As most top tennis players begin the migration from California to Florida for the second of two big U.S. hard-court events, Mario Ancic will take an unusual detour. On Thursday, the world's 29th-ranked player will address a sports law class at Harvard Law School.
His trip to the campus that was the setting for the iconic film "The Paper Chase" is no coincidence. Ancic pursued one particular piece of paper -- a law diploma -- for six years while simultaneously chasing balls on several continents.
When mononucleosis forced Ancic off the ATP tour for six months in 2007, he channeled all his energy into his studies and graduated from the University of Split in Croatia a year ago. His future vocation is back on hold now as Ancic, who will turn 25 later this month, works his way back toward the top-10 stature his illness cost him.
Ancic's agent, IMG's Olivier van Lindonk, said he is a consummate professional who -- not surprisingly, given his academic interests -- "is always closely involved with finalizing and approving his deals. He is a client that is aware of all the details in his contracts and likes to 'keep me sharp.'"
At Harvard, Ancic will speak on the history and structure of the ATP, as well as hot-button issues such as doping, gambling and athletes' rights and representation, all topics he covered in the 68-page thesis he wrote to culminate his coursework. He initiated his invitation to Harvard by contacting visiting sports law lecturer Peter Carfagna, former general counsel for the sports marketing giant IMG, who is now in private practice in Cleveland.
The thoughtful Ancic has played tennis in some historic venues, but admits that going to the scholarly equivalent of Wimbledon's Centre Court might be an even bigger thrill. Here are excerpts from his conversation with ESPN.com Tuesday.
Q: How did this opportunity come about?
A: I got in touch [with Carfagna] and very early we talked about me coming to the sports law classes and talking to the students. I was coming to the U.S. to play these two tournaments, so I knew that was the best timing to come. Everyone in the world knows that institution. I'm very honored to be there and get to know the students and professors and share ideas about the sport and the background of tennis. Sports law is a very special area of law at the moment.
Q: What kind of image do you have of Harvard?
Ancic: Huge tradition. Some of the most recognized people in history were studying there. It's not easy to compare, but with all the tradition put together, it's like the top of the tennis world, to be No. 1 in the world. That's the equivalent of coming to Harvard and talking to the students.
Q: You've said before that you want to work in sports law. Are you also interested in teaching?
Ancic: It's tough to say. It would be very interesting to combine my two big passions, sport on one hand and law on the other hand. Sport in almost every country is one of the most recognized brands, and probably has more ambassadors than any ministry of foreign affairs. You never know where the path is going to take me.
Q: Talk a little bit about your thesis.
Ancic: I'm very proud of that; it took a lot of work. I show tennis from a little bit of a different perspective. In my research, I understood more things that were going on behind the scenes. [The ATP] was great for me. They gave me documents. They were not afraid that anything goes public. I talked about the players' medical care, the pension fund that kicks off after the career, the structure, the membership, how it works. Being out of tennis, it was a huge help to be focused on something else.
Q: So the thrust of your talk will be similar to your thesis?
Ancic: Yes. I hope the students will enjoy it. I know I will for sure. It's going to be a huge experience for me. I've played on almost every center court in the world, but this is going center stage. I was always even more motivated when I played in huge stadiums, so this is also a huge stadium for me. I see it that way.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.