Ivanisevic set for final bow
17 June 2004
By Claire Middleton
The countdown has begun for Goran Ivanisevic, who plays the last tournament of his eventful career at Wimbledon. He will practise for the next four days and then see how it goes: it could be 24 hours, or a fortnight, but when he loses - or wins the thing on July 4 - that will be it.
The last time he turned up in such a philosophical mood was 2001, when he arrived with a wildcard and left with the trophy. A part of him wishes he had quit there and then, for a succession of injuries has made the tour since "a nightmare" and prevented his return to SW19. However, he was not going to end things without saying farewell to the event by which he is defined: he is the unbeaten champion and his final challenge will be to see if he can stay that way.
"I could have stayed at home and say nobody defeated me, but I owe it to myself to play another one," he said yesterday, following a 7-6, 7-6 victory over Nicolas Massu, of Chile, at the Boodle and Dunthorne Champions' Challenge, at Stoke Park near Slough.
"If I had known then what I know now, I would have retired. I have been struggling for two years and I still never know whether I am going to be able to serve today, or tomorrow. But when you win Wimbledon, you want to play a bit as the Wimbledon champion."
Shoulder and elbow injuries have restricted his appearances, though he was happy to have served at 220 kilometres at Queen's last week - hitting that mark, he said, for the first time since 1994. So what does he expect from his curtain call next week?
"I don't know, I could play anyone but all I know is that it is right that I should finish things at Wimbledon. It is the biggest tournament and the people seem to like me - I don't know why."
He is uncertain as to what happens next in his life, though, judging by his performance at this pre-Wimbledon garden party, he has a golden future ahead on the seniors' tour.
His match with Massu turned into a chortle fest, with Ivanisevic prevailing in two tie-breaks despite his continuous banter with the crowd. Oh, how they laughed.
The field here is eight strong, with Mark Philippoussis, last year's Wimbledon finalist, and David Nalbandian, the 2002 runner-up, the other main attractions. The schedule is also expanded with exhibition matches, with Andy Roddick, minus the beard, seeing off Radek Stepanek yesterday 6-4, 7-6 and Tim Henman, expected today, to face Massu.
It is Henman's only "competitive" outing before Wimbledon, following his surprise first-round exit at Queen's last week and organisers could hardly refuse him: after all, as a keen golfer, he is an honorary member here.