Injury-plagued Ivanisevic tries to mount another comeback
By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
March 24, 2004
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) -- Goran Ivanisevic double-faulted four times in one game, twice blew leads in the second set and threw a ball off his forehead in exasperation.
Just the same, ol' never-boring Goran -- even if he's perpetually battling injuries and contemplating retirement. With characteristic high-wire theatrics Wednesday, Ivanisevic edged Nicolas Escude 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7) in the first round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.
The victory was just the second in five matches this year for Ivanisevic, and that's an improvement on 2003, when he went 0-3. He also turned 32 last year and became a father as his ranking tumbled to 654th.
``Sometimes I feel a little bit lost,'' he said. ``Sometimes I feel, 'What am I doing here? You have a daughter at home. Stay home.' But in the end I hit some good shots and I'm happy, like a little kid.''
With all 64 seeded players receiving first-round byes, the 2001 Wimbledon champion provided some glitter on a windy, gray opening day.
Ivanisevic flirted with defeat after blowing leads of 3-0 and 5-3 in the second set. He faced a match point in the tiebreaker but responded with a sharply angled ace, then closed out the victory two points later and gave the small crowd a jubilant wave.
``I didn't expect to win, to be honest,'' Ivanisevic said.
Escude complained of a sore elbow, but Ivanisevic has health concerns of his own.
A fragile left shoulder that required surgery in May 2002 has robbed the big Croatian of the thunderous serve that once ranked with the most feared in tennis. His top speed against Escude was a middling 123 mph, and he hit nearly as many double-faults as aces -- 11 to 13.
The volatile Ivanisevic has played so little that he remembers breaking just one racket in the past two years. He was slowed in 2003 by elbow and knee ailments, and he withdrew at Key Biscayne after cutting his left foot while wading in the ocean on Miami Beach.
``It could happen only to me, you know?'' he said. ``It's a 10-kilometer beach, one shell probably. And I found it.''
A piece of shell remained imbedded in his foot three weeks later, requiring surgery, and it was another 2 1/2 months before he was able to walk.
This year, Ivanisevic said, he's staying away from the beach while trying to mount a comeback that will culminate with one last appearance at Wimbledon, the scene of his greatest triumph and most agonizing defeats.
Injuries have prevented him from playing there since he beat Pat Rafter in a dramatic final to win his only Grand Slam title.
``Hopefully this year I'm going to step on that grass,'' he said. ``I owe that to myself and to the English crowd who supported me so well.''