Goran: Never Borin'
by John Walters
29 August 2001
7-6, 6-4, 6-4
After Goran Ivanisevic won a thriller of a two-day, five-set finale at Wimbledon last month -- his first career Grand Slam singles title -- some 150,000 people greeted him upon his return to his hometown of Split, Croatia. "People were saying that everyone who was not dead came out to welcome me," Ivanisevic remembers.
After stripping down to his skivvies before literally half his hometown -- an even split of Split -- Ivanisevic, by his own admission, partied for two straight days and, by his own admission, did not sleep for four. "With me it's no middle," he says. "I'm up or down. I can't do anything normal with my life. Maybe I'm not normal, you know."
Definitely not normal. Serving for match point today at Louis Armstrong Stadium against Hugo Armando, Ivanisevic paused a moment to acknowledge the crowd. "To have fun," he said, explaining why he did that. "I was too stiff in the beginning. I came into that court, I never saw so many people watching me first round. I said, `What's going on here?' I was like, `Wow.'"
So honest, so painfully and rejoicingly candid is he that sportswriters clap at the end of his press conferences. He cried at Wimbledon -- tears of joy after having lost in the singles final three times previously -- during the final set. When he is not stripped down to his underwear, Ivanisevic wears his heart on his sleeve. There is a guileless, overgrown puppy trapped inside that 6'4" frame with the 127 mph serve that is impossible not to love.
"Are you taking painkillers after each match?" someone asked, referring to the chronic pain in his shoulder. "Before, you know," replied Ivanisevic. "Doesn't help me after. I need before. Not hurt so much during."
Here is a typical Goran tale. Last year he was playing at a tournament in Brighton, England, when he gets upset at a few calls. Goes a little bonkers. He breaks one Head racket. Then another. There goes a third. He is losing his head as he loses his Heads. He murders a fourth racket, looks into his bag and... no more rackets. He had to default the match. "Nothing is normal with Goran," says his coach, Vedran Martic, "which is why we all love him."
Just take a look at the year he has had. Ivanisevic lost in the first round at the Australian Open, playing horribly. "I almost tanked, actually," he admitted. "I thought, What am I doing here?" He spent the month of May pursuing his other passion, the soccer team Hajduk Split. On the eve of the French Open, Ivanisevic was 800 miles away from Stade Roland Garros, in the city of Varazdin, watching Hajduk Split beat Varteks, 4-2, for the Croatian title. Though offered a V.I.P. seat, Ivanisevic chose to stand with the rabble as Hajduk won its first championship in six years.
He came to Wimbledon having won seven matches all year and then won seven in a single fortnight. Ivanisevic beat good friend Patrick Rafter in the memorable five-set finale, ending with a 9-7 tie-breaker. Then it was on to Split "for my striptease in front of 150,000" people, among them Atlanta Hawk forward Toni Kukoc. Afterward it was on to the two-day bacchanal on the holiday island of Brac on the Adriatic Sea before embarking on a 10-day cruise on his boat, Veselka, which is named for his grandmother.
Alas, it was not all smooth sailing for Ivanisevic this summer. He lent his Porsche 911 Carrera to his friend and hitting partner, Jozo Dumanic, who promptly drove it at 100 mph through the city center of Split and eventually into a parked Mercedes. Both cars were totaled, but miraculously no one was injured. And on that 10-day cruise on the Veselka -- did we mention that he was accompanied by his model girlfriend Tanja Dragovic?-- the boat suffered engine problems, and the trip was aborted after two days.
But life is treating Goran Ivanisevic well these days, and best of all, he treasures his good fortune. After Wimbledon, for example, he exclaimed, "I had two dreams in my life. One of them was to win Wimbledon, which I did. And the other was to play just once for Hajduk Split." The soccer team will oblige Split's favorite son, having signed him to play in a game for them next season. Imagine Andre Agassi proclaiming that he'd like to play centerfield for the New York Yankees, just for an inning. This is no different.
"My dream is to have five minutes in one game," says Ivanisevic. "I mean, I'm going to be even more nervous because is not my sport. When they going to give me the ball, I going to get rid of the ball straightaway, just give it to the closest guy next to me--even if he's from the other team."
They talk about the good Goran and the bad Goran. The Wimbledon champ versus the racket-breaker. The man who was ranked as high as 6th on the ATP Tour three years ago and as low as 129th last year. As if the man from Split has a split personality. The beauty of it all is that whether he's part of a mob watching Hajduk Split or standing in front of one back in Split, he's always the same guy.
"Goals?" he said, when someone asked the most recent Grand Slam champ what his goals are now that he has conquered the All England Lawn & Tennis Club. "I don't know. Just try to be happy."