Hearing all the good news coming from Croatian athletes, especially our young tennis stars such as Borna Ćorić and Donna Vekić, we cannot say that there isn’t something in the Croatian air. But the Croatian tennis renaissance didn’t start just recently, out of the blue. It had its roots a bit back in almost two decades ago with one Wimbledon match and a story behind that no one in the world could believe would happen.
Goran Ivanišević had become a household name in every part of Croatia and that even paved the way for many tennis players to come in the future. Why? Because even the underdogs can prove themselves when nobody is expecting!
Born in Split, during Yugoslavia Goran was a regular kid in the family of two engineers and an elder sister. He was always somehow showing an interest in sports at a young age. He played basketball and soccer as a school student before developing an interest in tennis. He won the city’s scholastic championship in cross-country, even without training. His father, Srđan Ivanišević, a tennis player himself, recognized Goran’s potential and enrolled him at a tennis school. It didn’t take long to see that Goran has amazing skills and professional training just led to him blossoming into a very skillful player.
With time, his training expenses increased and it was a challenge to fund his classes but his parents were determined to give him the best coaching possible. They even sold off their belongings to ensure that Goran could attend a full-time tennis school in Zagreb.
Ivanišević officially became a professional tennis player in 1988 at the age of 17. He began his career playing doubles tournaments with Rudiger Hass and the pair won a tournament in their rookie season.
Eventually, he began to focus more on playing singles tennis. Within a year of turning professional, he qualified for his first Grand Slam tournament at the 1989 Australian Open. He won four matches in the initial stages before being knocked out in the quarterfinals. It didn’t take long to play against the big names in the business. n 1992 that he managed to reach his first Wimbledon singles final after defeating Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl. He faced Andre Agassi in the finals and lost to him after a very exciting match. In 1994 he reached the Wimbledon final for the second time and was defeated by defending champion Pete Sampras. His good performance in the tournament helped him reach his career-high singles ranking of World No. 2.
He reached his third Wimbledon final, facing Sampras once again, in 1998. History repeated itself when he eventually lost to Sampras in five sets. The next three years of his career were marred by injuries that greatly affected his performance and his world ranking slid to No. 125. But things were about to change dramatically! In 2001 he was awarded a wildcard for entry into the singles draw at Wimbledon given his past record as a three-time runner-up. He beat players such as Carlos Moyá, Andy Roddick, and Marat Safin as well as Fredrik Jonsson and Greg Rusedski to reach the semi-final.
At the semifinal, he faced Tim Henman who was the favorite while Ivanišević was the underdog of the day.
Ivanišević played spectacularly to beat Henman and reached the finals where he played against former US Open champion Patrick Rafter. Ivanisevic defeated Rafter in a surprise victory becoming the only male entrant to have won a Grand Slam as a wildcard!
He received the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Overseas Personality Award in 2001. The same year he also won the Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year and was named ATP Most Improved Player.
This story has truly been an inspiration for many young tennis players of that time to believe in themselves, never give up when things don’t work out the way they planned the first time and that nothing beats hard work and dedication.