|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
BY MICHAEL WARD
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
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.
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