WIMBLEDON, England Goran Ivanisevic is practically oozing desperation.
The 29-year-old Croat yesterday advanced to today’s men’s final against Pat Rafter, cleaning up a rain-interrupted marathon against Brit Tim Henman in just 15 minutes.
“I tell you, three-day match, it looks like cricket, you know, just we didn’t have tea,” Ivanisevic said of the semifinal that started Friday and proceeded more tediously than a Tolstoy novel in its rain-halted segments.
Play started yesterday with Henman serving at 2-3 in the fifth and lasted just four games. The colorful Croat broke Henman at 3-4 on a netted forehand half-volley and then served out the match 7-5, 6-7 (6), 0-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
“Today when I served for the match, my shoulder was 58 kilos heavy,” said Ivanisevic, who double-faulted twice in the final game before prevailing on a wide backhand return from Henman. “I asked God to help me… . [On the double faults] maybe God is on the lunch, so he didn’t see me. On deuce, I hit the huge second serve on the line [for an ace]. Then I say to him, ‘OK, now has to be in.’
“I thank God because it’s only because of him that I’m in the final. He just gave me another chance. He say, ‘Man, you were so annoying always asking another chance, so, OK, I give you another chance. We see, can you do it tomorrow or not?’ ”
Ivanisevic, for whom quoting the deity qualifies only as a mild oddity, has made three previous trips to the Wimbledon finals (1992, ‘94 and ‘98). And he has lost each time, usually in excruciating fashion.
Twice he has lost in five sets once to Andre Agassi (1992) and once to Pete Sampras (1998). The other time, he completely unraveled after losing a second set tiebreaker to Pete Sampras, dropping the third and final set 6-0 while audibly muttering a steady stream of obscenities at himself.
After losing to Sampras in 1998, Ivanisevic told the media, “I am going to kill myself,” and repeated the morbid threat so many times and with such conviction that officials considered putting him on suicide watch.
Beneath the comic facade, Ivanisevic is one of the most bipolar personalities in the history of a game notorious for unstable characters.
One moment, the lefty can be hitting baseline winners from his knees and rolling on the court in unbridled celebration. And the next, he can be in the midst of an inconceivably nihilistic funk. Such was the case in the third set against Henman on Friday, which Ivanisevic lost at love in just 14 minutes, winning only four points.
Ivanisevic, who has never won a major title, has been quite effusive in his description of the multiple personalities that overtake him at different moments. There’s “Good Goran,” the player capable of pounding out a tournament-leading 186 aces, nearly twice as many as the next highest total in the men’s draw (Sampras with 94). There’s “Crazy Goran,” the double-faulting, hapless-volleying, return-shanking nut responsible for the 14-minute meltdown. And there’s “911 Goran,” who hopefully arrives to talk the latter mess into the former maven. Suffice it to say, such a “team effort” is unpredictable at best.
“You know, I can snap tomorrow but I don’t think so, because is too important,” said Ivanisevic, the first wild card to reach the finals at a Grand Slam. “I’m just having fun, pleasing myself, enjoying on the court. It’s great to be fun. Out there, everything is working perfectly. I just have to be calm.”
Few folks would count on a steady showing of patience from Ivanisevic today. And even a minor blowup could prove fatal against a player as traditionally mentally tough as Rafter. Though Rafter tightened up last year in his loss to Sampras in the finals, fading in four sets after blowing a 4-1 edge in a second-set tiebreaker that would have put him up two sets to none, don’t count on a repeat swoon from the 28-year-old Aussie today.
“I want to win the final to exorcise the demons from last year,” Rafter said on Friday. “When I lost to Pete, I guess I was overwhelmed by the whole occasion. That won’t happen this year.”
And this year could easily represent the last chance for both players, each of whom qualifies as nearly decrepit considering the game’s phalanx of rising young stars. Rafter already has said he plans to take a sabbatical at the end of the season. No doubt, Rafter would love to add a Wimbledon crown to his two U.S. Opens before taking his leave. But Rafter’s desire doesn’t seem to match the passionate Croat’s absolute desperation. Ivanisevic, ranked 125th in the world entering the tournament, knows he isn’t likely to enjoy another renaissance run in the Slams.
“I don’t want to get another [runner-up] plate. I have already three plates,” Ivanisevic said. “If some angel comes tonight in my dreams and say, ‘OK, Goran, you going to win Wimbledon tomorrow, but you not able to touch the racquet ever again in your life,’ I say, ‘OK, I rather take that and then never play tennis again in my life.’ “