Ivanisevic Talks, but Serve Talks Louder
The New York Times
August 30, 2001
By LIZ ROBBINS
Good Goran, the wacky racket- kissing comedian with a cannon serve, and now, a shiny new Wimbledon trophy, did not emerge in full until match point yesterday.
That was when Goran Ivanisevic stepped away from the service line, flashed a wide grin, and waved his arms to the packed Armstrong Stadium crowd wildly hailing him. "I was starting to have fun," Ivanisevic recalled. He stopped laughing in time to dispatch the 23-year-old American qualifier Hugo Armando, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, punctuating his first-round United States Open victory with 25 aces that canceled out his 27 unforced errors.
"I was too stiff in the beginning," he said. "I came into that court, and I never saw so many people watching my first round. I said, `What's going on here?' I was like, wow. Then I was very nervous."
At 29, Ivanisevic has become a national hero in Croatia since capturing the Wimbledon title as a wild card this July, on the fourth time he had reached the final. He celebrated for three sleepless nights in his hometown of Split, appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman," and signed a contract to make an appearance with the city's soccer team. "Everything is becoming famous, slowly," he said.
Yesterday, the newfound attention and pressure squeezed out some moments of Bad Goran - he sent careless forehands into the stands and scowled darkly - but they lingered only as long as the passing New York clouds over a sun that has warmed Ivanisevic's world since Wimbledon.
"Today was too nice a day to go back and spoil everything," he said. "Everything was nice, a lot of people supporting me, I'm playing good tennis. I don't want to go back."
Back would be as recent as last year, when he lost in the first round of the Open for the fourth time in 12 years. "Last year was a disaster," he said.
"I came here talking pretty sad things. But now is different. It's fun to play tennis again, it's great to be here."
At Wimbledon, Ivanisevic defeated Patrick Rafter after squandering three match points at a Monday final for his first-ever Grand Slam title. "If I win Wimbledon before, it wouldn't be like this," he said. "This is better. I think it was worth it to wait and suffer through three finals. To win in this kind of way, it was great."
When half his hometown serenaded him with music and colored smoke in a parade, he felt inspired to live up to his crazy image. "I had a good strip-tease in front of 150,000 people," he said.
But not everything about his victory was euphoric. In the news conference following the match, Ivanisevic dampened some of the spirit by using disparaging language referring to line officials, calling one line judge "ugly" and using a derogatory term for homosexuals in referring to another.
"That was just my expression," he said yesterday. "I didn't mean anything bad. I have nothing against anybody."
Then he offered an alternative to describe when he has a poor performance: "I can say I play like a woman."
Ivanisevic shook his head, unable to dislodge the foot from his mouth again.
Religious groups, he said, complained when he swore on the court at the Indianapolis tournament last month after breaking two rackets. "I can't please anybody," he said.
But it seems the Good Goran can please plenty of people lately, even himself. He won six of nine matches this summer and is seeded 15th at the Open. In 12 years, Ivanisevic's best finish was a semifinal loss to Pete Sampras in 1996, giving him hope for this Open. "Now I'm playing better tennis, more mature, more happy, more confident," he said.
He is playing, though, with an injured left (serving) shoulder that will require surgery after the season, and takes multiple painkillers before each match.
In between crisp stab-volley winners and blistering aces down the middle yesterday, Ivanisevic worked through his mistakes. His nerves yesterday showed him that rather than be satisfied by fulfilling his dream, he wants more.
Ivanisevic began the eighth game of the third set with a 125-mile-an- hour ace. And then he had a 112- m.p.h. ace. Armando hit a passing- shot winner. After being called for a foot-fault, his fourth, Ivanisevic blasted a 105-m.p.h. ace, on a second serve.
"I wish I had a bad day serving like that," Armando said.
Armando hit his backhand long to end the match. He understood the crowd's favoritism; he, too, is an Ivanisevic fan. "You've just got to smile, what can you say about it?" Armando said. "He's waited all his life to win Wimbledon. I'm sure he's enjoying it."
There was no need to bring the Emergency Goran yesterday, what Ivanisevic calls the mediator who has mollified his split personalities at crucial times, as he did at Wimbledon.
"He's here," Ivanisevic said. "He always has to be here. He was enjoying today with the New York crowd up there. He didn't have to come down because they both were very nervous, Good One and Bad One, but things were under control."
Then he smiled. "A lot of things have changed around me, but inside I am the same Goran."