Goran Ivanisevic is never boring. From serving his way into the spotlight, becoming Wimbledon’s only wildcard champion in 2001 to never mincing words; the 43-year-old is often asked how many Gorans accompany him when he coaches compatriot Marin Cilic, the world No 10.
It’s hard to forget his famous temper. “One is enough. It’s easier to travel with one,” he laughs.
Strolling in with his usual swagger, the Croat introduces himself with a firm handshake. In the city for the Road to Wimbledon programme, in association with the All India Tennis Association, his eyes twinkle as the epic 2001 final against Pat Rafter comes up in conversation.
“To be honest I don’t know what happened in those two weeks. I couldn’t explain then, I can’t explain now,” Goran shrugs. Debates still rage in the tennis world as to how did the powerful server conquer SW19 in those two weeks. “I just felt good during practice. I found the sound of my racquet before the tournament which I took as a sign. After I won the second round (beating Carlos Moya), I knew I would win. Of course I couldn’t tell anyone because people would think I was crazy,” he smiles.
The final was shifted to Monday due to rain. “I probably won because it was a Monday final as I had lost three others that were played on Sundays (1992, 94, 98),” Goran laughs. The final was in no way dreary. Five sets, doubles faults on two match points, failing to jump for a lob on the third; there was no holding back tears as Rafter made an unforced error on the fourth. “To finally hold the trophy, it felt great,” explains Goran, who became the lowest-ranked player (No 125) to win Wimbledon.
With former stars like Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker taking up coaching, Goran officially joined the bandwagon with Cilic in 2013. But he had always been part of the 26-year-old’s life with advice and inputs. At that juncture, Cilic was handed a backdated nine-month ban for failing a drug test. “Those months were tough,” he recollects. “Being accused of something when you’re not guilty, I’m proud the way Marin handled himself.”
With the ban reduced to four months after appealing to CAS, their partnership began in earnest and his ward capped a wonderful return winning the 2014 US Open.
“It took him a while to start believing in himself. To win a Grand Slam and making the final or semifinal of one, there is a huge difference. You can’t win thinking the others will miss. You need to take risks,” says Goran, firmly believing coaching is immensely tougher than actually playing. “You have to sit, clap, and keep a positive face. You don’t have racquets to break and you don’t want to break your chair,” he grins.
Age may have helped him mature, but sparks of the old Goran are still there.