A Last Hurrah for Goran
17 June 2004
By Ron Atkin
Goran Ivanisevic will take a proud record into Wimbledon. He is, he says with a smile, unbeaten at The Championships since 2001. That, of course, was the year the Croatian pulled off perhaps the most sensational victory in the tournament's history, collecting the men's trophy after gaining a wild card invitation.
Since then he has not been able to play at Wimbledon. In 2002, he could not defend his title because of ongoing shoulder problems and last year, Ivanisevic suffered a bizarre injury - a badly infected foot - when he stepped on a sea shell while walking on a beach in Miami.
This time, he will play Wimbledon - "the best tournament in the world" - and make it his farewell to tennis at the age of 32. With a left shoulder that still causes pain and problems, Ivanisevic is concerned only that he can stay fit enough to walk out for his finale at a tournament where he first appeared as a qualifier in 1988 and where he had three times finished runner-up before his improbable victory.
"I decided I wanted to play just one more Wimbledon," he said. "If my shoulder is OK my hope is to get through the first week and, after that, who cares?"
The luck of the draw has not been kind to Goran, matching him up in the first round with the Russian Davis Cup player, Mikhail Youzhny, who is the 31st seed. And, if he survives that, the seventh seed and 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt will probably await in the third round.
Needing just three more wins for his 600 in professional tennis, Ivanisevic seems unlikely to reach that milestone but, as ever, is unworried. "It's going to be fun," he insisted. "I could have stayed home and said that nobody defeated me here after I won the title but I think I owe it to myself to play another Wimbledon. I wanted to finish my career at the best place."
In 1988, on Ivanisevicís Wimbledon debut, he went out in the first round. The following year he managed to get into the second round but after that, came a flurry of successful Championships for the Croat. In 1990 he lost to Boris Becker in the semi-finals, in was runner-up to Andre Agassi in 1992, beaten in the final by Pete Sampras in 1994 and a semi-final loser to Sampras the following year. It was also Sampras who got the better of him in the 1998 final before that incredible victory over Pat Rafter three years ago.
Ivanisevic's first round match against Youzhny is virtually certain to be staged on one of the show courts in order to grant one of the tournament most popular figures a fitting stage in case he bows out early.
"It would be nice to play Centre Court again," he said. "That was the first major court I ever played on. But I just want to be at Wimbledon one more time, I don't care what court I play on. I want to look at this facility for the last time."
In fact, Ivanisevic will probably come to Wimbledon on many more occasions. As a singles champion he is granted honorary membership and quipped, "Next year I will wear my tie and drink tea." He also plans, shoulder permitting, to play the occasional exhibition event and has already agreed to take part in one in London in October.
In Goran's mind, there is no question about the most important moment in his 15-year career. "If you asked me which I would prefer, 21 tournament victories and £12 million in prize money or winning Wimbledon and nothing else, I don't even have to think about it. Wimbledon, of course.
"It was like, in the eyes of the world, I had never been a tennis player until that moment, even though I'd reached number two in the rankings
Thanks to Peter Bijvoet Junior for this article.