True fairytales are rare and one such instance was born on this day, July 9, 2001, when a determined tennis player, Goran Ivanisevic won against all odds to relish his dream that he refused to let go
What makes a winner?
Is it determination?
Is it skill?
Indeed, both are needed, but another important aspect is the dream, the driving force to achieve something.
That force created many fairytales in modern sports which inspired generation after generation.
But true fairytales are rare and one such instance was born on this day, July 9, 2001, when a determined tennis player won against all odds to relish his dream that he refused to let go.
Goran Ivanisevic may not be the greatest name in the tennis Hall Of Fame, but the 6 feet 4 inch tall, left-handed Croatian, who was known for his rocket-paced aces, was my childhood favorite.
Goran was almost like an anti-thesis, a tragic hero character of myths.
He was passionate; he used to serve with all his power but had some technical deficiencies, including a weak two-hand backhand stroke, and often failed to keep his nerve that let him down in crucial junctures of a big game.
Perhaps his hyper-emotional presence in court was the thing that attracted many tennis lovers, and made him a darling albeit whilst facing heartbreaks.
Nothing was more heartbreaking than his losses in the final at his favorite center court on grass in as many as three finals, against Americans Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Goran, who was born in 1971, saw his home country Yugoslavia divided into pieces, but he kept his fight, and his war against the big Americans was almost a clash of cultures, a battle of Goliath against David, though in real life he was in the losing side.
His love with Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, started back in 1990 when he lost to legendary Boris Becker in the semi-final.
In 1992, he beat Sampras in the semi but lost his cool in the fifth and final set in the grand finale, and conceded the trophy to Agassi.
Two years later, Sampras avenged the loss by beating the emotional Croat by an easy 3-0 sets margin.
Goran had to wait four more years for his next Wimbledon final and despite making a much better effort, lost to Sampras again, this time by 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 2-6.
It seemed his dream was buried for eternity and his form descended.
By the time of summer 2001, when he was almost 30, he was ranked 125 and was not even eligible to get an automatic place in Wimbledon.
However, he was awarded a wildcard to take part in the tournament and that was the start of a modern epic.
He started with a sore shoulder but looked a complete different man who can curb his excess adrenaline rush.
That helped him beat players like future No 1 Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin.
While his nemesis Sampras was beaten by a young Swiss sensation Roger Federer, he had to face the in-form Patrick Rafter in the final.
It is notable that the match between Sampras and Federer was the only one between two of the greatest players in any Grand Slam.
Goran, with his shoulder pain and excitement beat crowd favorite and local boy Tim Henman in the rain-marred semi-final, and the final was deferred to Monday owing to inclement weather.
It was an epic three-hour battle and Wimbledon never saw a more raucous crowd than that as every point of that stomach-churning final was greeted with glee and ecstasy.
As an avid Goran fan myself, back then a 17-year old teenager, I thought it was again the same old story of despair, a tale of near yet so far, as he conceded the fourth set 2-6 after the first three sets ended 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
But the final set was a cliffhanger.
It was never-say-die from two fierce competitors as it stood 7-7 before Goran broke Rafter’s serve to take a lead of 8-7, and the big man was serving for the match.
He missed three match points in that game to raise the tension and agony even higher but when Rafter netted a forehand return, it was all over.
The man with wildcard went wild, lying on the floor crying, thousands of spectators made deafening sound of joy, and a teenager thousands of miles away, almost failed to keep his heartbeat momentarily, and even by recalling that after almost two decades, feels an emotional roller coaster.
Perhaps, millions of tennis fans who observed that great moment, had the same feeling.
Ivanisevic, who became the only man ever to win Wimbledon with a wildcard, said after the match, “I don’t know if someone is going to wake me up and tell me I haven’t won again.”
It was like a dream, and still feels so.
Although the word motivation has become a super cliché word these days due to overuse, the legacy of Goran that he established on this day by fulfilling a dream against all odds is the true motivation for life.
That is the strength and beauty of sport that touches millions of hearts and makes the earth a better place.