Ivanisevic aim: shed a dubious distinction Best player yet to win Slam event faces Sampras, who seeks record-tying win


July 05, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- So, which Goran Ivanisevic is going to show up for today's Wimbledon men's final against Pete Sampras?

Will it be good Goran, the hard-serving stylist who can pound opponents into the grass? Or, will it be bad Goran, the double-faulting, racket-tossing tennis tyrant?

Not even Ivanisevic knows.

"Every time when I'm cool like this, when I don't talk, when I don't throw the rackets, I always wait for one moment when I will explode," he said.

But Ivanisevic said he will try to keep his temper in check and try to rid himself of a title that is a backhanded compliment: best player yet to win a Grand Slam event.

Ivanisevic has been to two previous Wimbledon finals. He lost a five-set thriller to Andre Agassi in 1992 and a three-set blowout to Sampras in 1994.

"In 1992, I had my chances," Ivanisevic said. "In 1994, I didn't have too many chances. I played good tennis, but he [Sampras] played the best tennis. Even he said he couldn't play better. And he just outplayed me in every aspect, serve, volleys, returns."

Yet Ivanisevic on a roll can be nearly unbeatable. He's a lefty and he's unpredictable. One moment, he crashes winners. The next, he clips horrendous volleys.

At this Wimbledon, he has played his most consistent tennis for six months. He rediscovered the joy of the game and the power of his serves. And he also perfected the art of winning matches he calls "horror-thrillers." Against Richard Krajicek in the semifinals, he displayed uncommon maturity in claiming the nerve-wracking fifth set, 15-13.

His comeback has been heartening.

"It means a lot, because a lot of people say, 'He's gone, he's never going to be back,' " Ivanisevic said. "And you have to listen all the time. But I knew that I had a bad six months and Wimbledon came in at the right time. I was practicing hard for the last one month trying to not feel sorry for myself and to keep working and keep trying. Now, it's paying off. And I think this is the time it's really going to pay off for me."

But to win Wimbledon, he'll have to beat a man on a historic mission.

Sampras is out to win his fifth Wimbledon men's title, a modern record held by Bjorn Borg. He is also after his 11th Grand Slam title, which would tie him with Borg and Rod Laver, and put him one behind the record mark of 12 held by Roy Emerson. Sampras has played with unaccustomed zeal in the last few matches, showing his emotions as he takes out his rivals.

"If you're not intense out there, you're not ready to play," Sampras said after silencing the British crowd and beating local favorite Tim Henman in a tense, four-set semifinal.

Sampras also showed that his six-month slump is over.

"I think everyone is making too big a deal about this year," he said. "At this point last year it was pretty much the same year, and this is kind of where I kicked it in. I'm going to have my bad days, but I've been pretty consistent since I've been here at Wimbledon. And I certainly hope I can do it one more time."

What does Sampras expect from Ivanisevic?

Just about anything.

"You're going to have to ride the wave with Goran," Sampras said. "It's like riding a roller coaster. He's capable of stringing some unbelievable service games that you can't do much about. You've got to stay patient."

And what does Ivanisevic think is going to happen?

"I think I have a good chance," Ivanisevic said. "I think he's going to be nervous like me. He's going for the record. I'm going for my first one. So he wants to win as badly as I do. But he knows how it feels in victory."

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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