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(E) Croatian brought immortality for us in London
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/6/2002 | Sports | Unrated
(E) Croatian brought immortality for us in London
2001 Review: MY SPORTING MOMENT: WIMBLEDON FINAL July 9, 2001 - How 
Ivanisevic's stirring fairytale brought immortality in SW19 
The Birmingham Post - United Kingdom; Dec 26, 2001 
It was the noise that hit you first. An orchestra of 14,000 voices raising a 
deafening, awe-inspiring crescendo of sound on the Centre Court as Goran 
Ivanisevic strode out for his Wimbledon final against Patrick Rafter. 
And when you came to terms with this tumultuous din, it was the blaze of 
colour that struck you next. The stands were transformed into a dancing, 
shimmering wave of banners --- the red and white checks of Croatia mixed with 
the green and gold of Australia, complete with their inflatable kangaroos. 
The two countries were equally represented by their respective fans, although 
most of the Brits gave up their neutrality to root for Goran. 
We've had People's Sundays in the middle of Wimbledon in recent years, but 
People's Monday was as Wimbledon had never seen it before. It was unique and 
those who werethere on July 9 2001 can bore the pants off their grandchildren 
with this wondrous tale for the rest of their days. 
Because of poor weekend weather, the men's singles championship had extended 
into a third week for only the second time in the Open era and this final was 
strikingly, thrillingly different to the mundane resumption of unfinished 
business between Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker in 1988. 
The Centre Court was halfempty when the Swede and his German adversary walked 
out to the kind of atmosphere you would encounter at one of the All England 
Club's croquet finals. And no-one, apart from the Swedes, cared lesswhen 
Edberg ground his way to his second Wimbledon title. 
The Ivanisevic-Rafter final was a complete contrast, for many reasons. For a 
start, neither player had won Wimbledon before and a healthy balance of 
supporters craved for one or the other to attain tennis immortality. 
Unlike theEdbergBecker final that was suspended from the rain and bad light 
of the Sunday evening, thisone began from scratch to the raucous, riotous 
backing of a crowd that was drawn straight from the streets of cosmopolitan 
London. There was no public ballot to decidewho held these precious tickets. 
The fans queued all night for the simple privilege of paying on the gate to 
witness what unfolded as one of the great sporting moments of all time. 
Half of that crowd had never set foot in the All England Club's illustrious 
grounds before, let alone taken their seats at a Wimbledon final. Thousands 
more who failed to make it into the Centre Court flocked to Henman's Hill for 
the right to watch the proceedingson a giant screen. They would have loved to 
be seeing Tim Henman in action as Britain's first men's singles finalist 
since Bunny Austin lost to Donald Budge in 1938, which was two years after 
Fred Perry became the last champion from these shores. 
For Henman, it was not meant to be. Fate and the elements conspired against 
him when he was set fair for victory over a stumbling, fumbling Ivanisevic in 
the semi-finals. A second interruption by rain threw the British No 1 off his 
stride, Ivanisevic regrouped with a vengeance and Henman's Hill became his 
In the absence of Britain's best hope, an Ivanisevic-Rafter final was easily 
the next best thing. And the fascination of it was that Ivanisevic had failed 
in three previous Wimbledon finals, his first to Andre Agassi in 1992 and the 
other two to the unassailable Pete Sampras in 1994 and 1998. 
Inevitably, the talented, broodingly unpredictable, lefthander entered 
Wimbledon carrying the label of acompulsive loser, a player in decline to 
increase the dead weight of odds against him; the nearly-man, returning two 
months short of his 30th birthday and with a world ranking of 125 --- so low 
that he had to beg a wild card from the All England Club hierarchy. 
Suitably, the bookmakers made Ivanisevic a 125-1 shot for the title before a 
ball was struck. Only when he gunned down Henman was he taken deadly 
And yet, Goran was still the underdog when he walked out on to the Centre 
Court to be assailed by an atmosphere of such massive voltage that it 
threatened to blow every fuse in the London Borough of Merton. For a second 
or two, Goran wore a bewildered ``what on earth am I doing here?'' expression 
on his face. Then he smiled, nodded and waved to the crowd --- not 
extravagantly, for the excesses of emotion were to come three hours and five 
sets later. 
Suffice to summarise that the good Goran, always believing that God was 
guiding him andkeeping the bad Goran firmly in the shadows, won 9-7 in the 
fifth. In the end, Rafter was so demoralised and so resigned to the fact that 
destiny was calling Goran that he could only jab his return off a nervy 
second serve into the net on match point No 4. When it was over, all 14,000 
fans were united in their clamorous acclaim for the threetimes loser-turned 
winner of the world's most coveted title. There has never been a more popular 
winner since the great Perry himself. 
After clambering up through the crowd for a tearful reunion with his family 
and friends in the guests' balcony, Ivanisevic said: ``I think I must be 
dreaming. Somebody is going to wake me up and tell me: `You lost the 
Wimbledon final again.' I don't care now if I never win another tennis match 
in my life.'' 
To Goran, striding out for the first defence of his title on Centre Court 
next summer will be his proudest moment since he won it. Win or lose, the 
nearly man who finally became champion will know his place in sporting 
folklore is secure. 
All Material Subject to Copyright 
Brian Gallagher 
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