By beating Greg Rusedski in the quarterfinal stage at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall yesterday, Goran Ivanisevic set up yet another mouth-watering Wimbledon rematch at the Aegon Masters event. Today, the popular Croatian will face Aussie Pat Rafter in the semifinals, a rematch of their epic 2001nWimbledon final. The latter was a turning point in Ivanisevic’s career which he now believes ‘saved his life’.
Ivanisevic continued to crush the Brit contingent by beating Rusedski 7-6(6), 7-6(6) in a frenzied exchange of aces and saving set points in both sets. This was a familiar moment in their rivalry which dates back to 1994. Rusedski said: “I’ve only beaten him once on tour. Goran for me is always a challenge.”
In the post match press conference, I was eager to know whether Ivanisevic had changed his game at all to suit the new slower courts and technology of the rackets. He said: “I don’t mind to stay back but still I always like to serve my aces and go for the big shots.”
The Croatian is doing a great job of reminding tennis fans of why he was such a great asset to the tour with his attacking all-or-nothing style of play at the Royal Albert Hall. A rare glimpse of tennis as it was played in the 90s juxtaposed with the recent Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at London’s contrasting O2 Arena where Rafael Nadal and company punished each other with long baselines rallies and formidable topspin.
Ivanisevic said: “You can’t serve and volley in tennis now. The courts are too slow. The top ten guys, I don’t want to mention any names, but a lot of them haven’t got a clue how to volley. They don’t come to the net enough. You have to come in on the right ball. The guys are so quick.”
Another player providing an exhibition of exquisite approach play is none other than Britain’s, Tim Henman. He defeated ATP Champions Tour Rankings leader, Thomas Enqvist 6-3, 3-6, 10-7 to reach the semifinal stage of his first competitive tournament since his retirement three years ago. “It’s always a pleasure to play at home,” said Henman. “This is my first event on the Champions Tour and there’s no better way to start than at the Royal Albert Hall with a crowd like this.”
Henman looked remarkably sharp against Enqvist in his quarterfinal yesterday. But,unusually, Henman had to ask the patriotic British crowd to start cheering for him, as the “silence” was making him nervous. The chant ‘c’mon Tim’ is so ingrained into the British collective consciousness, that some even say it when Andy Murray is on court, such is his enduring appeal.
It’s all set for Tim and Goran to meet for a second time in the final on Sunday, unless Pat Rafter or Champions Tour veteran, Todd Martin can produce something special today. Rafter said: “Goran’s serve is ridiculous and so hard to return. I’ll probably come dressed in cricket gear and see what happens!”
Follow Melina Harris’ coverage for MiamiTennisNews on twitter under the username @thetenniswriter
Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic faced each other at the Royal Albert Hall in London last night for the first time since their epic semi-final at Wimbledon in 2001. Ivanisevic broke the hearts of the British public by beating Henman in a thrilling five set match spread across three days due to the unpredictable British weather.
I clearly remember listening to the commentary secretly during lessons at my school in North London on my vintage Sony Walkman, nerves on edge. Arguably, this was Henman’s most promising opportunity to be the first British man since Fred Perry to lift the Wimbledon crown. With a certain American, Pete Sampras, knocked out in the fourth round by none other than recent ATP Tour Finals champion, Roger Federer, the path seemed clear or so we thought.
However, the stars were shining favourably on the charismatic Croat, who famously ate at the same table at the same restaurant every night during the Wimbledon fortnight. En route to his well deserved Wimbledon title, the pinnacle of any professional tennis player’s career, Ivanisevic won back the heart of the British crowd in his fairytale win against Aussie, Pat Rafter. Ranked world number 125 due to a recurring shoulder injury, Ivanisevic reached the final as a wild card entry and previously had three tough Wimbledon final losses to Andre Agassi in 1992 and Pete Sampras in 1994 and 1998.
He famously said to reporters: “If some angel comes tonight in my dreams and says: ‘OK Goran, you’re going to win Wimbledon tomorrow, but you’re not able to touch the racket ever again,’ I will say: ‘OK, I’d rather take that and then never play tennis again in my life.’”
Yet, the changeable Croat with dual personalities is back. And what a comeback it has been for the 39-year-old. A regular on the seniors tour, Ivanisevic has won two titles in Barcelona and Knokke this season and recorded his fastest ever serve this year. He was one of the many players who encouraged Henman out of retirement to join legends such as Stefen Edberg, John McEnroe and Britain’s own, Greg Rusedski on the ATP Champions Tour in a more jovial yet competitive atmosphere.
“I saw him at the World Tour Finals in London last year and I told him he should come back and play with us,” Ivanisevic said of Henman. “He’s a great tennis player and we miss players like him.”
The players certainly didn’t disappoint the animated crowd last night. In fact, with the pressure off, they produced an outstanding level of tennis, with Ivanisevic serving as well as I’d ever witnessed, winning the first set 6-4. Indeed, Henman said in the post match press conference that no one had ever served as well against him in his entire career in that first set. Heady praise for the Croat who revealed he is serving faster than ever before with the “new technology” of rackets these days.
With “good” Goran serving on all cylinders, this could have been a baptism of fire on the fast indoor court for Henman, only in his second match out of retirement. But, the Brit held his nerve well and showed many glimpses of his former glory, with great net play and feel around the court, winning the second set 7-5 and bringing the match to an exciting deciding Championship tiebreak.
Despite the hecklings of the old Tim faithful, Goran served his way to the match with an 11-9 victory in the Champions’ Tie-Break, looking impressively sharp on his backhand returns too.
Both looked exhilarated and liberated by the atmosphere of the ATP Champions Tour, particularly in the historic setting of London’s Royal Albert Hall. In the post match press conference Henman revealed his “body felt good” and was pleased with the “good quality of tennis out there.” Similarly, Goran was beaming as he said “today I felt great” and emphasized how much he is enjoying his tennis without the mental pressure of the tour. To my question of whether he still enjoyed playing up to his loveable villain reputation, he laughed and said: “People have always called me so many things. I don’t mind.”
Well, last night Goran, you were quite simply brilliant.
Follow Melina Harris’ coverage for MiamiTennisNews on twitter under the username @thetenniswriter
The finals of the ATP Champions Tour were contested Tuesday night at the Delray Beach Stadium & Tennis Center between Australian Patrick Rafter and American tennis legend John McEnroe. The meeting between the two former majors winners was expected to be a display of serve and volley, both delivered. Rafter prevailed over McEnroe 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1) in two highly competitive sets.
Although the ATP Champions Tour has been in existence since 1997, the four day event in Delray marked the Champions Tour’s inaugural stop on U.S. soil. McEnroe qualified for the finals by going undefeated in Group A (3-0) highlighted by wins over Mats Wilander and Andres Gomez. Despite losing to Ronald Agenor, in Group B, Rafter advanced by beating Aaron Krickstein and Pat Cash.
Rafter was favored in the final in light of his age. However, McEnroe held his own in the match. The difference was Rafter’s ability to raise his game level in the tiebreakers. McEnroe would later concede during the trophy ceremony that Rafter was “too good.” Also, McEnroe jokingly said that Rafter is “younger, faster, and better-looking than me.” The win places Rafter at the top of the rankings of The Champions Tour. The Champions tour moves next to Zurich on March 9.
Turning to the ATP Tour’s main draw, top seed Tommy Haas was upset on Monday night by Teimuraz Gabashvilli in straight sets. Despite dropping a set to Nicolas Lapentti, Evgeny Korolev, last year’s finalist, advanced. Mardy Fish, the 2009 champion, moved on when Christophe Rochus retired at 3 all in the third set. Second seed Ivo Karlovic ousted Philipp Petzschner while Kie Nishikori, 2008 champion, fell to third seed Benjamin Becker .
Once more, the Florida swing of the ATP initiates with the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships. Along with the 250 World tour event which takes place from February 22 thru 28; for the first time, the Champions Tour comes to Delray with play running concurrently from February 20 thru 23.
Heading the line up from the legends tour are multiple major winner John McEnroe, two time U.S Open champion Patrick Rafter, fellow Aussie and 1987 Wimbledon victor Pat Cash, holder of seven majors Mats Wilander, 1990 French Open winner Andres Gomez and Johan Kriek two time Australian Open titlist.
From the World tour, 2009 champion Mardy Fish returns seeking to become the first individual since Jason Stoltenberg in 1996-97 to defend. Fish will face stiff competition from top seed Tommy Haas winner in 2006, second seed and serving giant Ivo Karlovic, two time finalist James Blake and two time champion Xavier Malisse. Wildcard youngster Kei Nishikori who stunned Blake in the 2008 final has again been given a wildcard entry.
On the doubles side, the top attraction are Mike and Bob Bryan who are on the hunt for their second straight title.
Come out to see today’s stars as well as those of yesteryears. For more info on the tournament and to purchase tickets go to www.yellowtennisball.com or call (561) 330-6000.