groundstrokes. Hitting with more topspin and using his own powerful forehand to good effect, the left-hander produced a string of winners to break for 5-4. He then held serve to take the second set.
Having wrested control of the match, Verdasco looked unstoppable at the beginning of the decider, racing to a 3-0, 40-0 lead. But the top seed, whose mental strength had been questioned in the past, failed to consolidate his advantage. Suddenly, it was Andreev who was the aggressor again, and the underdog clawed back both breaks of serve to even the score at 5-all.
In the final set tie-break, however, Verdasco looked the fresher player. He managed to regain his focus, and took advantage of Andreev’s unforced errors to win it by seven points to three and earn his first Croatia Open title. The two hour, 50 minute final was the longest in the tournament’s history.
- Thomas Muster and Carlos Moya were named honorary citizens of the city of Umag in 1999 and 2004 respectively.
- The presidents of Croatia, Slovenia and Kazakhstan attended the final of the 2001 tournament.
- David Ferrer came through qualifying to earn a place in the main draw in 2002. He beat top-seeded David Nalbandian on the way to his first ever ATP final.
- Novak Djokovic reached only the second final of his career in Umag in 2006, but had to retire at six games all in the first set, handing victory to Stanislas Wawrinka.
- At 17 years old, Rafael Nadal partnered compatriot Alex Lopez Moron to win the 2003 Umag doubles title.