Thank You, Zeljko: Franulovic Retires From Monte Carlo Tournament Director Role
Fifty-two years ago, Zeljko Franulovic earned one of the biggest titles of his illustrious career at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. In 2005, the Croatian came full circle when he became tournament director at the ATP Masters 1000 event. After a successful 17-year run at the helm of the tournament, Franulovic will step away from that role on 30 June.
“What I’m really proud of from my time leading an ATP Masters 1000 tournament is exceptional player participation and their great support of the event, as well as significant improvements in terms of fans and media facilities,” Franulovic told ATPTour.com. “These achievements have enhanced the image of Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and ensured continued growth and overall success of the event.”
The 75-year-old has contributed to tennis for almost his entire life, from his time as a player to his various roles in the sport and now serving as tennis director in the Principality.
Today, Croatians follow in the footsteps of Goran Ivanisevic, Ivan Ljubicic, Marin Cilic and others. But Franulovic was among those who paved the way. Franulovic reached a career-high No. 30 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, but his efforts before the Rankings were first created in 1973 put him in rare company in the sport.
The Split native remains one of the best clay-court players in history. Although a right shoulder injury cut short the length of his prime, he earned 301 tour-level victories on the surface, which ranks 14th in the Open Era. In 1970, Franulovic triumphed in Monte Carlo before advancing to his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros.
Following his playing career, Franulovic began his career in tennis management, and he has made a positive impact on the sport ever since. The Croatian, who also earned a law degree, held various roles at the ATP, including Executive Vice President, Europe and tournament director of the Nitto ATP Finals.
It did not take long for Franulovic to make a difference at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters after becoming tournament director in 2005. A famous story he tells about his early days in the role relives the start of the 2006 tournament. Franulovic and his team decided that for the first time they would promote the tournament in the heart of Monte Carlo, right in front of the Casino de Monaco, one of the most iconic settings in Europe. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were meant to drive in a vintage convertible to the square themselves to hit some tennis balls.
The problem was that neither legend knew how to operate the car, which was tricky to drive. A local representative of the car company eventually drove the pair, but when they arrived, another problem arose: Nadal did not have his racquet. The Spaniard’s current PR manager “must have broken the Formula 1 record” riding a scooter to the hotel to get the racquet, according to Franulovic, but he made it back.
That taught Franulovic and his team that it is difficult to plan to the last detail. He has worked tirelessly to promote, improve and consistently elevate the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
“Roger and Rafa playing in front of the famous Casino de Monaco was just one of the episodes that had contributed to increased fame and popularity of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters,” Franulovic said. “I guess it was more impactful because it was done for the first time in Monaco but, since then there is not an iconic spot in Monaco where we did not stage this type of exhibition — from in front of the Palace to the roof of the iconic Monaco Yacht Club.
“I’m proud for this because it was my idea at the very beginning of my involvement in the Monte Carlo tournament and we kept organising it successfully in the following years.”
As he departs his role as tournament director, Franulovic says there is “nothing particularly emotional”. The work he has done for the tournament, however, will last for years to come.
“The truth is that I will be leaving a tournament that I’ve been strongly attached to for 17 years,” Franulovic said. “But I’m not leaving tennis in general where I will continue to stay active in one way or another.”
- Reporting contributed by James Buddell