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Best Cinderella Story Take 2 – Goran Ivanišević, 2001 Wimbledon

By Russell Boxshall and Vanessa Taylor

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Tens of thousands of tweets elected the Iconic Moments in Tennis History, across seven decades of the sport, for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Winners will feature in a new exhibition in the ITHF Museum.

The popular vote for Best Cinderella Story was Emma Raducanu claiming the US Open last year. It was a remarkable achievement. She was the first qualifier to win a Slam. She won three qualifying and seven tournament matches, all in straight sets. Her first main tour win was a Slam.

Best Cinderella Story
Goran Ivanišević, 2001 Wimbledon
Emma Raducanu, 2021 US Open
Kim Clijsters, 2009 US Open
Mats Wilander, 1982 Roland Garros
Gustavo Kuerten, 1997 Roland Garros
Pete Sampras, 1990 US Open
Serena Williams, 1999 US Open
Michael Chang, 1989 Roland Garros

Without taking anything away from Raducanu’s fairytale, and even though the votes have already been cast, the case can be made for the 2001 Wimbledon victory of Goran Ivanišević.

The Croatian lost the Wimbledon final three times before finally winning. Each time he lost graciously and never gave up hope of becoming champion one day.

In 1992 he faced Andre Agassi, a baseliner not expected by many to beat serve/volleyer Ivanišević on the lawn court. But he did, in five sets 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4. As much in disbelief as jubilation, Agassi fell to the ground and remained there. A devastated Ivanišević waited at the net before climbing over it and assisting Agassi to his feet and into a warm embrace.

Ivanišević and Agassi embrace after the final. Photo: Roger Gould

Then, he lost twice to the eventual seven time champion, Pete Sampras. The first time was 1994, when he made the final having beaten Richard Krajicek, who would be champion two years later, in five exhausting sets 6-3 6-4 5-7 6-7(5) 15-13.

Against Sampras that year, he lost two tight sets in tiebreaks before being walloped 6-0 in the final set. In 1998, the two faced off again with Sampras taking it 6-7(2) 7-6(9) 6-4 3-6 6-2. After the match, Ivanišević buried his head in his towel and wept.

But somehow Ivanišević got another opportunity. By 2001, his form had fallen off due to a persistent shoulder injury and he was ranked 125 in the world. He needed a wildcard to avoid having to qualify for the tournament.

In recognition of his efforts over the years, the organisers granted him the wild card. In gratitude he said, “Now, it is the time I have to prove I deserve it”.

And he did. He beat three players who had been or would become world number 1, Carlos Moyá, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick (who became a three time finalist at Wimbledon).

Ivanišević then had to take on local favourite Tim Henman, so popular the fans would would squeeze onto “Henman Hill” to watch his matches on the big screen.

Their semi final had to be played over three days due to rain delays. On the Friday, Henman won the third set 6-0 in less than 15 minutes and was leading 2-1 in the fourth when play was stopped.

The next day only 51 minutes of play was possible. Ivanišević won the fourth set tiebreak after being down a mini-break. The match was stopped again with Ivanišević leading 3-2 in the fifth but Henman 30-15 on his serve. On Sunday, the remainder of the match required only 14 minutes. Ivanišević’s serving took over – he had 36 aces for the match – and he won 7-5 6-7(6) 0-6 7-6(5) 6-3.

Goran Ivanišević and Patrick Rafter. Photo: David Ashdown

He would face Australia’s Patrick Rafter in the final, which had to be pushed over to the third Monday, known as “People’s Monday” as the general public could queue to purchase tickets at the box office, without the usual lottery or membership.

The traditional, reserved English tennis crowd was replaced by a stadium full of Croatian and Australian fans and the atmosphere was electric. As Ivanišević has since said, “The atmosphere of the final, that will never repeat itself.”

Two serve/volleyer opponents faced each other. With one early break each set, the first went to Ivanišević and the second to Rafter. There was tension in the crowd when Ivanišević called for the trainer to treat his shoulder during the third set, but he kept the aces coming to take a two sets to one lead.

The tantrums Ivanišević could be prone to surfaced in the fourth set when he disagreed with successive line calls. He lost it 2-6.

In the final set, Ivanišević was two points from defeat but held for 7-7. Having then finally broken Rafter, he had four match points and wasted the first two with double faults. When Rafter returned a second serve into the net, Ivanišević was finally the champion of Wimbledon, 6-3 3-6 6-3 2-6 9-7.

The lowest ranked player and the first wild card to win Wimbledon; still the only male wild card to win a Slam.

Photo: Rebecca Naden

“I don’t know if someone is going to wake me up and tell me I haven’t won again”, Ivanišević said. “This was my dream all my life. I came here and nobody thought about me, but here I am holding the trophy.”

Rafter’s mother Jocelyn gave her thoughts on the match to ABC Australia. “Goran played fantastic tennis, and I suppose if [Patrick] had to lose to anybody, I would be pleased that it was to Goran because he’s been there so many times and he’s such a nice guy.”

The Croatian celebrated the win in his home city Split with over 150,000 people who watched the fireworks and partied as he stripped down to his jocks and jumped into the sea.

Described by the tournament itself as “Wimbledon’s most famous wild card”, Ivanišević was inducted into the ITHF in 2020.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of his Wimbledon victory.

The nominees and winners in the other four Iconic Moments in Tennis History categories:

Most Epic Rivalry
Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg
Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic
Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova
Steff Graf vs. Monica Seles
Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi
Billie Jean King vs. Margaret Court
Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall
Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams

Best Comeback Within a Match
Rafael Nadal d. Daniil Medvedev, 2022 Australian Open Final
Jennifer Capriati d. Martina Hingis, 2002 Australian Open Final
Mary Joe Fernandez d. Gabriela Sabatini, 1993 Roland Garros Quarter-Final
Manuel Orantes d. Guillermo Vilas, 1975 US Open Semi-Final
Chanda Rubin d. Jana Novotna, 1995 Roland Garros Third Round
Jimmy Connors d. Mikael Pernfors, 1987 Wimbledon Fourth Round
Richard Pancho Gonzales d. Charlie Pasarell, 1969 Wimbledon First Round
Pete Sampras d. Jim Courier, 1995 Australian Open Quarter-Finals

Most Iconic Celebration
Pat Cash’s Champion’s Climb, 1987 Wimbledon
Kim Clijsters and daughter Jada on court, 2009 US Open
Gustavo Kuerten drawing a heart in clay, 2001 Roland Garros
Jimmy Connors’ fist pump vs. Aaron Krickstein, 1991 US Open
Jim Courier diving into the Yarra River, 1992 & 1993 Australian Open
Petr Korda and Korda Family’s scissor kick
Serbian Davis Cup team shaving heads following 2010 championship
Billie Jean King’s racquet toss following Battle of the Sexes

Best Moment of National Pride
Ashleigh Barty, 2022 Australian Open
Goran Ivanisevic, 2001 Wimbledon
Althea Gibson, 1957 Wimbledon
Andy Murray, 2013 Wimbledon
Virginia Wade, 1977 Wimbledon
Li Na, 2011 Roland Garros
Maria Bueno, 1959 Wimbledon
David Hall, 2000 Sydney Paralympics

Title photo by David Ashdown

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