The Telegraph 2001
The three Gorans return home
By Andrew Baker
This morning, those Croatians who have been to bed will wake happy but hungover, while their compatriots with staying-power will enjoy tipsy breakfasts. Their young country will have never known a party like last night's festivities on the streets of Split, where more than 100,000 people gathered to celebrate the achievements of one man.
Croatia has enjoyed sporting success before - most notably when the national football team finished third in the World Cup in France in 1998. But Goran Ivanisevic's long-awaited and longed-for victory in the men's final at Wimbledon far eclipses the footballers' efforts.
Inevitably, Ivanisevic has become an unofficial ambassador for his nation. His personal characteristics - and they are very characteristic - have come to stand for the personality of his nation. This is a stereotyping process that the player himself has endorsed and encouraged. "Where I come from, we are very temperamental people," he said before leaving London yesterday. "But I think that tennis fans like to see this."
Throughout Wimbledon, Ivanisevic played up to the image of the demented genius. With wit and cunning he spun the tale of his multiple personalities, Good Goran, Bad Goran and Emergency Goran, simultaneously keeping the press and public happy and encouraging his competitors to believe that he was on the verge of mental collapse whenever he walked on court.
Had he lost in the final - had that moment of raw, net-kicking rage ruined his game, or the rash of last-gasp double faults proved his downfall - his countrymen would have been saddled with the image of the fascinating but ultimately fragile loser. The nerve held, as the world knows, and the serve held too, through pain and pressure.
So the national image that Croatians can now enjoy is a positive one: the dashing victor, the wounded stalwart who refuses to submit, noble in victory and warm in celebration. This fact has not been lost on the country's rulers. "The President and the Prime Minister have telephoned to congratulate me," Ivanisevic said. "Everyone is congratulating me. They have to. I'm the champion."
He is the champion because the image of mental fragility that he cannily pushed throughout the tournament turned out to be false. Ivanisevic's last two matches at Wimbledon, against Tim Henman in their protracted semi-final and Pat Rafter in the tension-fuelled final, were temperamental tests as tough as any player will ever have encountered.
Yet it was not the supposedly mercurial Croatian who folded throughout the rain delays, or lost his nerve as the fervour of the people's Monday crowd mounted. He might have lost his temper in the final, but he did not lose control. "It's better to let it out and show a little emotion," he said. "If I keep it in I might snap. A lot of guys now are like robots, they have all the ground strokes but no emotions, nothing. People like to see a little bit of action."
Especially a Centre Court crowd of genuine enthusiasts. "English supporters are not quiet," Ivanisevic said. "They are a little wild and they see that in me. It's a dream of every player to walk on to Centre Court and have a match like that final - that kind of support and atmosphere."
The Good Goran took that atmosphere back to Split with him on a private jet yesterday afternoon, and is hoping to use some of the interest - hysteria - generated by his success to step up the search for a home-grown successor. "My mum rang this morning," he said, "and told me everyone was playing tennis in the streets. Hopefully, in years to come, there will be a new Goran to come here and win." As if three weren't enough.