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Wimbledon: Goran Ivanisevic's 2001 wildcard win

Favourites have dominated the Wimbledon men's singles tournament over the last couple of decades with Roger Federer (eight titles), Novak Djokovic (seven), Rafael Nadal (two), and Andy Murray (two) sharing the glory around from 2003 onwards.

However, before the big four and after Pete Sampras's dominance, one man stood tall to win the Wimbledon title at pre-tournament odds of 150/1. This is the story of Goran Ivanisevic's fairytale win as a wildcard in 2001.

What2023 Wimbledon
WhereAll England Club, Wimbledon, London, UK
WhenMonday 3rd July 2023 - Sunday 16th July 2023
How to watchBBC, Eurosport and Bet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsMen's outright: Novak Djokovic 8/11, Carlos Alcaraz 3/1, Daniil Medvedev 16/1, Jannik Sinner 18/1, Taylor Fritz 28/1

Women's outright: Iga Swiatek 4/1, Aryna Sabalenka 4/1, Elena Rybakina 4/1, Ons Jabeur 10/1, Karolina Muchova 14/1

Three-time runner-up handed a Wimbledon lifeline

The wall above the players' entrance to Wimbledon's Centre Court features a line from Rudyard Kiping's famous poem 'If', which reads: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same".

Prior to the 2001 championships, three previous Wimbledon final appearances had resulted only in disaster for Ivanisevic, who suffered agonising defeats against Andre Agassi in 1992 and against Sampras in both 1994 and 1998.

With his career seemingly on the slide and a nagging shoulder injury threatening to blunt his booming lefty serve, a Grand Slam victory seemed a million miles away for the 29-year-old Croat.

Ranked 125th in the world, Ivanisevic was not high enough to earn a place in the main draw for the 2001 tournament but Wimbledon, perhaps surprisingly considering Ivanisevic's bad boy reputation, decided to hand him a wildcard.

Wins over Moya, Roddick help set up a deep run

One of the great sporting underdog stories began in relatively routine fashion as Ivanisevic required three sets to see off Swedish qualifier Fredrik Jonsson in his first-round match, but things were about to get more complicated.

Carlos Moya, never at his best on grass but a Grand Slam winner nonetheless, was waiting in the second round and took an early lead over the Croat, claiming the first-set tiebreak 8-6, but Ivanisevic battled back to secure a 6-7 6-3 6-4 6-4 win over the Spaniard.

After dispatching the 21st seed, Ivanisevic was drawn to face an unseeded rival in the third round, but those who were not yet aware of young Andy Roddick's talents were soon made to take notice following a second-round win over 11th seed Thomas Johansson.

Ivanisevic, a veteran compared to the American teenager, raced into a two-set lead in what was a bruising battle of the big servers and, while Roddick fought back to take the third, it was the older man who would prevail in four.   

British blow seals a spot in the final

The victory over Roddick teed up a big-serving fourth-round clash with Britain's Greg Rusedski and while Ivanisevic knew he was going to have to battle the Wimbledon crowd, he had always relished facing the former US Open finalist.

The Croat had won all eight previous meetings with Rusedski and he stuck to the script once again, reaching the quarter-finals with a 7-6 6-4 6-4 triumph.

From then, Ivanisevic was a real contender and he passed another tough test in the quarters when overcoming the odds to defeat fourth seed Marat Safin in four sets, setting up a clash with home favourite Tim Henman.

The Brit had reached the semi-finals in both 1998 and 1999, losing out to Sampras on both occasions, but after the all-conquering American was stunned by a Swiss teenager named Federer, the Centre Court crowd was starting to believe.

Ivanisevic had other ideas, racing into a first-set lead, but Henman surged into a 5-7 7-6 6-0 lead before the first in a series of rain delays.

With no roof to keep players on court, Henman and Ivanisevic slugged it out over three days and the Croat eventually prevailed, winning the fourth set in a tiebreak then coming back on Sunday to wrap up the contest.

Aussie ace edged out in five-set epic

Having seen off Henman, Ivanisevic's reward was a Monday final against Australia's Pat Rafter, the two-time US Open champion who had been beaten by Sampras in the previous year's final.

Ivanisevic had beaten Rafter in their only previous Wimbledon meeting in 1996 and, just as he had in five of his previous six matches, the Croat raced into a lead, winning the first set 6-3.

Rafter would quickly issue a response, winning the second set by the same scoreline, before Ivanisevic doubled down with a 6-3 win in the third.

The pair continued to trade blows and Rafter again drew level, sending the 2001 Wimbledon men's final into a dramatic deciding set.

At 7-7 in the decider, Ivanisevic hit a booming cross-court return of serve to break Rafter, then he successfully served out the following game to win 6-3 3-6 6-3 2-6 9-7, completing one of sport's most unlikely victories. 

Injuries meant that Ivanisevic was unable to defend his title the following season and he would not return to Wimbledon until 2004, fittingly drawing a close to his tennis career on Centre Court with a third-round defeat to 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt.

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