Wed, Jun 23, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Ivanisevic enjoys return

AP , WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia celebrates his upset victory over Mikhail Youzhny of Russia during the first round of the 118th Wimbledon Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Monday. Ivanisevic won the match 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.

PHOTO: AFP

Goran Ivanisevic waited three years to play one match. It was everything he'd wished for.

Ivanisevic is back at Wimbledon for the first time since winning the title as a wild card in 2001. After missing the tournament the past two years with injuries, he can still claim to be a "defending" champion.

The 32-year-old Croat picked up where he left off Monday -- slamming aces, hamming it up for the crowd, blowing kisses and winning in straight sets on Center Court.

"Beautiful," he said after beating Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Ivanisevic hasn't lost a match at Wimbledon in four years. After beating Pat Rafter in a dramatic five-set final for his first and only Grand Slam title, he missed the 2002 tournament after left shoulder surgery and pulled out in 2003 after knee surgery.

This, his 15th career Wimbledon, will be his final tournament of any kind.

And he's making the most of it.

"I just came here to say goodbye and have fun," Ivanisevic said. "If I win a couple of matches, it's great. If not, it's also great."

The way he looked on the opening day, who knows how far he could go.

Ivanisevic, who has won only two matches in nine tournaments this year, looked like the Goran of old -- whipping left-handed serves, volleying with authority, ripping baseline shots.

He said he doesn't expect to win the tournament, and would be happy just to get to the second week.

"If I play well, nobody's going to beat me easy, especially since I don't have any goals," he said. "I'm retiring after this Wimbledon. I'm going to enjoy myself every minute on the court. If somebody wants to beat me, he's going to have to play really good tennis."

Ivanisevic was given the honor of following Roger Federer, last year's champion, for the second match on Centre Court. It was the first time he'd played a first-round match on the sport's most famous stage.

"When I saw this crowd, I thought, `That was worth it for these two years, struggling, doing therapy, all kinds of therapy, being up and down,'" he said. "It was worth it to fight and come back and be today on Centre Court."

Ivanisevic hit 13 aces, 17 volley winners and plenty of unreturnable baseline shots. He broke three times and never lost serve. Luck was on his side, too, with several net cords going his way. He suggested the gods of Wimbledon were behind him.

"Today, everything, really, like, they still want me to play here," he said. "You know, they don't want me to lose first round."

Ivanisevic's next match, against Filippo Volandri of Italy, almost certainly won't be on Centre Court.

"If I play like this, I can play here in the parking [lot]," he said.

Ivanisevic paid tribute to another former champion making an emotional Wimbledon comeback. Nine-time champion Martina Navratilova, 47, playing singles here for the first time in 10 years, served and volleyed to a 6-0, 6-1 win over Catalina Castano of Colombia in 46 minutes.

"I cannot compare myself to her," Ivanisevic said. "She is another level. She is from another planet. She is one of the few women tennis players I respect. ... She's my hero."

Navratilova is the oldest woman to win a singles match at Wimbledon since Madeline O'Neill of Britain reached the third round in 1992 at the age of 54.

"It's great to be out there, great to have that opportunity," Navratilova said. "When people say, `Why are you doing it?' I guess the answer is, because I still can, bottom line."

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