The Times - 2001
Split goes bananas for local hero Goran
BY ALLAN HALL
GORAN IVANISEVIC, the Wimbledon champion, arrived home yesterday to extraordinary scenes that temporarily blotted out the pain of Croatia’s war and economic stagnation. His home town of Split was bursting with new tennis fans who arrived in convoys of cars, tractors and lorries amid scenes of national exultation.
The Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, whose wife, Slavica, is Croatian, lent the Centre Court victor his private jet to fly home and Ivanisevic arrived in the waterside capital city by speedboat.
By dawn a flotilla of tiny ships had already clogged the harbour in Split to secure a vantage point to watch the conquering hero return. “Anything that floats, flies or moves, Croats are on it,” a police spokesman said. One man crashed his car when news of the victory came through and police let him off with a warning “because of the extraordinary emotions he was feeling”. Dino Radja, the former National Basketball Association player for the Boston Celtics, and the footballer Igor Stimac, who both live in the town, are among the local celebrities paying homage to Ivanisevic. Split is known as the sporting capital of Croatia, with four NBA players and a former Wimbledon winner, Nikola Pilic, who won the men’s doubles in 1963.
There has been a non-stop party in the town since Monday, with local radio broadcasting: “Forget Rio, Split is where the biggest party in the world is taking place.”
Radja, who saw the match on television on board his yacht, was among thousands who lit distress flares and fireworks to celebrate the win. Others could be heard firing guns into the air. Police had to advise people to keep their pets indoors.
One street hawker named Rudi Kedic sold mineral water with the manufacturer’s label peeled off and Ivanisevic’s picture pasted on. A halo appeared over his head and the label said “Holy Water”. All over Split street vendors appeared selling T-shirts with the victor’s picture on the front and an inscription on the back reading “Goran is Jesus”.
Before Ivanisevic’s win he was already revered by many: he donates hundreds of thousands of pounds to charity and was the biggest single funder of a hospital in Split.
There is now a hymn to him — I am Genius — by a local hip-hop group called The Beat Fleet, which is playing in all Quayside cafés. There is even a growing campaign for a referendum in which Croatians would vote to put Ivanisevic’s head on the nation’s banknotes.
His mother, Gorana, said she had a dream her son would win Wimbledon but only if she did not go to watch him play. Obeying her intuition she stayed at home “and the dream came true”, she told a local radio station.
Ivanisevic dedicated his win to Alexander Petrovic, a basketball coach who was killed in a car crash in 1993. His brother, Drazin Petrovic, said he cried for two hours when he heard the dedication: “I could not speak when I heard his words, I just cried and cried. I cannot thank him enough.”