The Magic Returns for Goran Ivanisevic
21 June 2004
By Ossian Shine
WIMBLEDON (Reuters) - It was as if he had never been away. With a glint in his eye and a smile never far from his lips, Goran Ivanisevic had the whole of Wimbledon eating out of his hand once again Monday.
Never mind that he had won just two senior level tournament matches in the past two years, his serve was as explosive as ever and his volleys as crisp as can be as he ousted Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6, 6-2.
"Beautiful," he smiled. "That was the first time in my whole Wimbledon career that I walked out there on Center Court for my first round match.
"It was just unbelievable to walk out there today. I have so many good memories of my last match on that court and I played another great match today.
"As soon as you step on that court you can't play bad tennis ... you can be nervous but you can't play bad."
Such is the Croatian's love affair with the grasscourt grand slam that nothing should come as a surprise when Ivanisevic walks through the gates of the All England Club.
Ranked 415 in the world, his win over the 31st seed was unexpected, but it will barely warrant an entry in the Croatian's list of Wimbledon exploits when he quits professional tennis after this event.
Three times a losing finalist in the 1990s, Ivanisevic had thought his chances of winning the title were finished.
But in 2001 he turned up on the opening Monday of the tournament not on the strength of his once-formidable serve but by virtue of a begging letter.
A fortnight later the wildest of wildcards lay face down on Center Court, sobbing and blinking through tears after a magical run had seen him turn that wildcard invitation into life membership of the pantheon of champions.
This time he said he simply wants to reach the second week.
"It is just great here ... I wanted to play one more Wimbledon, end my career here in front of these great fans.
"You know, I just wanted to come here and say goodbye ... maybe win a couple of matches.
"But look, now I am starting to play my best tennis and I am just about to retire ... typical," he laughed.
"I knew I was playing well but I was a little bit nervous. Practice is one thing and matches are another. Especially this tournament, Wimbledon ... you can't compare it to anything else."
Certainly the reception he received made the last two years of struggle worth while.
"When I saw this crowd, then I said that was worth it for these two years, struggling, doing therapy, all kinds of therapy, being up and down.
"It was worth it to fight and come back and be today on the Center Court.
"I had the tough times, to be honest. I had tough times. I had to decide ... and then I decided this year to stop.
"But my plan was just to show up for Wimbledon and everything was working for this tournament. And I think I did a good job."