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Wimbledon semis dealt a wild card

Goran Ivanisevic stuns - and is stunned - by advancing with Agassi, Rafter and Henman.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 5, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- As Marat Safin's backhand sailed long, Goran Ivanisevic stood momentarily paralyzed. He had won again, so what to do? Strip? Shake? Celebrate?

Ivanisevic turned toward the corner box where his father had watched his improbable resurrection from wild-card wannabe to Wimbledon semifinalist, and like he had after beating Andy Roddick in the third round, he ripped his white shirt overhead and flung it into the crowd.

The colorful Ivanisevic, 29 years old and six months removed from his lowest year-end ranking since 1988, is one match from his fourth Wimbledon final. By defeating Safin, the reigning U.S. Open champion, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) Wednesday, Ivanisevic became the first wild card to reach the semifinals, an overwhelming reality in the moments after victory.

Bare-chested, Ivanisevic raised his arms, skipped toward the net to shake Safin's hand and pumped his fists. Then he stood on a chair, gesturing to one side of the applauding Centre Court crowd, and after nearly falling off, he regrouped to acknowledge the other side.

"I didn't know where to go, what to do," said Ivanisevic, ranked No. 125. "But this is great, is great. I can't believe. I still can't believe. But I was hoping that this is going to come one day."

In Friday's semifinals, Ivanisevic, unseeded, plays No. 6 seed Tim Henman, Britain's favorite, who beat No. 15 Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 7-6 (8-6). The other semifinal is a repeat of 1999 and 2000 between No. 2 Andre Agassi and No. 3 Patrick Rafter. Agassi beat Nicolas Escude 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, and Rafter beat No. 10 Thomas Enqvist 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

Agassi, Rafter and Henman are not surprising semifinalists. Ivanisevic is a shocker.

Throughout 2000, Ivanisevic struggled with left shoulder problems, and his year-end ranking slipped from No. 62 to 129. He was tired, flustered, conflicted and unsure whether to continue playing. Three days after a 24-hour airplane trip to Melbourne, Ivanisevic tanked in the first round of the Australian Open qualifier.

"That's God's punishment," he said. "It was really a low, low point. Humiliation. ... After that I woke up. And I am awake, very awake now."

Ivanisevic reached the quarterfinals in Milan in early February, his best showing of the year until now. Two weeks before Wimbledon, preparing for a first-round match against an unassuming Italian ranked No. 188, Ivanisevic got the good word: The All England Club had granted him a wild card into Wimbledon despite his 9-10 record. It was his 11th wild card in 13 tournaments, and as humiliating as it was to ask for it, the wild card was, in Ivanisevic's estimation, much deserved.

"For (a) three-time Wimbledon finalist, I think I deserve the last shot," Ivanisevic said.

He has defeated qualifier Fredrik Jonsson, No. 21 Carlos Moya, Roddick, Greg Rusedski and now Safin, a hard-hitting Russian with as much of a reputation for being a head case as Ivanisevic.

As he has all tournament, Ivanisevic served beautifully, tallying 31 aces and 43 service winners. His groundstrokes were solid, and when he engaged Safin in a rally, he usually won it.

Ivanisevic finished with 75 winners, and he won 90 percent of the points when landing his first serve. He was loose, three times going for between-the-legs volleys, and looked at ease, joking with the crowd every time a net cord fell his way.

"If he plays like he played today, I think he will not have any problems (winning the title)," Safin said. "He beat Rusedski. He beat me. Also, I know how to play tennis. The guy, he just doesn't give any chances, and that's the case. The guy, if he has a second serve, he makes you an ace. All the time you're under pressure."

Henman, plumped with bravado after defeating the player who eliminated Pete Sampras, is the next player to try to beat Ivanisevic. As the home-country favorite, Henman has spent his career staring down pressure at this tournament, and though he has not always fared too well, he hopes that with Sampras gone, he has a clearer path to the final.

In his two previous semifinal appearances, Henman lost to Sampras.

"My immediate feelings, in all honesty, is that it's nice that I'm not playing Sampras," Henman said.

* * *

TV: Women's semifinals, 1, Ch. 8; 5, TNT.

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