Magic Moments: Goran Ivanišević, the wildcard that stunned the world.

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Good day sports fans, welcome to another moment of sports glory that calls us to bask in wonder as we walk down the historic lane. These are the times when sporting professionals turn one moment of obvious pain into a  joyful tale that will last the duration of mankind’s existence. Today we will be looking at the tale of a certain Croatian man, Goran Ivanišević.

The Wimbledon is a prestigious tennis competition,  played by men and women of known repute and class.

The just concluded Wimbledon for the year 2015 saw  world number one Novak Djokovic beat Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer to take home the trophy. This trophy has been the desire of a lot of tennis players and a lot have failed to possess it all through the entirety of their career, while some have been privileged to have a collection of it stacked on the shelf of their home.

Goran Ivaniševic has dreamt of this trophy all through his career, and he hoped he could touch it someday when the confidence of his youth was at it’s peak, at the tail end of his career, it was for the fun of the game that he obliged to participate anytime he gets called upon and 2001 was such a moment.

Goran, a retired Croatian professional tennis player, born on September 13th, 1971 left the most indelible  mark in the hall of history, he is the only person to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon as a wildcard. He achieved this in 2001, having previously been runner-up at the championships in 1992, 1994 and 1998.

Goran Ivanisevic officially became a professional tennis player in 1988 at the age of 17. Ivanisevic started his professional career playing doubles tournaments with Rudiger Hass, won his first career doubles title in Frankfurt in his rookie season. Although he focused mostly on his singles career, he also had some success in doubles, winning nine titles and reaching a career-high ranking of 20.

Before the 2001 tournament, he was ranked 125th and after his victory he was 16th. His career-high singles ranking was World No. 2 (behind Pete Sampras) in 1994.

Ivanišević quickly became known on the tour for his strong, attacking style of play and for an extremely powerful serve. For several years, he had more aces than anyone else on the tour. Capable of beating anyone in the world when at his very best, he was also known for occasional on-court temper tantrums usually directed towards himself and the volatility of the standard of his play.

The Wimbledon since the 2001 tournament, 32 players have been given seedings in the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ singles, 16 teams in the doubles events. The system of seeding was introduced during the 1924 Wimbledon Championships. This was a simplified version allowing countries to nominate four players who were placed in different quarters of the draw. This system was replaced for the 1927 Wimbledon Championships and from then on players were seeded on merit. The first players to be seeded as no. 1 were René Lacoste and Helen Wills.

The Committee of Management decide which players receive wildcards. Usually, wild cards are players who have performed well during previous tournaments, or would stimulate public interest in Wimbledon by participating.

And it was for this reason that Goran was invited to the 2001 Wimbledon competition as a wildcard, he came, saw and conquered, a feat never ever attained in the Wimbledon before and it was Ivanišević’s 1st title of the year, and his 22nd (and last) overallbut above all it was his only career Grand Slam title.

Ivanišević became the first wildcard, the first Croatian and the lowest ranked player in history (world No. 125) to claim the Wimbledon title. He was also the first Croatian male tennis player to win the Grand Slam final.

The Croatian went on to say after the finals:

“The best moment is when you hold the trophy,” Ivanisevic told CNN’s Open Court before the start of Wimbledon.

“I was watching too many guys holding that beautiful trophy. I had this (runner-up) plate at home,” added Ivanisevic. “It’s a nice plate but you don’t want to have that plate at home.

“Nobody cares for second place. If you want to go back now and think of Wimbledon finalists in the past 15 years, to be honest, I have no idea.”

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Goran Ivanišević won Marat Safin, Andy Roddick and British Tim Henman in the semi-finals to set up a memorable finals match with  Australian Pat Rafter. This was Ivanišević’s fourth Wimbledon final and Rafter’s second.

Fans queued up overnight to land one of the 10,000 unreserved tickets made available for the final, leading to a more vocal climax than usual.

It was good that it was on a Monday because three finals I lost on Sunday, so finally I played on Monday,” Ivanisevic said. “Unbelievable atmosphere, probably never again because now they have a roof.

Championship Point. Goran Ivanisevic was visibly shaking and choking back the emotions as he stepped up to summon his monster serve one last time, a weapon which had deserted him over the last half hour or so. True to current form, he turned in a double fault. Deuce. The crowd gasped.

The match had quickly built up into an epic. And while the tension was keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, there was also a sense of inevitability to the incredulous scenes being witnessed, a full awareness that one of the most improbable runs ever by a tennis player was reaching its climax, and the most unlikely of results was actually turning into reality.

If human drama and context ever played a defining role in a tennis match, it was on this day.

Supporters of Croatian player Goran Ivanisevic fla

Goran Ivanisevic, the big-serving Croat, had been marked out for greatness at Wimbledon more than a decade earlier. His power game, built around a fearsome first serve, was custom-made for grass. And if the nature of his game led to it being accused as ‘boring’ and a ‘snooze fest’, he more than made up for it with an eccentric, emotional, passionate-bordering-on-wild personality. He was known as much for his serve-and-charge approach to the net as for his colourful rants at himself on the tennis court, for his service games that lasted less than a minute as for his brooding interviews laced with doleful humour.

With this kind of build-up, the match had all the makings of a classic even before it started, and when the players began to trade unreturnable serves and breathtaking volleys, the intensity of the match shot right up. As the contest progressed, the level of play came down slightly, replaced with two players running on emotion and intensity, and thus, more prone to errors amidst the occasional stroke of genius.

Wimbledon X

But the vociferous crowd, with an equal sprinkling of Aussie and Croat supporters and a British majority who rooted for both sentimental favourites equally, did not seem to mind at all. Towards the fag end of the fourth set, Ivanisevic’s temperamental side began to make an appearance. A foot fault followed by a close line-call on his serve riled him, and he ended up spontaneously kicking the net in frustration followed by a long, heartfelt discussion with the chair umpire. Not surprisingly, he lost the fourth set to tie the match at two-sets apiece.

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Now this was the typical moment when Ivanisevic mentally packed up in a tennis match and proceeded to lose it, but then again, this was no ‘typical’ tennis match. Contrary to expectations, and seemingly guided by the invisible hand of destiny, he stayed toe-to-toe with Rafter across a breathless fifth set. As they moved deep into the set beyond the 6-6 mark, their games became more erratic, and Ivanisevic was visibly riding on pure emotion. His first serve deserted him, he became even more animated with himself, and the crowd was now a solid roar after every point. Inspite of it all, the Croat managed to break Rafter in the 15th game of the set, and now had the opportunity  on his racquet to serve out ten years of disappointment.

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A forehand volley went long by a large margin for 0-15. At 15-all, he double faulted. Having hit an ace to get to championship point, he subsequently double faulted again by a yard.

A second championship point came and went with another double fault, this time into the net, and a third was saved by Rafter with a lob that was good enough against an Ivanisevic too frozen to jump.

Rafter finally buckled on a fourth match point, the pressure from Ivanisevic’s destructive serve finally too much to repel.

Visibly shaking and looking up to send earnest prayers , he got to Championship point again. And double faulted again. On his third attempt, Rafter sent a brilliantly placed lob above the the Croat at the net to keep himself in the hunt. Ivanisevic’s visage was now progressively becoming darker with every point. On his fourth Championship point, his serve landed in, and Rafter’s reply did not cross the net. Ivanisevic was finally flat on his stomach, sobbing and embracing the grass which had, till then, marked the scene of his most disappointing losses, but had now become the signpost of one of the most incredible victories ever.

Ivanisevic has become the Wimbledon champion and the only wildcard to bag the men’s title at noted postcode SW19

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Rafter was at the net to give him a warm hug, flash a cheerful smile and ruffle his hair in a congratulatory air. It was typical of the Australian to ignore what had been his best chance yet to win at Wimbledon, and instead acknowledge the feat of his colourful opponent. But victory and defeat mixed easily in the heady atmosphere of the day. Ivanisevic managed to keep his date with destiny 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7.

The win was especially satisfying for Ivanišević, as he had made the finals three times before (in 1992, 1994 and 1998) but lost each (to Agassi, and Sampras twice, respectively).

“Wimbledon came and it was actually my time,” added Ivanisevic, who can still be seen on the seniors’ tour, while he also helps run a tournament in Zagreb and dabbles in commentating.

It was written somewhere that it was my time. I did everything in my life the harder way. Why do it easy if you can do it the hard way?”

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But by doing it the hard way, the larger-than-life Ivanisevic has ensured his achievement at Wimbledon will never be forgotten.

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