This year’s Wimbledon will occupy a special place in the hearts of tennis fans. The legendary Martina Navratilova returned to singles after 10 long years and the flamboyant Goran Ivanisevic bade goodbye to the game in his inimitable style, writes Rubinder Gill.
Martina Navratilova waves after winning her first-round match at Wimbledon.
Goran Ivanisevic, wearing a Croatian football shirt, makes his last stand on Centre Court. — AFP/ Reuters photos
The Wimbledon Championship this year will primarily be remembered for two reasons. The return of 47-year-old Martina Navratilova to singles at her beloved championship after 10 years and crowd favourite Goran Ivanisevic bidding goodbye to his favourite tournament in his trademark style.
Navratilova, after her French Open first round exit, showed all that she still had traces of the talent and style that netted her nine singles titles here. Nearing the half-century mark, she still served and volleyed with aplomb. Competing with players less than half her age made no difference to the legend.
She may not have been able to go beyond the second round but she has set precedents which will be tough to follow for others. Navratilova made her debut at Wimbledon in 1973. That she was still competing at the top level after 31 years is beyond comparison.
The maverick Croat Ivanisevic endured pain to come back to the tournament where he has experienced intense ecstasy and agony.
The agony years were 1992, 1994 and 1998. He invariably came off second best to Americans Andre Agassi (1992) and Pete Sampras (1994, 98).
Ecstasy came in 2001. After famously having made a pact with God (that if he won the title he would not mind if he never played again), he triumphed in a five-setter against Pat Rafter. That he was able to take the centre stage was due to the benevolence of the organisers, who gave him a wild card.
After a magical two weeks, he wrote his name on the prized trophy, the first wild card in the history of the championship to do so. In the process, the fans and the champion came across the third Goran. After the good Goran and the bad Goran came the level-headed Goran who would try to keep peace between the two warring Gorans.
The split personality from the town of Split in Croatia later said God had heard him too well. Ivanisevic could not return to defend his title, injuries took over. It was time for him to keep his side of the pact.
The popular champion returned this year, courtesy the organisers, who gave him a wild card again. He did not disappoint the faithful. He recreated the magic initially again, stealing the limelight from the defending champion Roger Federer.
He bid goodbye on his favourite Centre Court, bowing out to a younger and fitter Lleyton Hewitt.
The Croat went out in his own style as he knew his time was up. He donned a Croatian football shirt, waving to all corners of the court. He had fulfilled his wish of returning to the Centre Court once again.
The tennis world will miss the entertainer, who once broke so many rackets during a match that he had to forfeit the tie. He will be remembered as much for his booming serve and sublime skills as his antics on the court, his scowl and the ready smile.