Tennis Classics - 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, 29 (unseeded, ranked 125th in the world, Croatia), was already a veteran of three Wimbledon Finals; '92, '94 and '98. He is generally regarded as one of the last great personalities of the tennis world, admired for his audacity and shirt-removing victory celebrations*, 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, with a rhythmical left-handed serve that makes grown men weep at the baseline, and criticised so for that fact. John McEnroe* had reportedly said in the BBC commentary box that Goran was a 'one-shot wonder', insinuating that the only real aspect of his game was his serve. Goran returned (no pun intended) by saying that McEnroe had been 'bull*******g' 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 does say that, 'I don't think it's earth shattering news that his serve is his biggest weapon.' McEnroe Love-15 Ivanisevic/Rafter.

A Jekyll and Hyde player, he can show Bjorn Borg-esque coolness in delivering aces and amazing shots, and yet throw tantrums of unbelievable vileness which rival McEnroe's, all in one match. In one such match; the first round of the Samsung Open, Brighton, 2000, he smashed up three of his racquets. He then had to default from not only the match, but the whole tournament as he had nothing left to play with. Inconsistently brilliant, he mixes up clever volleying and whippy passing shots with exhibitionist shots, sloppy returns and rushed serves. Despite being 'nasty/nice/emergency* Goran' on court, he is a well-humoured, self-depreciating
person, and very amusing in interview. Also watches the Teletubbies to calm his nerves before a

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

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Patrick Rafter, 28 (seeded 3rd, ranked 6th in the world, Australia), was already a winner of two Grand Slams; the 1997 and 1998 US Open. McEnroe had also described Pat as being a 'one-Slam wonder' after Pat's '97 US Open win, to which Pat replied by retaining the title in '98. McEnroe Love-30 Ivanisevic/Rafter. He was the Runner Up to
Pete Sampras' Champion in 2000, in a final that ran to five sets in rapidly fading light. Vowing to come back to win the title in 2001, he entered the match marginally being the favourite. 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 Aussie 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 Hewitt* as 'that little b*****d' in normal conversation, and 'that little bug***' 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, Goran having said in interview that 'I already have three plates*, I don't want another one...' and Pat having said that he would retire. Both men were closely matched in ability and game style. It would be fair to say that it would have taken a brave person to say for certain who would win the match.

The Match

This researcher cannot hope to put the whole match down here since it runs to five sets. There are other places which you can read a detailed game-by-game synopsis of it, you might want to read the BBC's excellent analysis; Gamewatch: Ivanisevic v. Rafter. On the other hand, the entry cannot really leave the more memorable aspects of the match out.

The Crowd

The All-England Club do not give refunds on rain delayed matches. As a result, corporate reserved hospitality seats bought originally for the Sunday scheduled Men's Final were invalid, 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-esque atmosphere.
There were quite a few Aussies 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, and neutrals supporting both players.

The crowd did seem to prove decisive, as the electric atmosphere that they created lifted the players to play truly cliff-hanger 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 nearly been 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 'shut up', 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 homeboy, Tim Henman, qualified
instead of Goran.

Sets One, Two and Three; Ivanisevic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 Rafter

Unusually for a Final, none of these sets reaches the tiebreak 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 far from a 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...

Goran is up 2 sets to 1, and either gets bored or feels crazy, 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, Goran 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 Pat, 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, Goran picking himself up after that foot-fault incident. 5-6...

Pat, cool as you like, plays two unbelievable drop volleys reminiscent of McEnroe in his prime*, and with some fantastic serving, wins the game. 8-7...

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

...and at 9-7; 'The Game'

Far from straightforward, Goran seems to be rushing at his serves, eager to get it over and done with. On the other side of the net, Pat seems slightly downheartened, yet still determined to break back to square all again. As a result, the game reaches deuce. Goran then serves ace, then double-faults, then ace; creating an insurmountable tension in Centre Court. Pat then finally manages to make a great return, Goran replies with a fantastic volley, and then Pat creates an even better lob that sails over Goran's head to land in, returning the game to deuce. Goran then faults again, and sends a relatively slow second serve to Pat, who, perhaps the tension has also got to him, returns down the line, but sends it just wide. Goran then looks up, perhaps for some divine intervention, 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. Goran, serves, faults, and sends a slower second serve over, to which Pat returns too low, and puts it in the net. Goran looks to the heavens again, and serves, putting it in the net. The second serve lands in, and Pat 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*:
First Serves in %5563
Unforced Errors3011
Fastest Serve (in mph)132125
Total Points Won154150


Match time: 3 hours, 1 minute.

Not an Impossible Result, Just Very, 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
His attempt to explain his spectacular return to form. 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*' 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 Goran lost his rag that he had lost his nerve and the match as a result. He surprised all being a player who, ranked outside the top hundred, would come to Wimbledon and become the first wild-card entrant to win a Grand Slam title.

You have to feel for Pat, though, who in thanking on Centre Court all those who have helped
him get so far, audibly choked back the tears. It would be sad to think that this is the last time that we 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*.'

Both, however, in their determination to win, have created probably the best Men's Singles Final of recent memory. It's just a shame someone had to lose.

A Few Additional Bits of Trivia

  • Goran 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.

  • If you look at the match statistics, Pat outperforms Goran on every aspect of tennis except in three respects; total points won, speed of serve and aces served.

  • Pat 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.

  • Goran 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.'

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

  • Goran 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.

And Finally...

It has been the best Championship I have been involved in, both as a player and a commentator.
I have really enjoyed it.
I'm a players' guy and know how tough it is out's a great ending to a wonderful story.

- John McEnroe

BBC Tennis Commentator and Former Wimbledon Champion

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