November 2000, Goran Ivanisevic was into the abyss of the rankings and suffering a recurring shoulder injury when he arrived at the Brighton tournament. Far, very far from the best shape of his career. We could have forgotten this tournament thirteen years later. Find out why we didn’t.
In the long, beautiful and sometimes scandalous career of Goran Ivanisevic, Sunday 8th of July 2001 is a day that he will never forget. The day when he finally won Wimbledon in five sets against Patrick Rafter, his one and only Grand Slam tournament, at thirty years old and after a decade of lost finals. Even better, he made history by being the first wild card player to ever win a Grand Slam. Because you can’t forget that Ivanisevic had just went through hell and back... A year earlier, it’s as the 136th player in the world that he arrived in the first round of the obscure Brighton 2000 Samsung Open. The great server didn’t knew it yet, but he was about to go down in history as the first player... who had to default after breaking all his racquets. Flashback.
After a year ruined by a recurring shoulder injury that disrupted his perfect serve-and-volley mechanics, Goran Ivanisevic was, at the end of 2000, the shadow of the great player he used to be. Worse, he was on a series of seven defeats in the first rounds when he entered the court against the Italian Gianluca Pozzi (42nd worldwide). The Croat started off with a victory in three sets 3/6 7/5 7/5 …but still found a way to yell at a linesman, who told the umpire chair. And clearly, Ivanisevic didn't like it: "When I was a kid, at school, I always hated the students who were going to the teachers to repeat what the others were doing. It's the same thing here." For those who doubted that player was, indeed, tense. But the best was yet to come. It's in the second round and against the Korean Hyung-Taik Lee, world 99th, that Goran Ivanisevic wrote a chapter of his legend. Let the show begin.
« Gerry, I don’t have any more racquets»
The Croat lost his service in the first set, at 5-5, and in a rage, broke his first racquet on the ground. He received a first warning. After winning the second set, he did it again in the third. After several missed break points at 1-1, he broke another racquet. And another warning. Two games later, losing 1-3, he made a double fault. Then, led 15-40 on his service, vexed, he broke, a third racquet. Third warning and a terrible problem for the player: that third racquet was actually his last.
At that moment, Goran Ivanisevic understood that he went too far. He called the supervisor Gerry Armstrong and told him the sinister truth: "Gerry I don't have any more racquets." The Gerry in question vividly remembers the epic scene: "I asked him if he could find one in the allotted time which was 3 or 4 minutes. I even offered to ask his doubles partner, Ivan Ljubicic, if he had a racquet in his locker that he could use." Goran Ivanisevic replied that Ivan Ljubicic had a Slazenger that didn't suit him. In front of a sparse audience, it didn't look like much but this was a moment in the history tennis that was happening. A bit taken aback Gerry Armstrong remembers announcing the end of the match: "I told the audience that it couldn't continue because of "lack of suitable equipment." It came to my mind at once."
« I can break a racquet on water. I have a special gift »
Recently, Goran Ivanisevic talked about this tournament for The Tennis Space. And he seemed genuine: "I was the first person to lose a game because I broke all my racquets. It was not a satisfaction. When I broke the last racquet I was happy. And then I realized: "What the f*** I don't have any more racquet!" And I felt stupid. The chair umpire came on the court and said: "What can I tell you?" And I replied: "I don't know, you're the chair umpire". It was strange, but it was me."
He continued: "I never understood why people have a problem with players who break racquets. When you break a racquet, everyone starts booing you. What's wrong with them? Firstly, this is my racquet. Second, if I want to break the racquet, I will break the racquet. Then I'll forget about it and get a new one in my bag. And the match continues. Because if you have talent like me, you can break your racquet on almost any surface. I can break a racquet on water. I have a special gift.” Yes, thirteen years later, the memory remains intact.
By Antoine Mestres