Goran wants fitting swansong
17 June 2004
By Raoul Simons
Like a veteran detective who must solve one final case before handing in his badge, Goran Ivanisevic is determined to go out on a high.
Given the severity of the shoulder injury that has blighted his career for the past three years, the Croatian should have long since retired.
But a heartfelt wish to return to the scene of his greatest triumph, to take the applause of the Wimbledon crowd, has kept him playing.
Ivanisevic stunned tennis in 2001 when, after entering the tournament as a wildcard, he won the All England Championships.
It was an emotional victory for a player who had lost three previous finals and his roguish charm won him legions of British fans, even though he eliminated Tim Henman in the semi-finals.
Shoulder surgery then deprived him of the chance to return as champion in 2002 and it was a similar story last year following an abortive comeback at Queen's.
So when Ivanisevic walks onto the SW19 grass next week, it will be for the first time since he lifted the famous gold trophy. The 32-year-old has also announced the tournament will be his last as a professional.
Ivanisevic said: "I was thinking a lot over the last two years about whether I should come back, but I think I owe it to myself and my fans in Britain to play one more Wimbledon.
" This is going to be my last professional match and there is no better tournament to end my career.
"It's going to be very tough walking to the net for the last time. That will be it after 15 years. No more professional tennis. I don't know what kind of emotions are going to go through my head. It will be interesting.
"Wimbledon is everything to me. I've reached three finals and two other semi-finals. It took a lot of years of my life but it also gave me a lot. We have a special relationship."
Now ranked 415 in the world, the patched-up Ivanisevic is not the force of old. Still dogged by injury problems, he has struggled on the ATP tour this season with only two wins from 11 matches.
Even a return to his favoured grass-court surface at Queen's last week did not have the desired effect. The trademark big serve was in working order but the rest of his game floundered during a first-round defeat by Romania's Victor Hanescu.
Ivanisevic is now counting on a combination of inspiration and luck to avoid embarrassment at Wimbledon. He said: "Roger Federer may be the defending champion but I am undefeated since 2000!
"My shoulder is fine and if I have a good draw, who knows? I don't want to play any of the big guys in the first round. I would like a clay-court specialist. Then if you win through one round your confidence rises.
"My goal is to pass the first week and after that, who cares?
"The last two years were very tough for me. It's like when you don't drive a car for two years, you have to change the parts. But I can't change all of my body.
"Every time I play now, I get small injuries; not just my shoulder, but my back, my knee and my neck. I just pray I don't get hurt again before it starts. I have to be careful because I can get injured getting out of bed nowadays!
"I need three more wins for 600 victories in my career and it would be nice to get those at Wimbledon.
"I'm not bothered which court I play on. The important thing for me is to walk out once more as a player.
"Next year I will come back as a member with a tie and have tea."
At odds of 100-1, the bookmakers don't rate his chances of winning the event and even Ivanisevic is not tempted, preferring to back British No1 Henman.
He said: "I think Tim will win. I'm going to put some money on him. For me, it's the first year he is the favourite.
"He has proved he can beat these guys on clay so he has found something that was missing from his game before.
"The way he is playing tennis is great to watch and I hope he wins. He deserves it."
While faith in Henman may further endear Ivanisevic to the Wimbledon public, his football allegiance is likely to have the opposite effect.
England face Croatia on Monday and the Balkan country's No1 sports star is confident his team will dump Sven-Goran Eriksson's boys out of Euro 2004.
Ivanisevic said: "It's going to be an exciting game and may decide who goes through with France. Of course, I think we are going to go through."
A huge football fan, Ivanisevic plans to watch the match at his London home with his friend Zvonimir Boban, Croatia's captain at the 1998 World Cup.
By the end of Euro 2004, Ivanisevic will have joined Boban among the ranks of Croatia's retired sporting greats, yet he remains undecided about what to do next. He said: "I will probably play some exhibitions and spend some time with my daughter. Then we will see what happens."