by Isaiah Buse

July 3, 2021   

What are the ingredients needed for a miracle? Insurmountable obstacles? A few lucky breaks? An unlikely ending?

Well, Goran Ivanisevic’s 2001 Wimbledon Championship run had all of these things and more.

Through heartache, heartbreak, and perseverance, Goran Ivanisevic overcame all odds to lament his legacy as a Grand Slam Champion.

But what made this run so special? Take a seat, grab some popcorn, and prepare to be entertained, because I’m about to tell you the story of The Miracle on Grass.

An Unlikely Road to the Championship

Champions come in all shapes and sizes. There are many stories of the athlete that was too small, too slow, not talented enough, and many other things, who defied the odds and won on the highest levels.

But, it’s not often that you get an athlete that was completely written off, get one more chance, and take advantage of it.

Coming into the 2001 Wimbledon Championships, Goran Ivanisevic, a tall left-handed Croatian, had made it to three finals.

Andre Agassi - 1992 Wimbledon
The ’92 Wimbledon Championships was a special tournament for Andre Agassi, but only the first of many crushing defeats for Ivanisevic. (Photo Credit: Wimbledon)

Yet, no matter how well he had played all tournament, Ivanisevic always seemed to falter in the finals. In 1992, he lost to Andre Agassi 7-6 (10-8), 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 4-6. In ’94 he lost to Pete Sampras 6-7 (2-7), 6-7 (5-7), 0-6. And finally, in ’98 he lost to Sampras again, this time 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (9-11), 4-6, 6-3, 2-6.

But, just three years after his finals match against Sampras, Ivanisevic’s dream of winning a Wimbledon title was dwindling as the shoulder he relied on to hit booming serves began to fail him.

After falling from a rank of 2nd to 125th at 29-years-old, Ivanisevic was ready to go under the knife again for his shoulder.

But, in a friendly gesture to an old friend, the people of Wimbledon decided to give Ivanisevic a wildcard as a sort of sentiment for what he had accomplished at the tournament.

Certainly, it wasn’t given to him off of his recent merits, considering that he had lost in the 1st round of qualifying at that year’s Australian Open. On top of this, he had only won nine matches all year coming into the tournament.

Nevertheless, well-known for his temper and feistiness on and off of the court, Ivanisevic wasn’t looking at the 2001 Wimbledon Championships as a farewell tour.

Rather, Ivanisevic saw the 2001 Wimbledon Championships as a chance to write his name in the pages of tennis history.

The Treacherous Road to Glory Begins

Although much of his journey at the 2001 Wimbledon Championships would feature matches against top players, Ivanisevic would get a relatively easy first round draw.

In the first round, Ivanisevic would face the 197th ranked qualifier Fredrik Jonsson from Sweden. Despite not being quite as good as he once was, it would take much for the crowd favorite Ivanisevic to win the match 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

The feeling of elation Ivanisevic must have felt following his victory probably didn’t last long when he realized his next opponent would be Former World No. 1 Carlos Moya.

Carlos Moya
Carlos Moya — Rafael Nadal’s future coach — was only the first of many challenging opponents for Ivanisevic. (Photo Credit: US Open)

Despite never meeting on grass before, the two had met three times prior to their meeting at Wimbledon. Moya would be the winner of all three of those meetings, defeating him 6-3, 6-4 at Munich in ’96, 6-3, 6-3 at Dubai in ’98, and 6-4, 6-3 earlier that year at the Miami Masters.

Nevertheless, as a testament to his unreal form at the 2001 Wimbledon Championships, with the crowd cheering him on, Ivanisevic would handle Moya with relative ease, defeating him 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Much to the crowd’s delight, they would get to see Ivanisevic play one more day, but once again not many expected him to win.

In the Round of 32, Ivanisevic would face an 18-year-old future World No. 1 in Andy Roddick. Roddick wasn’t at the peak of his game yet, but he was already ranked 33rd and was proving to be a tough opponent for many.

Roddick had already won a couple of tournaments earlier in the year, including the Atlanta and Houston Opens. On top of this, he defeated World No. 14 Thomas Johansson in four sets to setup his match with Ivanisevic.

But, in what would be their only career meeting, Ivanisevic would come out on top of his fellow big serving opponent 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

Even though Ivanisevic managed to defeat Roddick, it was the first match where he really had to fight through any adversity and he managed it well.

Often known for his unpredictable temper, Ivanisevic controlled his emotions well in his first three matches.

Now, the only thing standing between Ivanisevic and his 7th trip to the Wimbledon quarterfinals was one of the hometown heroes, Greg Rusedski.

Earlier in the year, Rusedski defeated the all-time great Andre Agassi to win the San Jose Open. Coming into his match against Ivanisevic, Rusedski defeated World No. 4 Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets.

There is no doubt that Rusedski was playing well, and with the English crowd supporting him, Ivanisevic would once again be the underdog.

As each point of their match came and went, the crowd would begin to realize that this was becoming less of a magical run by Ivanisevic and more of a date with destiny.

In straight sets, Ivanisevic would top Rusedski 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4. With this victory, he would advance to the quarterfinals.

You Gotta Beat the Best to Be the Best

As if he hadn’t been in every round before, Ivanisevic was once again the underdog entering his quarterfinals match against Marat Safin.

Marat Safin - US Open
As if his journey so far wasn’t hard enough, Ivanisevic would meet a fellow towering player in Marat Safin. (Photo Credit: US Open)

Not only was Safin the likely winner, but he was also the highest-ranked player that Ivanisevic would face the entire tournament, ranked 3rd.

Although Safin had struggled a little to get off to a good start in 2001, he looked to be playing well at Wimbledon. And, with his 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 victory over (12) Arnaud Clement, it seemed as if he would easily halt Ivanisevic’s run.

Like clockwork though, Ivanisevic would manage to keep his emotions under control and dominate his opponent.

Only dropping the third set, Ivanisevic would win the match 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) to advance to the semifinals.

The crowd loved Ivanisevic’s unlikely run, cheering his every shot. This level of support was largely responsible for Ivanisevic’s dominance at the 2001 Wimbledon Championships.

But, as much as the crowd loved Ivanisevic, his semifinals opponent was unfortunately the hometown hero that the crowd loved more than any cinderella story.

Tim Henman, who was the top-ranked British player, fresh off of a win against a young Roger Federer who had taken out Pete Sampras earlier in the tournament, was ready to cruise by Ivanisevic in the semifinals.

To start their match, the two would each take a set before Henman would demolish Ivanisevic in the third set, 6-0, to set the tone for the rest of the match.

In the fourth set, Henman would go up 2-1 and things were looking very dim for Ivanisevic. But, as if mother nature was stepping in to help Ivanisevic, it would begin to rain.

The two would have to go back to the locker room and Henman’s chance at becoming the first British male to reach the singles final in 63 years would be put on pause.

Neither player would make it back out onto the court that night as the tournament official would decide to delay the match until the next day.

In a story printed several years later, Ivanisevic would say, “When we went back into the locker room, I was very upset at the way I was playing. For half an hour I was very upset, but then I started to laugh.” When it was announced that the match would be delayed, he would say, “From that moment I knew it was mine.”

When the match resumed the next day, Ivanisevic would scratch and claw his way back to a tiebreak in the 4th set that he would win.

Ivanisevic finally had the momentum, unfortunately, with Henman serving at 2-3 in the fifth set, it would begin to rain again.

Still, when the match resumed for the second time the next day, Ivanisevic would only spend 14 minutes of his time dismantling Henman to win the match 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 0-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

Tim Henman - Wimbledon
Despite a very good career, a hometown favorite in Tim Henman would never be able to fulfill his dream of winning a title at Wimbledon. (Photo Credit: Wimbledon)

A Chaotic Finish to a Moment in History

As if the last few days hadn’t been chaotic enough, because of Ivanisevic’s prolonged semifinals match, the championship would be delayed until Monday.

Due to the postponement, Centre Court seats were sold on a first-come, first-served basis. The match would be nicknamed the “People’s Monday” because of this.

As for Ivanisevic’s opponent, Rafter, this would be his second straight year in the Wimbledon Championship, having lost to Sampras in four sets the previous year.

But, 2001 felt different for Rafter and he was ready for his turn hoisting the trophy. To start the year, he made the deepest run of his career at the Australian Open, falling to Andre Agassi in five sets in the semifinals.

He would also perform well at the Sunshine Double, falling to Sampras in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells and Agassi in the semifinals of the Miami Open.

At Wimbledon, he would be ranked 10th, giving him an easier draw, defeating (934) Daniel Vacek, (102) Slava Dosedel, (27) Hicham Arazi, and (85) Mikhail Youzhny on his way to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, he would dismantle the 13th ranked player, Thomas Enqvist in straight sets to take on the 2nd ranked Agassi in the semifinals.

Despite struggling earlier in the year against Agassi, Rafter would show a lot of heart on his way to a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6 victory to find his way back to the championship.

Come showtime on Monday, fans were faced with an interesting question. Do we cheer for the guy who really deserves to win a Wimbledon Championship or the other guy who also really deserves to win a Wimbledon Championship?

Well, for Croatian and Australian fans that was an easy answer, fans from Croatia were adamant supporters of Ivanisevic and the same could be said for Australian fans for Rafter.

Yet, the rest of the crowd would be tugged from one side to the other during the match as the momentum swung back-and-forth.

Set 1: Ivanisevic Strikes First & Doesn’t Look Back

To begin the championship, Ivanisevic would hit his serve well as usual, but would struggle at the net with Rafter looking much better in rallies.

Nevertheless, Ivanisevic would hold on to his serve and a very tight game from both players would see Ivanisevic taking advantage of several break points to take an early 2-0 lead.

At this point, the crowd was already electrified and bolstered by their support, Ivanisevic would play a great service game, but wouldn’t quite be able to capitalize on another loose game from Rafter.

In the fifth game, down 1-3, a beautiful touch lob and a scorching passing shot wouldn’t be enough from Rafter to stop Ivanisevic’s powerful serves.

Still, even with the momentum not in his favor, Rafter would manage to hold his serve. In the following game, he would test Ivanisevic’s serve, but he wouldn’t quite be able to win the important points when he needed to and an emphatic slam from Ivanisevic would give him a commanding 5-2 lead.

Eventually, a shot sent deep by Rafter would send the crowd into a frenzy as Ivanisevic took the opening set 6-3 in under a half hour.

Set 2: The Nerves Have Settled & Rafter is Here to Play

Even though Rafter would feel just a step behind Ivanisevic in the opening set, headed into the second it felt like it was anyone’s match.

Rafter would start the second set with a much sharper serve and volley game, and after Ivanisevic served a terrible game that Rafter finished with a beautiful running forehand crosscourt winner, it would be Rafter flaunting a 2-0 lead.

Now, the Australian crowd was really starting to come to life, hoisting their stuffed kangaroos and cheering on Rafter after every point.

For the rest of the set, the two would exchange solid service games as Rafter looked increasingly more capable of putting together solid return games against Ivanisevic’s massive serve.

In the ninth game of the set, Rafter would force four straight return errors from Ivanisevic to take the set 6-3 and tie the match at a set apiece.

Set 3: The Turning Point of the Match

Now things were really starting to heat up, the third set felt as if it had a special importance. The winner of the third set would have the distinct advantage of playing from ahead with the crowd.

In between sets, Ivanisevic would have to be checked by the trainer as he seemed to be enduring some shoulder pain.

However, if he was dealing with shoulder pain, you’d never know it by the way he took the opening game of the third set at love to renew his fighting spirit.

In rallies, Rafter would still look like the better player, but Ivanisevic’s serve was hardly letting Rafter into rallies as they continued to hold service games.

Finally, in the sixth game, Ivanisevic would string together a couple of solid returns capped off by a backhand down-the-line return winner to go up 4-2.

After holding his serve, Ivanisevic would hit a huge return passing shot that the crowd would absolutely eat up, but Rafter would stay poised and hold his serve.

In the following game, both players would fight well and Rafter would fend off a few set points. Down 30-40, he would hit an unbelievable running forehand down-the-line winner to stay alive.

Regardless, two big serves from Ivanisevic would be enough to secure the third set 6-3 and take a 2-1 set lead.

Set 4: When Your Back’s Against The Wall, You Gotta Fight

Headed into the fourth set, it still felt very much like anybody’s match, but Ivanisevic had the clear advantage being up a set.

Nonetheless, Rafter would come out sharp in the fourth set, and despite a little resistance from Ivanisevic in the opening game, he would hold on to get some of the momentum back.

Ivanisevic would put on a show in the next game, continuing his serving clinic, pulling out a volley tweener, and a boost of confidence would help him keep rolling.

Both players would continue playing well, completely focused as the match found itself at 3-2 with Rafter ahead.

In the sixth game, some beautiful touch shots by Rafter would have the crowd on its feet going crazy over his hand skills. But, an errant return at 30-30 sent into the crowd would force a scream out of Rafter.

A clearly frustrated Rafter would benefit from a double fault from Ivanisevic to take the game to deuce. As both players battled a deuce exchange, Ivanisevic thought he hit a massive serve to win the game.

The umpire thought differently. When the ball was called out, Ivanisevic would implode, throwing his racket, kicking the net, and pleading with the chair umpire to change the call.

As all of this was going on, it became very hard to understand what Ivanisevic was saying as the crowd began to boo incredibly loud. It was hard to tell if the booing was for or against him, but it’s safe to say it was probably both.

Eventually, the call was upheld — rightfully so — and Rafter would go up 4-2. In the next game, with the crowd reaching new decibel levels, Rafter would stay calm, cool, and collected to go up 5-2 and put himself in the driver’s seat.

Ivanisevic would rebound by going up 30-0 in the next game, but Rafter would battle back with three straight amazing points to earn himself a set point.

That’s all Rafter would need as a tight Ivanisevic couldn’t handle the low, slicing shots from Rafter and he would take the set 6-2 to force a decisive fifth set.

Set 5: Heart Racing, Eye Catching, Life Changing

Both players were a nervous wreck headed into the fifth set and the crowd was eager to roar after every shot.

With Rafter up 1-0, Ivanisevic would struggle on his serve and Rafter would pounce, taking a 30-15 lead on Ivanisevic’s serve. Goran would respond by winning two straight points with big serves, to get a game point.

But, a shanked forehand put away would keep Rafter in the game. Still, Ivanisevic’s serve would prove to be too much and despite being tested he would hold his serve.

As the match progressed to 4-4, you could start to sense that this wasn’t going to be a set won at 6 games.

To begin the ninth game, Rafter would manage to hit a beautiful serve out wide to put Ivanisevic on the ropes, but Goran would barely manage to get his racket on it and the ball would float just past Rafter to send the crowd into hysteria.

Then, Ivanisevic would hit a backhand return winner to go up 30-0 and put a lot of pressure on Rafter. Rafter would hold strong though, winning the next two points at the net.

A couple of errors from Ivanisevic would produce a passion-infused fist pump from Rafter as he went up 5-4.

On the brink of defeat, Ivanisevic would keep his composure and serve well as Rafter couldn’t manage to get enough balls in play.

Goran would narrowly miss a passing shot to start the next game, but he would get the next two points with Rafter at the net to take a 30-15 lead on Rafter’s serve.

Still, Rafter would respond with a beautiful kick serve and pickup an insane drop volley to swing the momentum and the crowd back in his favor.

Another nice touch volley would be too much for Ivanisevic, but a double fault from Rafter would put the two into a deuce exchange.

It would be all Rafter from that point though, with two beautiful serves and a great reaching volley to keep his championship hopes alive.

The two would keep battling and serving well all the way to 7-6. In the fourteenth game of the set, Rafter would hit two massive returns that would get all of the Australians on their feet as he went up 30-0 on Ivanisevic’s serve.

Ivanisevic would respond with some big serves, but down 30-40, Rafter would hit his best shot of the match, a brilliant soft lob that would take the game to deuce.

As always though, Ivanisevic would lean on his serves to get him out of the game and the two would be all knotted up at 7.

At 15-15 in the next game, an errant volley from Rafter and a huge forehand passing shot from Ivanisevic would give him two break points.

Beginning to feel the pressure even more intensely, Rafter would try to just pepper in a serve, but Ivanisevic would be all over it, crushing the ball to get the break and go up 8-7.

Now, as he switched sides of the net, everyone in the crowd was roaring and Ivanisevic could hardly handle the nerves as he buried his head in his towel.

As he began his service game for the championship, you could feel the nervous energy as he dropped the first point. Luckily, Rafter would hit an error though but a double fault from Ivanisevic would see him go down 15-30.

Bouncing back from his rough start, Ivanisevic would hit two straight aces to go up 40-30 and give himself a championship point.

But, as he barely managed to hold back tears, Ivanisevic’s emotions would be too much as he double faulted to take the game to deuce.

Nevertheless, Rafter would eat a big serve from Ivanisevic to give Goran another championship point, but even with the crowd behind him, he would double fault again to take the game back to deuce.

With Goran on the run in the next point, Rafter would barely miss a slice wide to give Ivanisevic another championship point.

With the crowd on its feet going crazy for Goran, Rafter would manage to spin in another touch lob to take them back to deuce.

A massive serve from Ivanisevic would give him yet another championship point. Finally, this time he would capitalize, hitting a big serve that Rafter would dump into the net.

As the ball headed for the net, Goran would fall to his knees, lying flat on his face crying as he became overwhelmed by emotions.

Ivanisevic would soon be running through the crowd as he headed towards his box, who he would embrace with tears flowing from his face.

A beautiful ending to an amazing moment in history that Goran Ivanisevic will never forget.

Goran Ivanisevic - Wimbledon 2001
There really is nothing like the best moment of your life. Ask Goran Ivanisevic. (Photo Credit: The Irish Times)

Post Match Quotes

After the match, Goran had a lot to say. Here are some of the things he would say in his moments of elation.

“It was good that it was on a Monday because three finals I lost on Sunday, so finally I played on Monday,” Ivanisevic said. “Unbelievable atmosphere, probably never again because now they have a roof.”

“Patrick is a very good friend, a great guy. We both should have won Wimbledon before, him in 2000 in the final, and I was supposed to win a long time ago.”

“I was watching too many guys holding that beautiful trophy. I had this (runner-up) plate at home,” added Ivanisevic. “It’s a nice plate but you don’t want to have that plate at home.”

“Nobody cares for second place. If you want to go back now and think of Wimbledon finalists in the past 15 years, to be honest, I have no idea.”

It’s really hard to pin down how Ivanisevic won the 2001 Wimbledon Championships, but certainly sheer will, luck, and a fate with destiny had something to do with it.

He may never be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever play the game, but Goran Ivanisevic will always be remembered for one of the greatest moments in the sport’s rich history.

Isaiah Buse

About the author

Isaiah Buse is a tennis enthusiast who currently plays at the NAIA level in Missouri. He has covered the top tennis stories and tournaments for over 2 years now and has enjoyed every second of it. In addition to writing, he enjoys teaching the younger generation of tennis players.

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