July 9, 2001, is one of the biggest days in Croatian sports history. One that most Croats will remember for the rest of their lives.
Until that July 9, 2001, when he used his fourth match point for the final 9:7, Goran played the final match of the cult London tournament three times, and left the Central Court in disappointment every time: in 1992, he lost to Agassi, and in 1994 and 1998 to Pete Sampras. Few expected anything from a player who arrived at the tournament by invitation, was the 125th player in the world, and at the end of his career.
According to his position in the ATP rankings, he did not even deserve to play in the main part of the tournament without passing the qualifications. Still, because of the good old days and everything he gave to Wimbledon, he received an invitation.
Although no one believed in Goran, a miracle happened, probably the greatest in the entire history of the sport.
Through the Swede Jonsson, Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick, and Greg Rusedski, he reached the quarterfinals where he defeated Marat Safin, while his opponent in the semifinals, Tim Henman, defeated Roger Federer, who made a sensation earlier by beating Sampras. Second seed Andre Agassi fell in the second semi-final to Patrick Rafter, and Goran had to play for the final in a hostile atmosphere in front of an audience that had been waiting for decades for the Briton to lift the Wimbledon trophy.
After a three-day fight and five sets, Ivanišević won his fourth chance against the Australian who was preparing for his second consecutive final.
They played a memorable match with a never-before-seen atmosphere. John McEnroe said after the match that it was the best final he had ever watched. Rafter was more agile, but Goran was more powerful, and they both fought for every point. Ivanišević was finally at 8:7 to win and end a decade of frustration and pain. After two double faults and an excellent reaction from his opponent in the third match point, Ivanišević served for the fourth time, and Rafter hit the net.
After three hours of tense fighting, tears of joy streamed down Goran’s face. It was a drama that had everything, a boy’s dream come true, three defeats in the finals, a great success at the very end of his career, entering the final by invitation despite all expectations, a five-set match and, to make the drama even bigger, two double faults on the match point.
On July 10, 2001, over 100,000 fans welcomed him in Split.
“Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Croatia on Tuesday. More than 100,000 people in Ivanisevic’s hometown of Split flocked to the city’s main waterfront to celebrate his remarkable five-set win over Australian Pat Rafter in Monday’s final. Ivanisevic flew into his hometown of Split at around 1800BST in a private plane provided by Slavica Ecclestone, the Croatian wife of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. He then boarded a ship that took him to his final destination in the harbour, where prominent athletes and celebrities greeted him for a party to be capped by a firework display. However, the champion is definitely in need of some sleep in order to find out if he is still dreaming,” wrote the BBC on July 10, 2001.
Source: Dalmacija Danas
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