Column: A three-faced victory

If the folks at Wimbledon knew that Goran Ivanisevic would be crowned this year’s gentlemen’s singles champion, maybe they would have minted three championship trophies.

That’s one for each of Goran’s personalities. Known as much for his lethal lefty serve as he is for his court antics and wry humor, Goran amused the tennis public once again by revealing the three Gorans that inhabit his much talked-about brain.

There’s the “good Goran” who cranks out unreturnable serves like a machine. Then there’s the racket-smashing, linesman-cussing, “bad Goran” – specialty: mental meltdowns. If all else fails, who do you call? The “emergency” or “911 Goran,” who pulls out a match when it seems hopelessly lost. All three Gorans were in attendance during his improbable run to the Wimbledon title, especially in his epic five-set defeat of Patrick Rafter in the final.

There was the good Goran, taking a two-sets-to-one lead for the first time in his four championship appearances. Before you could say “Grand Slam champion”, out came the bad Goran, losing his serve in the fourth set and following that with a typical (for him) racket throwdown and a not-so-typical karate kick on the net.

After dropping the fourth set, the good Goran came back in the fifth, easily holding serve and standing toe-to-toe with Rafter. But then, a spotty service game left Ivanisevic two points from losing his fourth Wimbledon final. What happened next? You guessed it.

Emergency Goran emerged to save the day, winning that game and ultimately the match.

The fact that Ivanisevic was even at Wimbledon, let alone the champion, was a minor miracle in itself.

The loss to Pete Sampras in the 1998 final, sent Ivanisevic on a downward spiral of injuries and losses which stretched into this spring. So the lefty from Split, Croatia, received a gift from the Wimbledon brass – a wildcard entry into this year’s main draw, based on his past accomplishments on the grass courts of the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

Smart move. Ivanisevic, ranked 125th battled through a draw laden with top-25 players and rode his ailing left shoulder (sore from laying down 213 aces, bettering his own record set in 1992) to lift his first Grand Slam trophy, as well as the first ever for a wildcard.

I remember watching the 1992 final, when Ivanisevic lost to Andre Agassi. I thought then that he would surely win some day, but I didn’t think that day would come nine years and three attempts later.

But, with Goran, it was never just about whether he won. It was how he played. The perfectly disguised and efficient 130-mph serves, arguably the best in the history of tennis, are the obvious.

Then there are the little things, like throwing down an ace and asking for the same ball again. And it must be a tennis reporter’s dream to cover a player who once said a stay in prison might help him break out of his slump.

There was something else that was special about Monday’s final match – the flag-toting, sign-waving fans looked as if they got lost on their way to a Manchester United match. Ivanisevic and Rafter treated them to a match that was possibly the best-ever Grand Slam final.

The man from Split with split personalities gave his countrymen a reason cheer. For a nation recovering from a civil war, the victory of the three Gorans could not have come any sooner.

– Khari Williams is The Oracle sports editor.