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Croatian tennis legend Goran Ivanisevic may now be retired – but his influence lives on in the sport. He is still the only player to have won Wimbledon as a wildcard – a victory that sealed his spot in the tennis hall of fame.
Ivanisevic started young, turning professional in 1988 at the age of 17. Straight away he began to make waves, securing his first doubles title later that year in Frankfurt. He went on to disrupt the status quo at the Australian Open, knocking out favourite Boris Becker in the first round. His strong, attacking style of play and powerful serve began to attract attention and soon he became notorious on the international circuit – although not just for positive reasons. His occasional tantrums on court and the volatility of his play earned him a number of enemies – and he even received death threats ahead of the Australian Men’s Hardcourt Championships in 1992 (which he went on to win).
Each tournament tends to have ‘wildcard’ entries – entries awarded to those who cannot qualify in the usual way. As Ivanisevic was ranked 125 at the time of the 2001 Wimbledon tournament, he was not able to automatically qualify for the main draw. His past semi-final performances were enough to satisfy the board that he was worth a wild card entry, however – and what followed will be legendary in tennis history for many years to come. To the surprise of everyone, Ivanisevic defeated former and future world number one players to reach the semi-finals. Astonished, crowds gathered to watch him beat US Open champion, Patrick Rafter – making him the lowest-ranked player and first wild card entry to win Wimbledon at the age of 29.
This triumph was to be his last, though – as he decided to end his professional career shortly afterwards. His impact on the sport, however, will live on for many years to come. As a coach, he has already influenced many rising stars of modern tennis, including Milos Raonic.
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