Thanks for the Memories, Goran
25 June 2004
Mark Staniforth, PA Sport
Goran Ivanisevic can rest easy in the knowledge that his straight-sets defeat by Lleyton Hewitt which finally brought a close to his extraordinary Wimbledon career will not linger in the memory for long.
The 32-year-old Croatian always knew in his heart that from the moment he crumpled in an emotional heap upon the Centre Court grass following his final victory over Pat Rafter in 2001, his epic All England Club mission was complete.
“This is what I was waiting for all my life,” said Ivanisevic, coveting the golden trophy he had chased through one-and-a-half decades of up-and-down agony before finally winning it at a time when all had seemed lost.
“All my life I was always second. The people respect me but second place is not good enough. And finally I am champion of Wimbledon. This is everything to me, my dreams have come true.
“Whatever I do in life, wherever I go, I will always be Wimbledon champion.”
Ivanisevic had been swept along on a wave of public support after squeezing into the main draw on a wild card. Ravaged by a career-threatening shoulder injury, he was not tipped to survive the first week and expected even less.
Eight months previously, Ivanisevic was contemplating retirement as his career hit rock bottom in Brighton when he smashed all his rackets and was forced to default from his match against Korean Hjung-Taik Lee. Just fortnight before Wimbledon began, he was bundled out of the Stella Artois Championships in the first round by an unknown Italian midget called Cristiano Caratti.
Ivanisevic needed all the help he could get, and he got it from a quarter so unlikely only Goran could have come up with it. He revealed after his shock second-round win over American upstart Andy Roddick how a battery of alter-egos were helping the pursuit of his destiny.
“They were nervous. I said ‘guys, guys, one of you has to be under control,” explained Ivanisevic to a perplexed media horde shortly after his victory.
“One has to be under control. But one was rushing and the other was rushing even more. Then the third one came and said, ‘guys, relax, it’s a lovely court, just calm down’.
“The third one had to come. He’s the emergency one. He came on a deuce, ‘calm down’, two aces, thank you. That’s the one who comes when there is an emergency situation. He is behind the scenes. He is the brain man.”
Goran could always count on a growing band of supporters willing to be put through the emotional wringer. Something about this unruly, ragged Croatian with the fearsome serve and the self-deprecatory charm struck an All England Club chord.
Since his first final defeat to Andre Agassi in 1992 Ivanisevic’s quest for that elusive crown had gathered pace, publicity and plenty of prayers.
Twice more he was agonisingly to fail at the final hurdle having provided no answer to the blurring serve of Pete Sampras.
But none of the glorious near-misses that had gone before could prepare Ivanisevic or the tennis world in general for the 2001 final which the late, great English tennis journalist John Parsons called one of the greatest finals in his 44 years of covering The Championships.
By a magnificent twist of fate rain pushed the final back to a third Monday and the Centre Court stands were jammed with flag-waving fans who had braved a night on the SW19 pavements to cheer on two of the most popular players in the game. ‘People’s Monday’ prepared to acclaim a people’s champion.
Ivanisevic’s long association with almost unwatchable tennis drama reached its peak as he twice blew a one-set lead then three times in the deciding set had to hold a double-faulting service game to keep his dream alive.
Even after breaking the Australian amid wild celebrations in the 15th game of the set it was to be no plain sailing. Goran greeted his first Championship point by looking to the heavens with tears in his eyes – and double-faulted again. His serving arm suddenly feeling as heavy as the stanchions holding up Centre Court, he did it again. Rafter saved the third chance with an inch-perfect forehand.
Then came the fourth opportunity and the Rafter backhand into net which sparked the indelible images of Goran shaking on the Centre Court grass, then clambering Pat Cash-like into the players’ box to embrace his father Srdjan, whose dodgy heart had somehow held out amid all the tension.
“I think I’m dreaming,” said Ivanisevic after realising his dream 15 years after his first attempt as a mere 16-year-old had ended in a first-round defeat to Israeli Amos Mansdorf.
“I don’t even care now if I never win another match in my life again. This was a dream all my life. This is the end of the world.”
Sadly Ivanisevic’s new dream of returning to Centre Court the following year as defending champion was shattered by the shoulder problem which had miraculously held up just long enough to take him all the way to the title.
His injury could not deny him one last hurrah, however, and enough of the old magic returned in his first round win over Mikael Youzhny to plant fanciful notions of a repeat fairytale into enough of his supporters’ heads.
But after donning the Croatia football shirt and waving to all corners of the court Ivanisevic headed out of the gentlemen’s singles for the final time.
One of the sport’s most popular champions may have gone, but the memories he created will sweep away the cobwebs in the All England Club corridors for many more years to come.