- Wimbledon 2001 - Ivanisevic wins five-set thriller
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Thursday, July 17
Ivanisevic wins five-set thriller

WIMBLEDON, England -- Through tears of joy, Goran Ivanisevic spotted his father, weaved through the cheering crowd and threw his arms around him as if they hadn't seen each other in years.

Goran Ivanisevic

At long last, they embraced as Wimbledon champion and the man who stood by his side when his career hit bottom. So when Ivanisevic completed his leap to the top, he headed right for the gray-haired teacher from Split, Croatia.

"We won together," Ivanisevic said. "I played on the court, but he was the big support and he always believed I could do it."

Ivanisevic convinced everyone else Monday when he became one of Wimbledon's most improbable champions, beating Patrick Rafter in five riveting sets after barely getting into the tournament.

"This is so great, to touch that trophy, I don't even care now if I ever win a match in my life again," Ivanisevic said. "Wherever I go I can always be Wimbledon champion."

Two points away from defeat, he rallied to beat Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 and become the second player to win a Wimbledon singles title without being seeded. Boris Becker did it in 1985.

Ivanisevic, three-time runner-up but never a winner of tennis' top tournament despite being one of the tour's hardest servers, needed a wild-card invite simply to play.

In the end, no man played better or with more obvious emotion.

"This was my dream all my life," he said.

Teary-eyed as he served his final points in the last game, the lefty from Croatia finally won the championship on Rafter's service return into the net then cried as he embraced his father in the stands.

Ivanisevic dedicated the victory to his late friend Drazen Petrovic, the basketball player who died in a car crash in 1993 after taking Croatia to a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Petrovic's mother Biserka told state television she had to take tranquillisers to remain calm during the final.

"But it felt so good, as if Drazen was alive, beside me," she said. "They were very similar in temper."

The moment Ivanisevic knew he had completed his long climb back -- from Wimbledon runner-up in 1998 to shoulder troubles in 2000 to being ranked 125th entering the tournament -- he fell on his back and rolled on his stomach at Centre Court.

Then he stood up, clutched both hands on his head and went to the net where he and Rafter hugged. Ivanisevic, his face contorted as tears fell, then ran into the stands and hugged his father Srdjan, and other supporters.

"When I came here, nobody even talked about me," Ivanisevic said. "Now I'm holding this trophy."

It was very nearly Rafter's.

"Someone has to lose, and I'm the loser again," Rafter said.

Ivanisevic, 29, joined Venus Williams as this year's singles champions. She beat Justine Henin of Belgium in three sets Sunday, becoming the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1995-96 to win consecutive Wimbledon championships.

Rafter, 28 and contemplating retirement, just wanted one to go with his two Grand Slam titles, both in the U.S. Open.

He had lost his first Wimbledon final last year to Pete Sampras. It was Sampras' fourth straight championship and seventh in eight years on the grass at the All England Club.

"This time it hurts a little bit more," Rafter said. "The first time was just fun to be there. The second time I didn't want second, I wanted to win."

That seemed more likely without Sampras, who lost in the fourth round.

Somehow, Ivanisevic was still around.

"I guess he started to believe in himself," Rafter said, "and he believed in his serve."

Ivanisevic had 27 aces, giving him 213 for the tournament and breaking his own Wimbledon record of 206.

He reached the finals by beating Tim Henman of Britain in a match that began Friday, was suspended twice by rain, and ended Sunday. For the first time since 1988, one day was added to the fortnight for the men's final.

Fans, thrilled with the chance to see a men's final on the extra day, began lining up Sunday for $54 tickets. Many were raucous -- some wearing green and yellow wigs, the colors of Rafter's native Australia -- as their spirits were lifted, then deflated as the momentum kept shifting on a mild, partly cloudy day.

One spectator had to keep his reactions mild because of his spot in the royal box. Actor Jack Nicholson was dressed conservatively in a red tie, white shirt and dark suit, next to actress Lara Flynn Boyle, his girlfriend.

Rafter led 7-6 in the last set and went up 0-30 on Ivanisevic's serve. Ivanisevic fought back to take the advantage, then Rafter tied the game, leaving him two points from victory a second time.

But Ivanisevic -- determined to improve on his finals losses to Andre Agassi in 1992 and Sampras in 1994 and 1998 -- survived with a service winner and his 25th ace of the match.

Now the pressure was on Rafter, who came into the tournament seeded third.

Serving in the next-to-last game, he fell behind 15-30 when he hit a backhand volley long. And when Ivanisevic hit a service return for a crosscourt winner, he had two break points.

He only needed one of them as he hit another forehand winner on Rafter's service. Sensing his moment had come, he pumped his fist and took his final break between games to contemplate how he would fulfill his dream.

Ivanisevic, who lost three service games Monday after dropping just six in his other six matches, fell behind 15-30 in the last game, then fired a 116 mph ace on his second serve to tie it.

He wiped his face, then asked for the same ball for his next serve.

His 27th ace, and a 40-30 lead, followed seconds later. One more point and the championship would be his. Again, he wiped his face as he fought to hold back his tears. He lifted up his socks and licked his upper lip.

Then he double-faulted.

Ivanisevic got the advantage when Rafter hit a backhand to the net but, once more, he double-faulted, tying the game again.

Then Rafter hit a ball wide from the baseline, and Ivanisevic had his third match point. This time, he knelt where Rafter's ball had landed and crossed himself. Then he kissed the ball.

But Rafter tied the game again with a deep backhand lob. And that was his final point.

Ivanisevic faulted, then Rafter hit the return of the second serve into the net. And, once more, Ivanisevic wanted the same ball back. He hit it into the net, then reached back for one last big serve.

Rafter flailed at it from the baseline and hit it into the net.

"It's all over," he said after one of the most thrilling finals in Wimbledon history.

Until next year, when Ivanisevic plans to return and continue the tradition of the men's champion playing the first match on Centre Court.

"I want to experience that," he said. "I don't care if I win or lose."

Information from Reuters news service was used in this report.

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