Well done, Goran!

Published : Jul 28, 2001 00:00 IST

AS you enter the famous Centre Court at Wimbledon, you see the immortal words of Rudyard Kipling, "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same."

In that very same poem "If', are these other lines: "If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting . . .

The beauty of these words is every once in a while, someone comes along, and brings them to life. I am talking about Goran Ivanisevic's improbable victory in this year's Wimbledon championships.

Who in the world thought Goran Ivanisevic would win the tournament when it started on June 25th? Certainly not Goran Ivanisevic. He had dropped down to 125 in the world and needed a wild card to get in to the draw.

Certainly not the bookmakers, for he was quoted at 150 to 1. Certainly not the tournament committee for had they known he would knock out their two title favourites - Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski - they might not have given him the wild card!

In which case, Goran being Goran might not have played in the qualifying. Or he might have played and lost in it, just like he went out in the first round of the qualifying rounds of this year's Australian Open. What it would have meant was we would not have been privy to one of the most sensational stories in the history of tennis.

This was the first time a wild card entrant had won a Grand Slam event, the second time an unseeded player had won at Wimbledon and the first time a player had to play in 48 Grand Slam events to win a title. These are some of the statistics and I could bore you with more. But the simple fact is it was his destiny to win the title. Not only did he realise it but he had the courage to grab it.

The scene on the Centre Court after he successfully held his serve for the title were some of the most touching ones seen on a tennis court.

There was Goran in tears, there was Goran's father in tears and I am sure so were many more. Other victories I have seen that are somewhat comparable are Yannick Noah's win at the French Open in 1983 and Andre Agassi's Wimbledon victory in 1992. Which by the way, was over Goran Ivanisevic and which was a match I felt Goran should have won.

The Croat was a losing finalist on three prior occasions and on two of those had lost heart breaking five set matches. Naturally, one spoke of his chances in the past tense. (I went through my pre Wimbledon piece and realised that I had mentioned Goran's name in passing that he was one of the players who could trouble Pete Sampras if he was in good form, which was a few years ago).

It is impossible to analyse Goran's march to the title. He had hardly played in many matches in the past several months. In fact, in a tournament end of last year, he had smashed all his rackets and had to default his match for 'lack of equipment'. It certainly is not the message you want to give the youngsters in terms of preparation.

But once he got into his rhythm during the tournament, he brought forth all his experience and was mentally tough through all the sticky situations he had to face, especially in the semis and the final. Of course, his powerful serve was his reliable ally as he aced his opponents 213 times ( to break his own previous record) along with numerous unreturnable ones. But in the final analysis, it is his mental resilience that saw him through.

By the time the men's draw reached the last four stage, Pete Sampras, a permanent fixture for the last decade was not even a part of it. Yet, the quartet Tim Henman v Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter v Andre Agassi gave the scribes plenty to write about.

First the Pete Sampras defeat to Roger Federer in the round of 16. This set the tone for the final weekend. In a nail-biting match which could have gone either way, Roger Federer knocked out the seven-time champion.

What was obvious was that Pete was not able to raise his game at critical moments, as he had in the past and more importantly, the other players have realised it. So, in effect, he is playing like one of the mortals. Had he pulled through that Federer match, he could well have gone on to his eighth title. Neverthless, you do not want to write him off. Anyway, the moral after Ivanisevic's victory is not to write anybody off!

Pete's departure had the other players licking their lips in anticipation for he had been an insurmountable stumbling block to their title aspirations. Tim Henman had after all lost to him in his two semi final matches, Goran had lost to him twice in the final and once in the semis, Agassi had lost to him twice in the Centre Court and Pat Rafter was the losing finalist last year to Sampras.

The same destiny which was beckoning Goran Ivanisevic was also calling for Tim Henman. It had been 65 years since a Briton had won the men's singles title and 63 years since one had reached the final. Henman was certainly playing well enough as he put out Roger Federer and seemed all set to take that major step as he led Goran Ivanisevic by two sets to one in the semi-final. And what was more, he had won that third set 6-0!

But by then the famous Wimbledon weather, or should I say the infamous Wimbledon weather kicked in. With games going on serve in the early part of the fourth set, play was halted. The momentum was clearly in Henman's favour. Had the match lasted another quarter of an hour or so, he would have won. But it was not to be. The weather Gods gave Goran a reprieve and he was able to regroup in a match that was carried over first to Saturday and then to Sunday. So, funnily enough, the British weather proved to be a stumbling block for a British victory!

The first semi-final encounter between Pat Rafter and Andre Agassi was a top-notch match. This was the third year in succession that the duo had met in the semi-final and the result was one match apiece. Last year, they had played what was considered to be one of the outstanding Wimbledon matches. Well, this year they went one step further, if that was possible. In a high quality match full of drama, Andre Agassi served for the match at 5-4 in the fifth set and the Aussie wriggled out of that tight spot and broke serve a few games later.

As well as Agassi was striking the ball, it was his hesitation to advance to the forecourt at critical junctures that cost him the match.

This reemphasises the important rule that big matches are won, especially on grass courts at the net. Even the great Bjorn Borg made this adjustment and Agassi would do well to learn this lesson.

In the final analysis, Goran Ivanisevic was, by far the star of this year's Wimbledon. After so many heart breaking years on the tour, he richly deserves his place in the sun. Well done!

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