Goran Ivanišević

Born: September 13, 1971 in Split (Dalmatia)
Height: 1.93 m
Plays: Left-handed (two-handed backhand)
Ivanišević stands as one of the most psychologically intriguing players of the ’90s. He was a constant chameleon, altering his appearance regularly: long hair, short hair (at the start of 1992, he sported an almost bald “mohawk” hairstyle), with stubble, a full beard, or clean-shaven. He’d don a cap or a headband, and in 1996, a flamboyant plume above his forehead emerged. “I think young people like it. Old people, you know, are not so happy. It’s tough to please old people. They complain too much,” he quipped about his eccentric hairstyle.
Consistency wasn’t his forte; Ivanišević rarely wore the same T-shirt for longer than a month, though he favored the “Sergio Tacchini” brand, and stuck his entire career to “Head” racquets with yellow over-grips. His constant sartorial changes painted a picture of emotional inconsistency. On-court jests and amicable interactions with people could abruptly transform into eruptions of anger. Throughout the ’90s, he found himself embroiled in dramatic matches more frequently than any other player.
In matches involving Ivanišević, anything seemed possible: a 15-13 victory in the fifth set against Richard Krajicek, or a heart-wrenching 12-14 loss in the fifth set against Magnus Norman. He twice equalled the record for the longest tie-break (20/18) within four years, triumphing against fellow left-handers Daniel Nestor and Greg Rusedski. He clinched other marathon tie-breaks: 15/13 (Guy Forget), 14/12 (Jason Stoltenberg, Sébastien Lareau), or 13/11 (Fernando Luna, Hendrik Dreekmann, Cyril Saulnier) while other experienced players rarely go above 10-all. Astonishingly, he found ways to lose tie-breaks despite leading 5:0 or 5:1.
In 1998, he found himself embroiled in major three-setters consisting of three tie-breaks, losing to Marzio Martelli, then defeating Jan Siemerink in a unique Open Era match where the winner saved set points in all won sets. His matches resembled a roller-coaster ride, swinging between extremes. His phenomenal serve, arguably the best of the ’90s, was his cornerstone. Often leading to victories, it was occasionally a double-edged sword. Upon analysing his serve, I arrived at, perhaps, controversial conclusions. I often sensed that, even against top players, he deliberately provoked difficult situations to test his mentality under pressure.
I witnessed numerous matches where, at 4:5 or 5:6 in a set or in a tie-break, he gifted the opponent an opportunity only to erase it with an ace/service winner, even off the second serve. He relished the thrill of winning sets on the brink of losing them. While his serve rescued him many times, it also caused bitter defeats, deserting him in crucial moments of significant matches. Three Wimbledon finals saw his serve betray him, once (1992) against Andre Agassi as a favorite, and twice (1994 and 1998) against his toughest rival, Pete Sampras. It also faltered thrice in “Masters” semifinals (1992, 1993 and 1996).
A notable example was his encounter with Sampras in Hannover ’96. Ivanišević served phenomenally that day, notching 35 aces in three sets. As the deciding third set tie-break loomed, he led 30/0 in the 12th game. However, three casual errors gifted Sampras a match point. Ivanišević unleashed a 186 kph second serve, the fastest that day, but it sailed out. Sampras, disbelievingly observing the speed measurement, shook his head in disbelief. Despite being only a month younger than Sampras, Ivanišević was initially ranked higher in their first two years on the tour, already reaching the Australian Open ’89 quarterfinal when Sampras was actually unknown. Their encounter in the Munich quarterfinal in 1990 (Grand Slam Cup), where Sampras barely clinched victory, laid the groundwork for a mental edge for the American.
Though Ivanišević navigated tight situations adeptly in general, against Sampras, a few points here and there often separated him from clinching crucial victories. However, by the end of 1995, Ivanišević revamped his coaching staff and began winning matches consistently. Between December ’95 and March ’96, he competed with astonishing frequency, securing five titles in the process. He finally ousted Sampras in the Key Biscayne semifinal. Just when it seemed he would dethrone the American, fatigue took its toll, forcing his retirement in the final. Nevertheless, it marked the pinnacle of his career, his most prolific year.
The late ’90s brought stagnation, leaving many expecting Ivanišević to be remembered as the best player of his generation without a major title. And then came Wimbledon ’01 – an event of miracles. Ivanišević [125], a mere ‘wild card’ entrant, caused a stir by defeating Carlos Moyá in the second round. The seven-time champion, Sampras, fell in the fourth round to a young Roger Federer, paving the way for the Croat. Mirroring his mid-’90s form, he served exceptionally and luck favored him (winning back-to-back matches being two points away from defeat). At 30, reminiscent of Andrés Gómez and Petr Korda, Ivanišević triumphantly raised the most coveted trophy in tennis.
“I don’t care now if I ever win a match in my life again,” Ivanišević said after the memorable Monday final against Patrick Rafter (his semifinal against Tim Henman extended over three rain-hit days!). “Whatever I do in my life, wherever I go, I’m always going to be Wimbledon champion.” He didn’t achieve anything worth remembering afterward, Wimbledon ’01 marked Ivanišević’s glorious swan song. He’s the only player to achieve noteworthy results representing two countries: in 1990-1991 he played the World Team Cup finals for Yugoslavia, third final (1995) in this competition he notched representing Croatia, and for this country – carrying the flag at the opening ceremony in Barcelona – he won the Olympic bronze medal, winning four successive five-setters (before and after him, no-one has done it in the Open Era), two of them withstanding match points in the fifth sets. After retiring, he regularly participated in the Champions Tour and then began coaching players born in Yugoslavia: Croatian Marin Čilić and Serbian Novak Đoković, helping them in winning Grand Slam events.
Career record: 599–333 [ 337 events ]
Career titles: 22
Highest ranking: No. 2
Best GS results:
Australian Open (quarterfinal 1989, 94 & 97)
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 1990, 92 & 94)
Wimbledon (champion 2001; runner-up 1992, 94 & 98; semifinal 1990 & 95)
US Open (semifinal 1996)
Grand Slam Cup 1995 champion
Olympic bronze medallist 1992 in Barcelona
World Team Cup 1990 champion (for Yugoslavia)
Davis Cup champion 2005 (he was only a member of the Croatian team in the final)
Hopman Cup 1996 champion (for Croatia)
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