THE CRAZY CROAT KEEPS HIS HEAD
The Evening Standard
28 June 1994
By Michael Herd
GORAN IVANISEVIC is showing remarkable restraint this year. Since other players sometimes refer to him as the Crazy Croat, this is a welcome if surprising development. "I feel happy," he says. "I'm not losing my mind. I'm not throwing the rackets. I frightened. I don't understand it."
Ivanisevic had hoped to be facing Jeremy Bates in the men's quarter-finals because, although he doesn't like to play Brits too much, it would have been fun to play against the whole country. As we know, alas, Bates was routed on Monday night, so the Croat will play Guy Forget, of France, for a place in Friday's semi-finals.
It is his intention to go one better than in 1992 when he was beaten in the final here by the also recently and, in his case, decently departed Andre Agassi. A couple of years ago, recalls Ivanisevic, he served 200 aces. Yesterday, in a four-set victory over Alexander Volkov, he served another 35. "I serving great. But it has nothing to do with tennis."
This is demonstrably not true, of course, since the 22-year-old Croat's serve is said to be the best in the business; a bomb that booms in from eight feet, brutalising the ball and bewildering an opponent. In the match against Volkov, Ivanisevic dropped his first set of the tournament. In keeping with his new image, he was unconcerned.
"I don't care if I has to stay there 10 hours as long as I win. I believe I'm ready because I'm playing good tennis. I moving better, I coming closer to the net."
He has a lovely way of expressing himself. When you ask him about a plan to speed up matches, he explains: "Good. I like to play fast. Too many players bounce the ball, they look at me, they look at the ground. They bounce it 10 times. They look at the sky. They bounce it again an' I fall asleep."
Ivanisevic started his tennis career as a Yugoslav but at the Barcelona Olympics he won a bronze medal for Croatia and carried the country's flag at the opening ceremony. He talked about leaving his tax haven in Monte Carlo - he has already banked five million dollars in prize money - and returning to fight but was advised (probably by an agent) that he could do more for his country using a racket instead of a rifle.
"This is how I fight for my country. If I do well, I know it will make everyone very proud and very happy."
How long will it last, the new image of a man who, even at the age of 22, has almost as many nicknames as tennis titles? The Crazy Croat, the Wild One, Ivan the Terrible, and so on.
"I'm still going to swear, I'm still going to talk to the umpires, still going to throw the racket sometimes because I feel like that. But it doesn't have to be like before when I was doing that. I was losing the games and points because I couldn't control myself. Now I'm doing that and I can control myself. But I'm doing that much less because it's very expensive, you know. In Australia, they fined me 7,000 dollars."
With Boris Becker fighting to stay in the tournament today, Ivanisevic is the only character definitely through to the last eight. The others are jolly nice chaps but boring, boring, boring. Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Guy Forget, Todd Martin and a couple of Swedes, the unseeded Jonas Bjorkman and Christian Bergstrom. So who does he fear. The answer, it seems, is no-one.
"There is Pete, number one favourite. But he is only number one favourite because he won last year. This year the Grand Slams are pretty strange."
Well, the Croat is pretty strange himself. Two years ago he ate the same food in the same London restaurant every day for a week. Soup, lamb chops with French fries and vanilla ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce. "I mean, in that restaurant they believed me nuts. I didn't have to order any more there. They just bring it to me. But for the past couple of years I'm not eating lamb chops any more."
He has decided he prefers to eat opponents but how long will that last, as well? It all depends on the serve. "The worst thing is if my serve is not working. Then I start to panic and have to practice every day for an hour. That is how I am. My rhythm is there and I go and serve 35 aces. I can practice all day my serve and then come next day I can't hit one ace. It's not a matter of practice. It's just how is my rhythm on the day and how I feel."
So far Goran's got rhythm. It could just help him dance all the way to next Sunday's final.