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The day a wildcard won Wimbledon: 20 years since Goran Ivanišević realised his dream

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Goran Ivanisevic (Photo credit: Tom Hevezi/Press Association/PIXSELL)

Twenty years ago today, on 9 July 2001, Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanišević realised a life-long dream when he won the men’s singles at Wimbledon. 

After losing to Pete Sampras in the final in 1998, which the Split-born left-hander’s third losing final, he thought that his dream of lifting the trophy on centre court at the All England Club would never come true. 

By the summer of 2001, Goran had slipped in the rankings to world No. 125. This was not enough to earn him an automatic place in the main draw but, given his past record as a three-time runner-up, he was awarded a wildcard. 

After beating former and future world No. 1 players Carlos Moyá, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin as well as Fredrik Jonsson and Greg Rusedski on the way to to semifinal, he would have to face local-boy Tim Henman. In a five set thriller, which was rain-affected, Goran prevailed. 

In the final he faced the 2000 runner up, Australian Patrick Rafter and the Croatian would win it in five-sets 6–3, 3–6, 6–3, 2–6, 9–7.

Goran, who had a number of rituals during the two-week tournament, including watching Teletubbies every morning and only playing in two shirts, set a number of records, not only was he the lowest-ranked player to ever win the title, he was also the first and only wildcard in history to win Wimbledon. 

“I am worried I will wake up in the morning and they will tell me it was just a dream,” he said after the win, before dedicating it to his late friend and basketball great Dražen Petrović.

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A post shared by Goran Ivanisevic (@goranivanisevicofficial)

Today, Goran said this: “20 years later, it still feels like it was yesterday. Priviliged to still be a part of this unique tournament. Big thanks for all your support and love over the years.”

Goran returned home to his native Split to a hero’s welcome. More than 150,000 people took to the Split waterfront and harbour with a parade of boats and fireworks. 

Later this month, Goran will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“Croatia’s Goran Ivanisevic’s serve-and-volley style of play led him to great success on the grass courts of Wimbledon where he was a quarterfinalist once, semifinalist twice, and finalist three times, before winning the title in 2001. That year, ranked world No. 125, the big-serving lefty was granted a wildcard into the tournament. In a magical run to the trophy, he knocked out three players who were former or future world No. 1s en route to a five-set battle with Patrick Rafter in the final. Ivanišević is a two-time Olympic medalist, having won a singles bronze and doubles bronze, both in 1992,” the International Hall of Fame said.

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