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Favourite moments of the noughties: Goran finally wins Wimbledon

January 1, 2010

The noughties has had its fair share of iconic sporting moments. The likes of Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods and Lionel Messi crossed the boundaries of sporting excellence to become icons to millions and marketable brands in their own right.

While those illustrious names triumphed with machine-like regularity, one man needed only a single tournament victory to create one of the best sporting moments of the noughties or, indeed, of any other era.

Goran Ivanisevic reached three Wimbledon finals in the 1990s, losing all of them. The gangly Croat with a bazooka serve, formidable forehand and a surprisingly deft touch at the net seemed to have all the weapons he needed to win Wimbledon. Despite his natural gifts, however, Ivanisevic continually faced two major problems: his own fragile temperament and Pete Sampras.

Known for wild mood swings, Ivanisevic would often lose control in matches and his game would instantly disintegrate. The ice-cool Pete Sampras, who had beaten Goran in the Wimbledon finals of 1994 and 1998 and was possibly the greatest serve-volleyer ever, was at the peak of his powers throughout the 90s. Both factors conspired to leave Goran without a Wimbledon title at the turn of the millenium.

In 2001, at the age of 29, it looked like Goran’s dream of winning Wimbledon was well and truly over. A shoulder injury in 1999 had caused a slide down the world rankings to number 125, not high enough for an automatic place in the Wimbledon singles draw. Fortunately, however, because of his outstanding record in previous tournaments, the All England Club gave Goran a wildcard.

In a display of incredible courage and physical effort, Goran dragged his creaking body through the early rounds, defeating Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, all of whom were past or future world number ones. Elsewhere, crucially, a young Roger Federer swept past the great Sampras in the fourth round, leaving the door open for a new champion.

In an epic rain-affected semi-final, Goran upset the home crowd by beating local favourite and conquerer of Federer, Tim Henman, in five sets.

The final between Ivanisevic and another great serve-volleyer, Australian Pat Rafter, was played the day after the scheduled end of the tournament for the first time ever. Thousands queued overnight to grab one of the 14,000 tickets for the Monday final and, devoid of the usual finals day stuffiness, the match was played in a carnival atmosphere more akin to European football.

For almost three drama-soaked hours, the two players traded sets and were deadlocked in the decider until Ivanisevic broke Rafter for an 8-7 lead with a thunderous forehand winner.

Within touching distance of realising his lifelong dream, Ivanisevic wept and fought to keep his arms steady. He double-faulted his first match-point then did the same on his second. Finally, at the third attempt, Ivanisevic nailed a huge first serve which Rafter could only prod into the net.

Ivanisevic collapsed onto the yellowing Centre Court grass before climbing the stands to tearfully embrace his father, while the euphoric crowd rose to acclaim a true sporting hero and a classic match.

Interviewed after the match, Goran said simply: “this is what I was waiting all my life.”

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