It's new Goran versus the sassy sister show
Wimbledon champ Ivanisevic is a changed man
By Kevin Mitchell
Sunday, 26 August 2001
John McEnroe was the master of manipulation, tugging at the emotions of opponents, officials and his ever-rapt audience. Goran Ivanisevic is not far behind.
The Croatian does not so much wear his heart on his sleeve as tear it out, drape it across the net and let it leak all over us. Few who were transfixed by the big man's progress at Wimbledon this summer - including his beaten opponent in the final, Pat Rafter - will need reminding of the pain in his tears as he served his way to the most extraordinary of wins.
In pursuit of his first title there after three failed finals, he let us know that his body was falling apart, and his head might be not far from imploding as well. It was difficult not to become wrapped up in his quest, as he invoked divine help and all the goodwill he could generate with one boyish quip after another. By the time he walked out to face Rafter, he had all but captured the nation. Even Rafter felt sorry for him. It was a brilliant strategy.
That is not to say Ivanisevic was making it up; only that he was making the most of it. Having packed his body with as many painkillers as his doctors deemed safe during Wimbledon fortnight, he let his booming serve go in the knowledge that his elbow could collapse at any moment. In essence, he had everything - and nothing - to lose.
In the fifth set and in sight of the prize, he double-faulted, aced and hung on, letting the tears flow in the closing moments. Not even a McEnroe tantrum could match Goran's crying game that day.
That was Wimbledon, though. This week he has a more psychologically robust arena in which to perform. If he progresses beyond the first couple of rounds, he will no doubt provide New Yorkers at the US Open with another bravura display. In a city where analysis is a way of life, Goran is ready for the couch.
Flushing Meadows, stuck under a flight path and peopled by the most unrestrained fans in tennis, is a pit of noise like few others in sport; if a player can't let loose at the US Open, he or she is not the owner of a pulse. Since he won Wimbledon, Ivanisevic has kept his body and mind together.
More or less. His game is in good shape, too, he says. Last week, he went out in the first round of the Hamlet Cup in Commack, New York, losing 6-3 7-5 to the Spanish qualifier Felix Mantilla, but he was unfazed.
'I think I hit the ball very well,' he said. 'My elbow actually hurts so it would help if I could serve without pain. But I'm very pleased with the way I hit the ball from the baseline. Overall I'm not very disappointed with the way I played.'
When goran is happy, he's dangerous. And there is little doubt that his win at Wimbledon made him the happiest man in his home town of Split, whose citizens came out to greet his return in huge numbers. He doesn't need to play mind-games with his compatriots; they understand well enough the nature of his harmless craziness.
But he will still have to grit his teeth this week.
'I'm going to have to drink a lot of painkillers,' he said, 'and pray every night - like I did at Wimbledon. And then we'll see. I took so many painkillers at Wimbledon I can't even count how many I took.'
Ivanisevic says he might have to bypass the Australian Open so he can have corrective surgery on his elbow, although he expresses no great confidence in the predictions of those who will carve him open.
'They say it will take between four and 12 weeks [to recuperate after the operation]. I would be happy with 10 weeks so I'll probably miss the Aus tralian Open. Ten weeks is what the doctor says, then you come again after two months and they say "Sorry, you need another surgery." But hopefully I won't have any more problems.'
Having put his considerable but fragile game together, Ivanisevic is not about to walk away from tennis when he has hit a good vein of form, especially towards the end of a career that has promised much more than it has delivered.
After Flushing, he will play the indoor tournaments, with his eye on a place in the Masters Cup in Sydney. 'It's better if I play more because I get into a rhythm, because as soon as I don't play... that's why I don't play doubles because I serve every four games so I get cold and I have problems.'
Meanwhile he handles his suffering by talking us through it.
'I don't know how much longer I'm going to play, but for sure I'm going to play next year. I can't play every day when I have to take painkillers. I can't remember the last time I hit my first serve without pain. So I want to hit one time a first serve and feel no pain. At least for one day and I'd be happy.
'But for sure next year and maybe one more year. But if I want to continue to play, I've got to do this. For now I just struggle with it.
'Last year [at the US Open] I was hurt, but my brain was not there. I had a different problem. Shoulder plus brain, that's too much [of a problem]. It's enough with the shoulder, but with the brain as well it's not good. Now it's [brain] better, I'm very confident.'
Shoulder, elbow, brain, heart. You get the whole enchilada with Goran Ivanisevic.