Tennis - the Men's Singles Final, Wimbledon 2001 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Tennis - the Men's Singles Final, Wimbledon 2001

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Wimbledon 2001 came to a thrilling end on a third Monday with the Men's Singles Final. Already being hailed as one of the most recent 'classic' matches, it was played out between two players who had never won Wimbledon before.

The Players

The Good, the Bad, and the Emergency

Goran Ivanisevic, aged 29 (unseeded, ranked 125th in the world, from Croatia), was already a veteran of three Wimbledon finals; those in 1992, 1994 and 1998. He is generally regarded as one of the last great personalities of the tennis world, admired for his audacity and shirt-removing victory celebrations1, and was already known as 'the best tennis player in the world who has never won a Grand Slam title'. His tennis style is most suited to Wimbledon's grass. He has a rhythmical left-handed serve that makes grown men weep at the baseline, and has been criticised for that fact. John McEnroe2 had reportedly said in the BBC commentary box that Ivanisevic was a 'one-shot wonder', insinuating that the only real aspect of his game was his serve. Ivanisevic returned (no pun intended) by saying that McEnroe had been 'bulls***ting' many other players via his commentary, and if he was indeed that, he would have to be a genius to reach the final with only one shot. McEnroe denies ever saying any words to that effect, but did say while commentating this final, 'I don't think it's earth shattering news that his serve is his biggest weapon'.

A Jekyll and Hyde player, Ivanisevic can show Bjorn Borg-like coolness in delivering aces and amazing shots, and yet throw tantrums of unbelievable passion which rival McEnroe's, all in one match. In one such match - the first round of the Samsung Open in Brighton, 2000 - he smashed up three of his racquets. He then had to default from not only the match, but also the whole tournament as he had no racquets left. Inconsistently brilliant, he mixes up clever volleying3 and whippy passing shots with exhibitionist shots, sloppy returns and rushed serves. Despite being 'nasty/nice/emergency4 Goran' on court, he is a well-humoured, self-deprecating person, and very amusing in interview. He also claims to watch the Teletubbies to calm his nerves before a match.

In this tournament, he had been offered a wild-card5. He was not really expected to get very far, and was surprised to get as far as the third round.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Patrick Rafter, aged 28 (seeded 3rd, ranked 6th in the world, from Australia), had already won two Grand Slams; the 1997 and 1998 US Opens. John McEnroe had described Rafter as being a 'one-Slam wonder' after his 1997 US Open win, to which Rafter replied by retaining the title in 1998. He was the runner-up to Pete Sampras' Champion in 2000, in a final that ran to four sets in rapidly fading light. Vowing to come back to win the title in 2001, he entered the match as favourite by a small margin. With a distinctive right-handed kick serve, he too serves up his fair share of aces. He is also regarded as being the most athletic serve-volleyer in the game. The more consistent of the finalists, he is able to keep a level head throughout a match, and hold his nerve. Despite this, his serving action has been his only main problem. He tosses the ball back over his head, causing him to bend his upper body far back and swing it whole into the serve. Although this gives him much of the devastating power in his serve, it has also given him many back, wrist and shoulder problems. In 1999, he had to have surgery on his right shoulder. This may have played a part in his surprising declaration that he would give up tennis after this Wimbledon.

He is, in British eyes, a typical Australian male; loved by the ladies for his rugged good looks and generosity; admired by the blokes for his dedication to his sport and his profanity-spattered talking. He is well humoured yet viciously cutting in interview; for instance, he describes fellow countryman Lleyton Hewitt6 as 'that little b*****d' in normal conversation, and 'that little b****r' when he is pleased with Lleyton's play. When asked what his family would be thinking after his semi-final win against Agassi, he replied 'They couldn't give a s**t'.

Both men desperately wanted to win, Ivanisevic having said in interview that 'I already have three plates7, I don't want another one...' and Rafter having said that he would retire. Both men were closely matched in ability and game style. No one could possibly have said for certain who would win the match.

The Match

This entry only considers the more memorable aspects of this match. For a more detailed, game-by-game synopsis, read the BBC's analysis: Gamewatch: Ivanisevic v Rafter.

The Crowd

The All-England Club do not give refunds on rain-delayed matches. As a result, all seats (including corporate-reserved hospitality seats) bought originally for the Sunday scheduled Men's Final were invalid on the Monday, and all the seats for the rescheduled Monday Men's Final were open to the queuing public. Hence, this became 'People's Monday', and was in part responsible for the football-like atmosphere. There were quite a few Australian people there, including the whole of the Australian cricket team. The Croatian support base was, in number, slightly smaller, but made up for it in voice. Otherwise, the crowd resembled a Davis Cup tie, in that it was split 50-50.

The crowd did seem to prove decisive, as the electric atmosphere that they created lifted the players to play truly cliffhanger tennis. The tense atmosphere created did seem to get to the players occasionally, and was in part responsible for 'The Incident' (see below).

Regardless, without a crowd like this, the match would not have been nearly as exciting. These were vociferous supporters, but ones who were also well behaved. The honking of horns and energetic cheering was markedly contrasted by the pin-dropping silence when players went up to serve. Anyone who rudely interrupted the players whilst in their serve action were not only told quite frankly by the other 13,999 people in the Centre Court crowd to be quiet, they were also glared down by the recipient of the serve. Supporters of both camps cheered not only their own when a point was won, but the other player with just as much enthusiasm; something, admittedly, which would not have happened had the British player, Tim Henman, qualified instead of Ivanisevic.

Sets One, Two and Three

Ivanisevic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 Rafter

Unusually for a final, none of these sets reaches the tie-break stage. Instead, they are totally symmetrical, in that whoever serves first takes the set. It is also about this time when both the crowd and the players realise that this is a far from straightforward match, with anyone getting so much as a toe in the other player's service game being in with a chance.

Set Four at Ivanisevic 1-2 Rafter...

Ivanisevic is up two sets to one, and either gets bored or feels crazy, because he plays a crowd pleasing between the legs shot. Suffice to say, he is 40-Love up, and despite losing that point, wins that game. The tension is now audibly and visibly escalating.

... and at Ivanisevic 2-4 Rafter, 'The Incident': Not only that, in serving for his third game at advantage Rafter, Ivanisevic makes his first foot-fault of the tournament, and then his second serve down the middle goes wide. Enter 'Nasty' Goran, who makes his first appearance of the match. He now completely loses it, throws his racquet down, kicks the net, launches into a tirade of swearing, pleads to the umpire to overrule, appears to spit at the lineswoman who made the call for foot-fault, and looking as if he would hit a ball at the linesman who made the call on his second serve. All this while the crowd is booing him. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't pick himself up to break back in that set, and Rafter, the much cooler of the two, wins the set 2-6.

Set Five...

Both players are two sets apiece. The crowd is so tense that many cannot bear to watch. This set is scene to some truly sublime, nail-biting tennis, Ivanisevic picking himself up after that foot-fault incident.

... at 5-6: Rafter, coolly, plays two unbelievable drop volleys reminiscent of McEnroe in his prime8, and with some fantastic serving, wins the game.

... at 8-7: However, both hold serve magnificently in the very tense atmosphere and all are square at seven games all, with Rafter to serve. With so little between them, it is, at this point, impossible to say who would come out the winner. Rafter serves, faults, and then serves a slower second serve in, which Ivanisevic tears into with a cross-court forehand, breaking his serve. Ivanisevic goes into his next service game serving for the match.

... and at 9-7, 'The Game': Far from straightforward, Ivanisevic seems to be rushing at his serves, eager to get it over and done with. On the other side of the net, Rafter seems slightly down-heartened, yet still determined to break back to square all again. As a result, the game reaches deuce. Ivanisevic then serves ace, then double-faults, and then an ace, creating an insurmountable tension in Centre Court. Rafter then finally manages to make a great return, Ivanisevic replies with a fantastic volley, and then Rafter creates an even better lob that sails over Ivanisevic's head to land in, returning the game to deuce. Ivanisevic then faults again, and sends a relatively slow second serve to Rafter, who may perhaps be letting the tension get to him, returns down the line, but sends it just wide. Ivanisevic then looks up, maybe for some divine intervention, and prays on the spot where the ball went wide and returns to serve yet another double-fault.

By this time, Centre Court, and several million television viewers really cannot bear to watch, many covering their faces, others still shouting encouragement. Ivanisevic serves, faults, and sends a slower second serve over, to which Rafter returns too low, and puts it in the net. Ivanisevic looks to the heavens again, and serves, putting it in the net. The second serve lands in, and Rafter returns, again, too low, and unfortunately for him, puts it in the net.

Arguably, these are the longest four minutes of the match.

The Result

Goran Ivanisevic wins the Championship: Ivanisevic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 Rafter.

Match Statistics taken from The Times Sports Supplement, 10 July 2001:

First Serves in %5563
Unforced Errors3011
Fastest Serve (in mph)132125
Total Points Won154150

Match time: 3 hours, 1 minute.

Not Impossible, Just Very Improbable

When they opened the gates last Monday something was shining... something special happened. I don't know what it was but I wish it happened every week.
- Goran Ivanisevic attempts to explain his spectacular return to form.
... it was a good final and an amazing atmosphere... I don't know if Wimbledon has ever seen anything like it and I don't think it will again - it was electric. That's what we play for and it was so much fun.
- Pat Rafter, on the crowd and the atmosphere in Centre Court.

Tight down to the line, the match could have gone either way, and it was unfortunate that there had to be only one winner, as both played the match of their lives. Both had also dispelled the myth that so called 'power players'9 of the post wooden-racquet era can't play delicate, exciting tennis, with wonderfully crafted volleys, and gentle, trickling taps over the net. No one could have really predicted the outcome; this Researcher thought when Ivanisevic lost his rag that he had lost his nerve and the match as a result. He surprised all by being a player who, ranked outside the top hundred, could come to Wimbledon and become the first wild-card entrant to win a Grand Slam title.

You have to feel for Rafter, though, who in thanking on Centre Court all those who had helped him get so far, audibly choked back the tears. It would be sad to think that that was the last time that we would see him playing on Centre Court, but it is looking unlikely that he will ever come back to have another go. When in interview, told that he was now part of history, he replied, 'I'm sick of making bloody history'10.

Both, however, in their determination to win, have created probably the best Men's Singles Final of recent memory.

Additional Bits of Trivia

  • Ivanisevic had beaten the tournament record for the most aces served in Wimbledon - 213 in his race to the final, compared to 206, his previous record in 1992. The nearest rival to this record is Pete Sampras, who served up 94 aces in this tournament.

  • Unusually for a final, all the sets, except for Set Five, took the same time to complete; about 30 minutes each.

  • Looking at the match statistics, Rafter outperforms Ivanisevic on every aspect of tennis except in three respects - total points won, speed of serve and aces served.

  • Rafter had cut his trademark 'surfer dude' hair for this tournament, revealing a small, yet quite noticeable white patch. This has earned him the nickname of 'Skunk' among his fans.

  • Ivanisevic has a tattoo of a cross entwined with a rose and a shark on his back. In his own words, 'The cross is a Cross, the rose is for love, and the shark is a mean, mean animal. Altogether, that's me.'

  • Rafter was in the top ten Sexy Men in America's People magazine, November 1997.

  • Ivanisevic dedicated his win to a friend of his, Drazen Petrovic, a basketball player in the Jersey Nets, who died in a car crash in 1993.

1See post-Rusedski and post-Safin matches in this tournament. This didn't happen after the Henman match or in this Final as he was running out of shirts.2The man who has probably defined the tennis tantrum with the four words, 'You cannot be serious!', joined the BBC's tennis commentary team in 2000, and has lent his brutally honest comments to the commentary box. As expected, like his antics on-court, it was not without controversy.3For definitions of the tennis terms used in this entry, see this Tennis Glossary.4This is the Goran when at Love-30 down and in real trouble, starts hammering down the aces.5The wild-card system has been in place since 1977. The All-England Club invites players to apply for a wild card, that enables the players to bypass the qualifying system. They may or may not get one at the discretion of the Club, based on past performance and British interest.6A young rising Australian tennis star most famous for beating Sampras at the Final of Queens, 2000, and widely considered to be the next Aussie, after Pat Rafter, with the best chances of winning Wimbledon.7The runner-up's trophy is an inscribed silver plate.8Pat Cash, the last Australian to win the Men's Title, said in the BBC's post-match analysis, Today at Wimbledon, that to play those shots in a Grand Slam Final you would have to be either 'completely insane or brilliant'. Then turned to McEnroe and said 'I know why you did it; it's because you're insane.'9Those who reduce the sport to its crudest elements; the powerful serve, the punch volley and aggressive groundstrokes. The result is the current crass tedium of the modern game. Such a protagonist is Pete Sampras, whose matches, in many people's opinion, are slightly less exciting than watching paint dry.10This is a reference to being Sampras' foil last year. Upon winning, Sampras then became the only male singles tennis player to have won 13 Grand Slam titles.

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