He was 30 years old. Once ranked second in the world, he had three Wimbledon finals under his belt, all lost. After the last one, against Pete Sampras, he refused to talk to anyone for six months. He had 21 trophies to show for in his impressive career, but no Grand Slam title to highlight his achievements and to fulfill his life-long dream.
For Goran Ivanisevic, time was beginning to run out, and the flamboyant croat was preparing for a rather undeserving retirement. He had dropped out of the top 100 and he was playing tennis “just because I don`t have anything else to do”. He barely won 4-5 matches the whole year. “I`m just banging shit, I`m playing like an idiot, just serve and forehand and then I miss”. He had just lost to Hyung-Taik Lee at Brighton, by disqualification, after breaking all the racquets he had at his disposal.
The old-school british, lovers of serve&volley and respectful to the past tennis greats, maybe softened by Goran`s love for Wimbledon, decide to give the croat a wildcard for the 2001 tournament. A chance for him to say good bye to the tournament he always dreamed of winning, without being able to do so. Nobody expects anything, and McEnroe says that Ivanisevic is a one dimensional player. “I`m a genius”, replies the charismatic croat. He`s ready to give it his all, again, but does he have anything left to give? His odds before the tournament? Over 250. He wasn`t even supposed to have odds, but his name requested prices, just for the fun of it.
With a bad shoulder, no form and no confidence, Goran thinks he could pass the first round by the luck of the draw. Even in his condition, the modest swede F. Johnsson should be no match for him. And he isn`t: 6-4 6-4 6-4. But the kindness of the draw ends here, as Ivanisevic needs to challenge Carlos Moya next, and then potentially young superstar Andy Roddick. Out of nowhere, the croat masterminds two close 4 sets upsets and then easily dispatches home favorite Greg Rusedski in the 4th round for a surprising chance to compete in the quarter finals against world no.3 Marat Safin. His achievement raises eyebrows, and the tennis world almost remembers his existence … but in the same 4th round, 7 time champion Pete Sampras is defeated by a young, rebel, long-haired swiss, Roger Federer – taking all the attention and basically announcing a legendary tournament.
Ivanisevic is serving like a madman in the quarter finals and he is on track for another upset. Safin can`t believe Goran is beating him, and is throwing racquets left and right, on a background of russian bad language. Ivanisevic wins, and Ion Tiriac decides to charge Safin with 100$ for every racquet he will break from now on. The croat writes history, he is once again in the spotlight, but in the semifinals he will have to take on the “son of Wimbledon”, Tim Henman. This would turn out to be the third of the four semifinals played by Henman at Wimbledon, and his biggest chance to reach the last act.
Goran is serving ace after ace and wins the first set, but Henman quickly recovers to tie the score and proceeds to pinpoint the croat`s weaknesses by winning the third set 6-0. Goran is missing every shot, from every position. It seems over, but rain postpones the outcome. Play resumes, and Tim is shocked by the reinvented man in front of him. The englishman can`t touch Goran`s serve and Ivanisevic reaches the final, breaking the trembling british hearts with 35 aces. Henman will never have a bigger chance to win his home tournament.
Goran`s story is spreading fast, and the final against Rafter quickly becomes a point of interest around the world. The australian, world no.10 but 3rd favorite on the Wimbledon grass, had just beaten Andre Agassi and was a huge favorite against the old and shaky Ivanisevic. Nobody would have thought Goran could win this, but at the same time who would have thought he could reach the final? The game provides a sublime spectacle, with Goran acting like a caged animal, ready to give his very last breath on the court. Rafter seems to play better, but Ivanisevic manages to obtain a 2-1 set lead, mostly thanks to sheer determination. But everything has an end. Rafter wins the 4th set and Ivanisevic goes insane, starting a fight with the net and threatening the umpire. That`s it, it`s over. Or is it? Goran recovers and starts to bury the ball in the court on his serve. The set is tied until 7-7, when the croat invents three winning returns, breaks, and celebrates like he already won the title. The next game is one of the most dramatic ones in tennis history, showcasing desire and emotion like never before seen on the tennis court. Twelve points are played, but no more than 7 strokes are exchanged. Ivanisevic serves with over 200km/h both the first and the second serve, becoming the only player in tennis history to miss two match points with double faults. He clings to anything, praying, looking for lucky balls. He starts crying at 40-30, but he needs three more Championship Points to finally be able to tumble on his beloved Wimbledon grass.
His 25 year work and ambition gave him what he wanted the most. After three lost finals, Ivanisevic is running in the stands to his family, leaving behind a trail of tears and the chanting of the crowd: “Goran, Goran”. He won. His dream came true.
“If I`d had lost again, I would have gone to the North Pole or hanged myself from a bridge” – Goran Ivanisevic
“Thank god he missed the return, otherwise we`ll be playing `till tomorrow” – Goran Ivanisevic
“I hope this isn`t a dream and somebody will wake me up and tell me ‘You didn`t win Wimbledon again’.” – Goran Ivanisevic
“I have three personalities: bad-Goran, good-Goran and emergency-Goran” – Goran Ivanisevic
“I don`t care if I win another match ever again” – Goran Ivanisevic (he didn`t win another tournament)
“God sent the rain so I could beat Henman” – Goran Ivanisevic
“There always has to be a loser, and I am the one once again” – Patrick Rafter
“All in all, I`m happy Goran won, otherwise he would have probably killed himself” – Patrick Rafter
“Grass is for cows, I`m never coming back here again. I reached the 4th round based on luck” – Marat Safin
“I don`t know, I went golfing” – Tim Henman about the final
“I don`t know if anybody will ever dominate tennis like Pete did. It`s very hard.” – Roger Federer
“I really hope I will win a Grand Slam someday … maybe here at Wimbledon, or at the US Open” – Roger Federer
“I was always second. People respected me, but 2nd place wasn`t enough. At last, now I have the Wimbledon trophy” – Goran Ivanisevic