By Neven Berticevic
So Ivanisevic Sr., a professor of pulse and digital technology at the University of Split, the largest town of Yugoslavia’s Adriatic coast, went to his closet, dusted off the Bancroft racket he had purchased a few years earlier while studying in the United States, put Goran in front of a back board and said, “ Son, play a little while. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He returned two hours later. The wall was still there and so was Goran, hitting with two hands off both sides. “ Ever since that first day”, says Ivanisevic Sr. “ Goran had the same motion on the backhand, the same shots, the same movement. He picked everything up himself.”
Goran did something else that day. He broke his first racket. It would not be his last.
Goran Ivanisevic was a born lefty, though his schoolteacher and first coach, Ladislav Kacer, tried to put both the pen – and the racket – in his right hand. Nothing doing. Ivanisevic writes left, eats left, plays left. At age 7 he went to tennis school, where Kacer, a master at spotting talent, saw in him something extraordinary. “ The kid was a genius”, Kacer recalls. “ There was never a shot he could not make.”
The Ivanisevic family lived some 100 yards from the tennis courts and from there, another 20 steps from the beach. A perfect place to enjoy the sun, sand and tennis – not necessarily in that order. Srdjan soon sold their house in order to further his son’s career. It was a gamble, but at the time there was no other choice. (Now he can buy it back, along with a few more.)
Goran was always a step ahead of his competition. At age 11 he won the Yugoslav 12-and-under Championship, dropping only three games in the process. But in 1985, long before John McEnroe, his “video-tape idol” got tossed out of the ’90 Australian Open, Goran was disqualified in the semi-finals of the European 14-and-under championships in Heidelberg, Germany. He played perfect tennis in the first set against Paul Dogger of the Netherlands, lost the second, then was given the boot following an outburst even his mother, Gorana ( after whom Goran is named ), could control.
If anything, the exposure he received after the Heidelberg incident helped Goran’s career. He never had much luck in the Orange Bowl in Florida, advancing to the semi-finals only once (in the 14’s) and losing in the first round of the 16’s. But management groups like IMG heard about the kid with the temper and how he had the making of a special player, “ not the least typical”, according to one observer. Then, during the Velrio Cup in Italy in 1987, Goran was disqualified again. Some claim it was the fault of inexperienced umpires. A few words were exchanged and it was over. Ivanisevic, then 16, was suspended for a month by the Yugoslav National Federation, but was allowed to join the satellite tour.
His first pro event was in Geneva, Switzerland. He made his way through the qualifiers and went two rounds, but because of a misunderstanding he forgot to pick up his prize money, which was forwarded to the next tournament. Ivanisevic ran out of money and for two days he ate nothing. He was too shy to ask for a loan and only after 48 hours did he phone his parents, who jumped in the car and made the 24-hour drive from Split to Switzerland to relieve Goran of his misery.
Ivanisevic is following in the footsteps of Nikki Pilic, the Davis Cup captain for Germany and Zeljko Fra?ulovic, a 1970 French Open finalist, both of whom are from Split. But tennis is not the only thing played there. Toni Kukoc, one of the world’s top amateur basketball players and second-round pick of the NBA Chicago Bulls is also a native of Split.
When he’s not practising, or playing tournaments, Ivanisevic goes to the movies and listens to music and just recently got his driving license. But mostly he likes to buy things for others, like his mother and sister Srdjana, a machine engineer and his 2-year old nephew, Ivan. Goran does not keep track of his money; the only thing he knows is that he has more than enough and that he will never have to go two days without eating again.
Thanks to Jenny for submitting this article.