December 20, 2008
A final that had it all, from phenomenal tennis play to an electric atmosphere.
Centre Court was captivated by it, and so was I.
It was a final no one could have predicted, with two players in Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter coming to the end of their careers. Despite their advancing years, their hunger and desire to win remained true.
Firstly, Goran Ivanisevic—the man who crushed Tim Henman’s dreams at the semi final stage in a five set thriller.
However, despite crushing the dreams of a nation, there was no doubt who the British public was supporting in this final. The Croatian was the first wild card entry to ever make it to the Wimbledon final, and previous to this match, was a three time losing finalist at SW19.
As many have done before the underdog endeared himself to the British public. We loved his madness, his honesty, and his undoubted flaws. There was something true about Goran. He was the loveable loser, a trait British fans are all too familiar with.
Then there was Rafter. Riding on the crest of an Australian wave in sport, with victories in the Ashes and the Lions Tour, Rafter was looking to avenge his defeat to the legendary Pete Sampras from the previous year.
And with rumblings that the Australian was to retire at the end of the tennis season, both players had laid their claims for victory.
So, with the scene set, the match began—on a Monday no less, for the first time in Wimbledon history.
This gave ordinary folk the chance to see the final, and by god, did it make for a scintillating atmosphere. Duelling chants of “Goran” and “Rafter” were the order of the day, as the atmosphere resembled a football match more than a tennis match.
It was boisterous and loud, and Wimbledon had seen nothing quite like it.
Ivanisevic won the toss and elected to serve, and started the stronger, holding early and breaking Rafter at the first attempt. The Croat’s serve and volley game was looking strong, and the pressure had seemingly got to Rafter early on as the Wild Card wrapped up the first set 6-3.
But Rafter came back strongly in the second set, and asserted himself quickly with an early break of his own, after two uncharacteristic double faults from Ivanisevic. The Australian then held serve, and was beginning to look confident himself as he won the second set 6-3.
The tables had turned, and the match was evenly poised. And as the match wore on, the tennis got better and better.
The third set saw some tremendous tennis—no more so than from Rafter. The Australian produced deft backhands and lunging volleys from seemingly impossible angles.
But it wasn’t enough to stop Ivanisevic, who had the momentum back in his favour. The Croat’s service games were strong and emphatic, and despite Rafter’s best efforts, he couldn’t live with him as another set ended 6-3—this time to the big Croatian.
Serve was becoming crucial for these powerful players, no more so than for Ivanisevic, who was using his powerful serve to full advantage.
But if we saw the very best of Ivanisevic in the third set, in the fourth set we saw him at his very worst.
Facing break point at 2-3, Ivanisevic proceeded to double fault and gift the game to Rafter. Incredulous with rage, The Croat took his frustrations out on his racket, the net, and the umpire.
Crazy Goran had made an appearance, but was he here to stay?
For the rest of the set he certainly was, as the Australian kept his cool and saw the rest of the set out comfortably.
The Croatian had lost his cool, and indeed his grasp on the match.
So it came to this. After four epic sets of tennis, it all rested on the final set. The atmosphere was electric. The stage was set. Who would prevail?
Rafter started the stronger, holding serve with Ivanisevic struggling to regain his composure. But the Croatians serve came to his rescue once again to level the set.
The rest of the set followed the same trend, as things got tenser. Both players showed their determination to win, game after game went by as both players refused to let their serve be broken.
At 3-3, Ivanisevic served his 207th ace of the Championship, and in doing so set a new Wimbledon record.
And at 5-5 we saw a truly remarkable game of tennis. Rafter’s brilliance saw him recover from 15-30 down to 40-30 with two audacious drop shots. And despite double-faulting, the Australian recovered and served the game out at deuce.
At 5-6 to Rafter, all the pressure was on The Croatian. But his trusty serve could be relied upon, and a majestic service game took the set to 6-6, and kept the match alive.
But at 6-7, the enigmatic Croatian was staring at defeat. At 0-30 down, Ivanisevic showed tremendous courage to get back into the game, and eventually won the game with a trademark ace to make it 7-7.
Momentum was now on Ivanisevic’s side, and he took full advantage in the game that followed, as the match took a decisive turn.
A cross court forehand put past a despairing Rafter gave the Croatian the first break of the set, and put Ivanesevic in full control.
But the drama didn’t end there.
Serving for the Wimbledon title, which was now firmly in his grasp, two double faults let Rafter back in to the match. And at the third attempt, a superb lob from the Australian showed that he wasn’t prepared to lie down just yet.
In a fitting finale, it was a trademark serve from Ivanisevic that could only be returned as far as the net by Rafter that sealed the championship.
Overcome by emotion, the Croatian collapsed to the ground. The tears were flowing as Ivanisevic looked to the heavens.
Both players and the crowd alike were exhausted after three hours of sublime tennis. We had seen a classic unfold before our very eyes.
And who could begrudge this victory? After falling short at the brink of victory three times before, at long last, he had achieved greatness.
His serve was powerful, his volleys were crisp, and what’s more, he was the darling of Centre Court.
But more importantly, he showed that even the most outlandish of dreams can com