The life of Željko Franulović reads like a tennis ball, continually bouncing from one side of the net to the other. Former tennis player born in Croatia, he competed for SFR Yugoslavia and was ranked inside the Top 20 in both 1970 and 1971, reaching as high as World No. 8 in March 1971. The highlights of his career saw him reaching the French Open final in 1970, as well as the semi-finals the following year. It was in 1970, that he took home the title by winning the Monte-Carlo Masters. He was the coach of the Croatian Davis Cup Team from 1994 to 1997, and also served on the Association of Tennis Professionals’ Board of Directors, between 2007 and 2009.
After he retired from playing, he became involved in the management side of the sport, notably as one of the highest ranked ATP European executives. In 2005, he established SMETT (Société Monégasque pour l’Exploitation du Tournoi de Tennis) and is the current Tournament Director of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Tennis Masters, part of the prestigious ATP World Tour Masters 1000 series.
Behind the scenes he orchestrates the tournament like a maestro. Zeljko prefers talented and successful people who don’t have to boast about their successful careers and achievements, but instead allow their accomplishments to speak for themselves. His axiom: humility is the strong face of success! He works hard with his team, being relentlessly creative and innovative, and continuously invests in new structures at the Monte Carlo Country Club in order to improve comfort levels for both the players and visitors.
Trying to pin him down for an interview is a feat in itself. However, FORCE ONE caught up with him and asked him to give us some thoughts on this year’s event.
F.1.M. : Would you say that Monte-Carlo is the most beautiful tournament in the world?
Z.F. : You might put it that way: there are more important tournaments, and many have a great appeal, but we are in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet; the tournament is one of the most historical and most prestigious… and if you put all these things together, yes, I think we can agree that the Monte-Carlo Rolex Tennis Masters is really special.
It’s also one of the first tournaments of the season: players are fresh, they want to play, they need to make points… their attitude is always at the top here.
Not to mention the fact that it also the beginning of the good season, passionate fans flock to the Riviera from all over Europe and the entire world. In 2015, we had over 134.000 spectators. After a long winter, we are lucky to have the opportunity to welcome our audience in such great weather! We work hard to enhance the experience of all these people, and we’ve been honoured by receiving the ATP Award of Excellence 2015 for the “Best Fan Experience” in Europe.
F.1.M. : What’s new in this 2016 edition?
Z.F. : Sometimes the most important things are right under your nose, those you don’t see… We have done a lot of work on the infrastructure, creating an area of over 500m² to host a Gym and other services dedicated to the players. The results is that they will have the possibility to train and warm up right in the Country Club without having to leave the premises. We have also installed a new welcome desk at Entrance No.3.
F.1.M. : Who was your favourite? What do you think about Rafa’s victory?
Z.F. : The first one should have been quite an easy answer; he was not only my favorite but everyone’s favorite: Novak Djokovic. Being in spectacular shape at the moment and being the winner of last year. Nonetheless, we had 9 out of 10 of the best players in the world ranking and Nadal already won 8 times here! So it’s not really surprising the victory of this great player, is’nt it?