Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wimbledon Dreams

While channel-surfing a couple of nights ago, I chanced upon a replay of the historic Wimbledon final of 2001 (apparently, Star Sports was showing that because rain forced organizers to suspend matches in day one of this year's Wimbledon Championships). It was between Australia's Patrick Rafter and one of my all-time tennis idols (along with Andre Agassi), Goran Ivanisevic. People can learn a thing or two about ambition and perseverance from this guy. I know I have.

In 1990, two years after turning pro, Ivanisevic made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon, where he was beaten by the legendary Boris Becker in four sets. (The Croatian earlier knocked out Becker in the first round of that year's French Open, where the latter reportedly commented that "even God could not have played any better)." It was after that match that Becker predicted Ivanisevic would eventually become a Wimbledon champion.

Two years later, Ivanisevic would get his first chance at the championship, when he made it to the final against Agassi. The American would eventually triumph and win his first Grand Slam title, but not before an epic five-set battle against Ivanisevic.

In 1994, Ivanisevic again found himself in the Wimbledon final, this time against Pete Sampras. The seven-time champion completely outclassed Ivanisevic, pounding him in straight sets. Despite the setback, the oftentimes hotheaded Croat with a penchant for sticking his tongue out during matches and weird hairstyles was ranked number two in the world that year, the highest of his professional career.

It was an Ivanisevic-Sampras final yet again in 1998. This time, the former pushed the American to five sets before finally bowing to him. Knowing it has always been his dream to become champion at Wimbledon, I can only imagine the frustration and heartbreak he felt after being that close to his dream and suffering the agony of defeat for the third time. It was around this time, I think, that I first became a fan of Goran. I felt like I could relate to his constant struggle to prove himself, especially in the big leagues.

Ivanisevic's ranking fell after being sidelined with a shoulder injury for most of 1999 to 2000. Despite being ranked 125th in the world, Wimbledon officials gave him a wildcard entry in the 2001 edition of the championships. On the road to the finals, he beat players like Carlos Moya (2nd round), then up-and-coming hotshot Andy Roddick (3rd round), Greg Rusedski (4th round) and Tim Henman (SF). And once again, Ivanisevic found himself on Centre Court battling for the Wimbledon title and a place in history. Never before had a wildcard entry gotten past the semifinal round in Wimbledon. I remember watching the final alone in my room, screaming my lungs out everytime Ivanisevic scored a point against Rafter. The two were pretty much even competitors, but in the end, I think it came down to who wanted the title more. The fifth and deciding set was as close as it came, and with bated breath, I and countless tennis fans around the world watched as Ivanisevic served out the match in a tiebreak. Rafter failed to return, and just like that, after almost three hours of play, the "best player never to have won a grand slam title" finally won a grand slam title.

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Dreams do come true

It was an overwhelming feeling, watching someone you've been rooting for overcome the odds and win. After years of struggling, Goran Ivanisevic achieved the near-impossible. It was so intense I had to call a friend on my cellphone just to share with her the feeling of triumph and jubilation. And watching it again this week, the feelings all came rushing back. I think I had a lump in my throat after that last point, with Goran first lying down on the grass then jumping up to look for what I think were his parents and coach up in the stands. Sure beats inane sitcoms and reruns of Blind Date and The Fifth Wheel.

"Wimbledon" the movie was on HBO last night. The story of an ageing tennis player receiving a wildcard at Wimbledon and overcoming the odds to win the title seems vaguely familiar (although I'm not sure Goran managed to find time for romance on the grasscourts during his time. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if he did).


Blogger decemberchalks said...

i know this match because i witnessed it in the safe confines of my parents' living room hehehe :)

anyways, though i can absolutely relate to the elation felt by goran and all that sentiments about dreams coming true-after all that was my first summer as a law student (after obsessing about it for ages!), i was really crushed cause he had to make his dreams come true against the love of my twenty something self (along with andre too :)....

anyways, i am a sucker for the underdogs so now that these great guys have retired, i am rooting against federer-anyone but him so i was terribly happy that he got beaten up last week at Indian wells-but of course, it will be icing on the cake if he gets beaten by andy roddick hehehe...dang! that roger, he is just so good-or perhaps, the atp is lacking in players like andre and pete and patrick and yes, your favorite (and mine as well)-goran :)

6:04 PM  

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