Ivanisevic withdraws from Wimbledon
By Ron Atkin
8th May 2002
Wimbledon Men's Singles champion, Goran Ivanisevic, will not be able to defend his title at the 2002 Championships from June 24 - July 7.
The condition of the Croatianís ailing left shoulder has deteriorated so much that the operation he has been deferring for the past two years is now urgently necessary. He will undergo the surgery in Germany next week.
'I am very disappointed, but I had no other choice,' said the 30-year-old Ivanisevic, who has been able to play only 13 singles matches this year. 'I wanted so much to appear in the opening match on Centre Court and I know my supporters will be as disappointed as I am.' He called it 'one of the heaviest decisions of my life.'
Shoulder pain caused Ivanisevic to pull out of his last two tournaments, the Tennis Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami, but Ivanisevic was so keen to play the traditional opening match on the first day of The Championships, he ignored the worsening condition of an injury which could well terminate his career. However, following a practice session on the Croatian island of Brac he took the decision to withdraw.
'It still hurts a lot,' he said. 'Whenever I lift my hand to serve I feel a pain in my shoulder.'
The problem is a torn rotator cuff, the injury for which Patrick Rafter has had surgery and which has precipitated the Australianís decision to take at least six months off this year, and possibly never return. This means that neither of last yearís finalists will be able to play Wimbledon this year because of an identical injury.
Ivanisevic is the first Wimbledon menís champion since Stan Smith in 1973 not to defend his title. Smith, who defeated Ilie Nastase in 1972, joined the ATP boycott of The Championships and the 1973 title was won by the Czech, Jan Kodes.
There have been 24 previous cases of the menís champion not returning to defend. In the early days it was frequently because overseas winners could not make the long journey by sea, then from 1930 onwards the decision of the top players to turn professional once they had become Wimbledon champion automatically barred them.
Eleven champions, from Bill Tilden and Fred Perry to Lew Hoad and Rod Laver, eliminated themselves by becoming professionals, though in Laverís case the arrival of Open tennis in 1968 offered him the chance to come back and win two more Championships.
In only one previous instance, William Renshaw in 1887, has the Wimbledon menís winner been prevented by injury from defending the following year, when he withdrew with tennis elbow.
So the wild card offered by the All England Club to Ivanisevic last year turned out to be providential. It was awarded for services rendered to the tournament by someone who finally succeeded after 13 successive years of competition and three runner-up positions in 1992 (to Andre Agassi) and 1994 and 1998 (to Pete Sampras).
In a 14-year career which brought him 22 titles, Wimbledon last year was his only Grand Slam success.
After lengthy celebrations which followed that victory over Rafter, Ivanisevic insisted he would take care to ensure his shoulder, damaged by years of high-speed serving, would be in good enough shape for him to return for the 2002 Championships. But it was not to be. Sadly, the surgeonís knife is the winner.