Goran Ivanisevic Article

LA Times - 9 July 2001
Goran, Goran, Gone
By RANDY HARVEY, Times Assistant Sports Editor

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Wimbledon: Ivanisevic outlasts Rafter to become first wild-card winner of a Grand Slam tournament.

WIMBLEDON, England - Serving for the match against Tim Henman in Sunday's semifinal, Goran Ivanisevic said his left arm, his serving arm, felt as if it weighed 20 pounds. On Monday, serving against Pat Rafter for the Wimbledon championship, Ivanisevic said the arm weighed at least twice that.

It showed in the anguish on his face, the quiver in his serving motion, the heaviness of his legs. You got the feeling that the only person on earth he wouldn't have traded places with was Rafter.

On match point, with Ivanisevic holding an 8-7 lead in the fifth set, tears began to well in his eyes. He tried to compose himself, wiping his face, lifting his socks, licking his lips. Then he served.

Fault. Double fault.

He regained the advantage when Rafter's return hit the net. Ivanisevic again served for the match.

Fault. Double fault.

Rafter committed another error, hitting a backhand wide. Ivanisevic knelt at the spot where Rafter's shot had gone out and crossed himself. For the third time, Ivanisevic served for the match.

Rafter repelled him, evening the score with a magnificent lob.

But if the burden of having to win the match weighed like a boulder on Ivanisevic's tender shoulder, then the seeming inevitability of losing wore at Rafter. He hit successive returns of second serves into the net, ending the match.

"Otherwise, we'd still be out there," Ivanisevic said.

As it was, he was the champion, having won, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7, in the most dramatic, if not necessarily most masterfully played, Wimbledon men's final since Bjorn Borg's five-set (8-6 in the fifth) victory over John McEnroe in 1980.

Thus ended a memorable fortnight - plus one day. This will be looked back upon as the Wimbledon in which a wave of young players served notice they are ready to contend in Grand Slam tournaments.

But, in the end, two worn-down warhorses met at Center Court for the title.

It was no surprise to find Rafter, 28, there. Although he is contemplating retirement at the end of the year because of chronic shoulder pain, he reached the final last year, losing in four sets to Pete Sampras, and was seeded third this year.

Meantime, Ivanisevic, 29, might have been the most unlikely finalist in the tournament's 134-year history.

Twice ranked as high as No. 4 in the year-end world rankings, he had reached the Wimbledon final three times and lost - in 1992 to Andre Agassi and in '94 and '98 to Sampras. He often was referred to as the best player never to have won a major tournament.

It appeared as if he would never lose that distinction. Suffering from his own deteriorating shoulder, he hadn't won a tournament in almost three years. He had won only eight matches in 2001 before arriving at Wimbledon and was ranked 125th. That corresponded with the 125-1 odds against him in the tout shops.

He was at Wimbledon only by special invitation from the All England Club. No so-called wild-card had advanced beyond the quarterfinals. The last unseeded player to win the championship was Boris Becker in 1985.

Rafter and Ivanisevic were popular finalists. In the Wimbledon shop on the grounds, their posters were, respectively, the third- and fourth-largest sellers - behind those of Anna Kournikova, who didn't even play this year because of injury, and the local favorite Henman.

So a people's champion was guaranteed for People's Monday, so named because club officials, faced with an additional day of play after weekend rain, had made available 10,000 Center Court tickets, first come, first served.

They weren't cheap - $55 per - -but it was a rare opportunity for people without club, corporate or royal connections. They began lining up as soon as the policy was announced Sunday evening and about 5,000 spent the night in tents while waiting for the ticket boxes to open at 9:30 a.m.

Most of the standing-room-only crowd of more than 14,000 at Center Court by the noon start seemed to be Australians, who waved national flags and plastic kangaroos and sang "Waltzing Matilda" in support of Rafter.

Ivanisevic, having played Henman and Britain's Greg Rusedski in earlier matches, was accustomed to hearing more cheers for his opponents. But he did have supporters from his native Croatia and elsewhere, and while they weren't as numerous, they were as spirited. The Portuguese umpire several times asked the crowd for quiet.

"It was just electric," Rafter said of the atmosphere.

He said the Duchess of Kent, who had shared the royal box with dignitaries ranging from her husband, the Duke of Kent, to Jack Nicholson and Lara Flynn Boyle, told him afterward that she wished every match was exactly like it.

Perhaps it was the tension of the final or the raucous crowd, but neither player was close to his best.

Ivanisevic figured to be at a disadvantage, starting the match fewer than 24 hours after finishing a three-day, rain-interrupted semifinal victory over Henman. But Rafter appeared particularly out of sorts early, perhaps because he hadn't faced a serve anything like Ivanisevic's in the tournament. Before the final, Ivanisevic had served 186 aces in six matches, more than double any other player.

That would take a toll. Before this match was finished, he had 27 more aces. But he also had required medical attention twice for his shoulder and double-faulted 16 times.

Ivanisevic broke Rafter in his first service game and won the set, 6-3. But Rafter has been behind before, most notably in the semifinal when he charged from the brink of defeat to beat the second-seeded Agassi. He broke Ivanisevic on his first service game in the second set and won, 6-3. Ivanisevic broke Rafter once in the third set and won, 6-3.

Who would crack first? It appeared as if it would be Ivanisevic, who was called for a foot fault, giving Rafter a break point in the sixth game of the fourth set, then had a second serve he thought was in called out to give Rafter a break.

Ivanisevic had done a remarkable job of controlling his famous temper, calling on an alter ego he refers to as Emergency 911 when he was about to boil over. This time, however, he slammed his racket to the ground, kicked the net and yelled at the umpire. He lost the set.

In the past, that would have been the end for Ivanisevic. But he regained his composure, broke Rafter in the fifth game of the fifth set with two excellent passing shots off second serves and soon was serving for the match.

Torturously.

"I knew I was going to have one, two double faults," he said. "Then I hit an unbelievable serve. He made the return of the match and then hit a lob. I said, 'No, no, no, this is not true.'

"And then I say, 'OK, fourth match point, just put that second serve in, doesn't matter where. Maybe he's going to miss.' And he did it."

Said Rafter: "I knew he was tight. But I just couldn't get the ball back over."

Rafter, on the other side last year at Wimbledon when Sampras broke Roy Emerson's record for Grand Slam titles with his 13th, now has watched Ivanisevic become the first wild-card champion in a Grand Slam tournament.

"At the expense of me," Rafter said, smiling. "I'm sick of making bloody history."

Ivanisevic said he can't wait to return to Wimbledon as defending champion, although he doesn't care if he wins it - or anything else - again.

"This is so great, to touch the trophy," he said. "I don't care if I ever win a match in my life again... This is it. This is the end of the world."