Meet the Sports Stars of Split: Goran Ivanišević

Daniela Rogulj

Did you know that Croatia’s best ever tennis player is from Split?

Whether you’re a tennis fan, a Croatian, or happen to know a bit about sports culture, you’ve absolutely heard of Croatia’s best tennis player, Goran Ivanišević. 

Born in Split on September 13, 1971, Goran is the son of father Srđan and mother Gorana. Goran first began playing tennis at Firule in Split at the invitation of his father Srđan, and it’s safe to say his professional tennis career quickly followed. Goran won his first career doubles title with German tennis player Rüdiger Haas in 1988. 

It was just two years later that Goran achieved his first significant result. 1990 was the year Goran managed to knockout Boris Becker at Roland Garros in France to advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament. In the same tournament, Goran advanced to the finals in men’s doubles with Czech tennis player Korda. 

A few weeks later, Goran played against Boris Becker once again in the Wimbledon semifinal. Although he lost, Becker praised Goran’s performance and said that he would be the future Wimbledon winner one day. Later that year, Ivanišević managed to win the tournament in Stuttgart and helped Yugoslavia win the World Team Cup.

Ivanišević soon became known for his attacking game and powerful service. For several years, he was on the leading list of tennis players with the most aces at ATP tournaments.

The following year in 1991, the war in Croatia began. Because Goran had already shown himself as a great patriot for Croatia, at the 1991 Wimbledon tournament, the international tennis audience paid considerable attention to Goran’s performance, though he only made it to the second round of the tournament that year.

In 1992, Ivanišević shocked the world and advanced to his first Wimbledon final where he lost 2:3 to Andre Agassi. The same year, performing for the first time for an independent Croatia at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Goran won two bronze medals – achieving one in the singles competition and one in the doubles with Goran Prpić. It was also the year Goran acknowledged that apart from his professional tennis career, the most significant moment of his life was his encounter with Pope John Paul II.

In 1994, Goran lost in the Wimbledon final again, but this time to Pete Sampras after losing 3:0. The Croat did have something to celebrate in 1994, however, as he was ranked number two in the world, behind Pete Sampras. No other Croat has achieved a ranking this good to this day.

A year later, Goran won the Grand Slam Cup by defeating Todd Martin, and while he continued playing the best tennis of his career, it was Pete Sampras who would stop him at Wimbledon again. This time during the semifinal.

Through 1996, Goran won 5 tournaments and reached the Grand Slam Cup finals again, this time losing to Boris Becker. He also reached the semifinals of the US Open where he fell short to his eternal rival, Pete Sampras, in four sets. 

While 1997 was a year of transition, it was 1998 that had the Croat back up on his feet. Reaching the Wimbledon final for the third time, Goran was faced with meeting Sampras…again! The Croat eventually lost to Sampras in five sets, and tennis fans around the world wondered if winning Wimbledon would ever be an achievement for Ivanišević. 

During 1999, 2000, and 2001, Goran missed a considerable amount of tournaments due to a shoulder injury, which also dropped his ranking to the 125th player in the world in the summer of 2001. Because this ATP placement was not enough to have a guaranteed spot at Wimbledon, the organizers of the tournament gave him an invitation.

Contrary to all expectations, Ivanišević advanced to the finals where Patrick Rafter was his opponent. Goran achieved 6:3, 3:6, 6:3, 2:6, 9:7, and became the lowest ranked player in history and the first player with an invitation to win the prestigious Wimbledon tournament! The day after his Wimbledon conquest, Goran was received by Croatian fans on the Split Riva and that same year, he was declared the world athlete of the year.

After Wimbledon, Goran withdrew from tennis for an operation on his shoulder. He returned in 2004 to play once again at Wimbledon but lost to Lleyton Hewitt in the 3rd round. In 2005, Goran won the Davis Cup with the Croatia national team. 

Goran Ivanišević joined the club of the most famous and prominent athletes who claimed historical results – and he has been proclaimed the most prominent athlete of Split and Croatia several times. The winner of Wimbledon and Davis Cup, Goran finished his professional career with 22 singles titles and nine titles in doubles. Goran will be remembered as a world record holder with his number of aces. Over five years, he reached over 1,000.


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