The OK! Exclusive In-Depth Interview - 2001
Issue 277, August 17 2001
From His Croatian Home, The Wild Card Talks About His Historic Wimbledon Win
Interviewer - black
Goran - Sage
Click pictures to see bigger version
Goran Ivanisevic is the man who stole the hearts of the British population when he became the first-ever player to win the coveted title of Wimbledon Champion after entering the tournament on a wild card. The nation's tennis fans cheered him on as he bounced back from three previous final defeats to claim the prize he says has been his 'biggest dream' since he was a little boy. And, while doing so, the 29-year-old Croatian from Split threw a generous amount of his firey temperament into his matches. He even managed to set millions of hearts a flutter with his shirtless antics!
Since becoming the most talked about champion of recent years, Goran is finally managing to take a well-earned break from his gruelling training schedule and the emotional roller-coaster that comes with the territory when competing in a major tournament. Back with his family in Split, where he live in the same apartment block as his parents, Gorana and Srdjan, Goran is wallowing in his well-deserved status as Croatia's national hero. However, unlike some superstars, he is happy to pose for photos and sign autographs whenever he is asked and, unlike the temperamental character we see on the tennis court, he is about as placid as a person can be. He is remarkably close to his parents and sister, Srdjana, and is making plans to move into a new apartment with his beautiful girlfriend, 22-year-old Croatian model Tatjana Dragovic.
In this stunning and exclusive photo shoot Goran allowed OK! to visit him in his enchanting home town as he introduces possibly the proudest family in the whole of Croatia...
Congratulations on becoming the Wimbledon Champion. You said you knew that this was your year...
I didn't know but everything was going in that direction. Out of nowhere everything was becoming reality - with the wild card and then the first and second matches. Everything was going my way. The three times before I had to fight too much - this time everything was going smoothly. It was clearer that I could do it this time.
You said you could quite happily put down your racquet forever if you won Wimbledon...
You can win other tournaments but Wimbledon is the biggest. Now whatever I do and whatever happens to me, no one can take that away. This is like a Cinderella story for me. It never happened in the history of tennis that a guy with a wild card won a grand slam. It's just the best scenario.
You've achieved your greatest dream now you've won Wimbledon. How old were you when you realised you had such a talent?
I started playing when I was seven but I didn't know if I had talent or not. When I was ten, I was already one of the best under-12s, and then I was the best of the under-14s. They said I was one of the best but when you're very young you can't say whether you're going to be good or not.
How did you make the decision to turn professional?
It was a tough decision for the family. When I finished school at 14, they had to decide whether I'd continue my schooling or play tennis. When I signed with IMG, they said they would take me but that I would have to give up school. And so my family decided on the tennis and I think they made the right decision!
What sacrifices did your family have to make in order to support your tennis?
My father stopped working and they sold their apartment and stuff. Coming from a country like Croatia, there was no one else there to help me. I had to rely only on my father. It was tough. It was a big gamble but it paid off.
Your sister, Srdjana, was ill with Hodgkin's disease when you were starting your tennis career. How much motivation did this give you to succeed?
We needed money for treatments for her. At the time I started, I was ranked 500th in the world. It was 1989 and I went to Australia for the Australian Open. I started playing unbelievably well there - I qualified and went to the quarter-finals and I won over US$40,000! I carried it home in my jacket pocket and I didn't sleep all night from Australia to Europe. I was so warm in the plane with my jacket on, but I was so scared someone would steal it. I hadn't seen more than a $1 bill before and I had all that money in my pocket.
Was the war in Croatia another motivation for success?
It was nice for me to be able to play for my country. That was the best time of my life actually, the time of my career.
You said that you would do more for Croatia by holding a tennis racquet than by holding a gun...
I could have gone to fight but I have never held a gun in my life, so I wouldn't have lasted two minutes. With tennis, I could talk about Croatia, and in every interview I gave, I represented my country by telling people what was happening there. I could help much more in this way than I would be able to with a gun. I played for my country - for the people who were fighting here and I just had so much energy inside me it was incredible.
You received a number of death threats to your life during this time. Is it true you had to take a gun on the tennis court?
No, I never took a gun but there were a lot of problems with threats. Sometimes, when I went for dinner, there would be five bodyguards there with me. It was hard because you never knew who was going to call you or whatever and that was tough.
You claim to find your strength on court from God...
My family are Catholic and always believed in God and went to church. I don't have too much time to go to church but every time I come home I go. Everything that has happened to me is a gift from God. God gave me the talent and I gave the hard work and together it made me a good tennis player. And for everything I give thanks to God.
And it's been widely reported how superstitious you are...
I am, and there are so many superstitions. There can be ten or 20 and you think that each one can lose you the match. I have to try very hard not to forget one of them.
One of them was watching Teletubbies in the morning during Wimbledon fortnight...
For about five, ten or 15 minutes. It was fun to watch - I was always laughing. I know it's for the little kids but it's fun - they repeat everything 500 times!
Did you find it difficult during the Henman match, playing a British hero in a British tournament?
No, I knew it was going to be tough but I knew it was my chance because there was more pressure on him. The more days the match lasted, the better it was for me. The first day's rain helped me. The second day's rain didn't really help anybody but maybe it helped me more because he was playing well on the first day. But all the talk that Henman would be the first British man after Fred Perry to win Wimbledon and that there would be a Henman holiday if he won was hard for him.
Have you spoken to Tim since the match?
No - I don't think he would want to talk to me!
How did you react to the massive amount of British support you got during the tournament?
I think, to be serious, they felt sorry for me and then I got this chance to win. They always support me because I am different and the like someone who is different in temperament. On the inside, tennis players act like gentlemen but on the outside - when they see the supporters backing someone else - they are very temperamental people.
How did you feel the day after when you saw the UK newspapers encouraging you to win the final?
I didn't realise! I thought, what am I doing there? I thought that it was some kind of mistake. But it was good that I played the final straight after - normally we have the day off - and I still kept all of the emotions inside and that made me play better. I think it was to my advantage against Pat Rafter.
How did you feel on losing your first match points against Pat in the final? Did you think you might lost the title for the fourth time?
I though that maybe God was testing me again. He was testing me for two years when I went through a bad period, not knowing whether to quit or not. I knew I had to win this time, because I had come too far not to.
You're famous for your temperament on the court. Did you think at any stage you would lose your temper?
No, because I was too nervous to even say anything!
Can you remember falling to the ground when you won the match?
I didn't know what to do because everything was so emotional. It seemed like the best thing to do.
And you immediately ran up to greet your father in the spectators' box...
He looked as white as a wall! I always knew I would run up to him if I won.
Is it true that your mum can't watch your matches?
My mum cannot watch but she listens. When everybody is screaming she knows that I am winning!
How did you feel when you saw more than 300,000 people from Split waiting to greet you when you arrived back home from the UK?
It was like something you see once and then you can die! It was just crazy! It was the best thing that can happen to anybody. There were so many people pushing everywhere. And then I took my clothes off! It was a great experience.
How supportive have your family been throughout the highs and lows of your tennis career?
They are always there to support me. Through bad and good they are always there. My family and a couple of my closest friends are always there. My father gave up his career for me - to me, he is like my shadow, like a ghost.
And how important is it to have Tatjana's support?
She has been very supportive. It was not a perfect three years for me but it was tough for her because people said it was her fault, that when I met her my career went down. But it wasn't because of her, it was because things happened that way. It was not easy, especially when you want to prove yourself so badly and you can't. But after two years, I got my moment.
Does Tatjana come to most of your matches?
She travels to some tournaments with me but I understand that it's sometimes boring for her at the tournaments when I am practising all day. Then it's not fair to her. I have to take her to the best tournaments, where it's a good city, so she can be happy.
Why didn't Tatjana come with you to Wimbledon?
I wanted to go alone. I would rather be alone at these big tournaments because I can concentrate. I want to do my thing, you know. Just lie down and watch TV. It's too important to mess it up!
And are you going to come back with a vengeance next year?
I'll come back and give it my best, and I'm not going to need a wild card! Whatever happens, happens. I came this year and had one goal - to leave that place proud of myself. And I won it an now can be proud all the time. And next year, when I leave that place - the best place - I just want to be proud of myself and that's the biggest goal.
Interview by Ali Wick
Photographs by Tony Ward assisted by Jeremy Ruggles.
hair and make-up: Melissa Walsh using Face Stockholm products.
Styling: Nicola Van Lint.