Photos: ATP Umag
WIMBLEDON CHAMPION AND TENNIS HALL OF FAMER RECALLS SOME INTERESTING MOMENTS IN HIS GREAT CAREER
With Goran Ivanišević, nothing happens in the usual way. He won Wimbledon in one of its craziest finals, when all hopes seemed to be lost, and his induction into the Hall of Fame was delayed by a year due to the pandemic. On 17 July 2021 Goran joined the ranks of tennis immortals, with his childhood idol John McEnroe inducting him via video link, just days after the 20th anniversary of Goran’s resounding win at the All England Club. We will quote a BBC reporter who, following Ivanišević’s victory on London’s court, said with relief: ‘At last, he did it’.
Dressed casually in a white shirt and a black suit with no tie, he gave a real Goranesque speech on that Saturday night in July – warm and funny, emotional and enlightening; a speech about a fascinating sports career.
‘More than 40 years ago I set out on this amazing journey from a small town in Split, Croatia, and I’m finishing it now in Newport. If I have made it to the Hall of Fame from one small street, then all kids need to know that they can do anything they want if they work hard. I thank the Wimbledon committee for giving me a wild card. I don’t know if they did a good job and if they regret it now, but thank you guys – if it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have made it to Newport. It was a good decision. One match changes your life, your career, everything.’
In 2001, he entered his favourite tournament as a wild card, without any expectations – like a former actor who thought the best days were behind him. But someone had different plans. The road to the stars is paved with good intentions. Until the epic final with Patrick Rafter, he produced a string of victories beating Fredrik Jonsson, Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski, Marat Safin, and, finally, Tim Henman in a three-day semi-final that made the whole of Great Britain cry. And then came People’s Monday, with a football stadium atmosphere and the last game of the match, in which Goran’s whole life was condensed. The fourth match point was lucky. Australia’s Patrick Rafter hit a forehand return into the net following the second serve. The Croatian tennis player, who was then ranked 125th by the ATP, won the world’s largest and most important tournament as a wild card, the first and only one in history.
‘A wild card will probably never again win Wimbledon, and, because of the roof, that atmosphere will never be recreated. It was crazy. It was a combination of a rock concert and a football game. I’m always surprised and amazed at how much Wimbledon – even now, 20 years later – has changed people’s lives, changed my life.’
Where were you on 9 July 2001? Most people in Croatia will answer immediately: We watched Goran play. A special part of your speech in Newport was dedicated to the fans.
‘It was frustrating, it was sad; probably a lot of people got divorced because of me. But one thing is for sure – it was entertaining to be my fan. I think I’ll be remembered as Goran, an interesting tennis player who was never boring to be around with. Even I didn’t know what was going to happen at certain points in my career. Yes, I could have been a better player, but I could also have been a worse one. Some say I could have won more Grand Slam tournaments. In principle, I agree, but I could also not have won Wimbledon.’
Trying to win Wimbledon in the conventional way, the best you managed was three heartbreaking defeats in the finals against Agassi and Sampras. In 2001, you arrived in London with an injured shoulder and eyesight problems. Wearing the same pair of socks, watching the Teletubbies, parking in the same spot at the All England Club – all this sounds a bit like a manual for special methods of warfare?