Following in Goran’s Footsteps

By: Grant Fisken

The ninth of July has produced some memorable Wimbledon finals over the years, from Stan Smith beating Ilie Nastase in 1972 to Bjorn Borg’s 1978 crushing of Jimmy Connors, and two of Pete Sampras’ seven title wins. However, none were as dramatic as the conclusion to the 2001 tournament when Goran Ivanisevic finally overcame Pat Rafter 9-7 in the deciding set to claim his first and only grand slam title.

Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and Tim Henman were also among the names the Croatian beat on his way to becoming the only wildcard ever to win the singles title (men’s or women’s) at Wimbledon. The wildcards for the 2015 tournament will need something miraculous to come even close to the big-serving left-hander’s heroics of 14 years ago, but the list does include a multiple grand slam champion and a man with his own infamous place in SW19 history.

Lleyton Hewitt was the man who succeeded Ivanisevic as Wimbledon champion in 2002, with a straight-sets win against David Nalbandian. The 34-year-old has been given a wildcard for his final Wimbledon appearance as he gets set to retire after next year’s Australian Open. In the 13 years since that triumph, Hewitt has been unable to add to his two grand slam titles and has ceased to be a force in world tennis since the emergence of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic as the sport’s big three.

Despite his lack of success in the last few years, Hewitt remains a firm fans favourite and one last box-office match on Centre Court would be well received by all in tennis. A fitting finale may be a match against Andy Murray, as the Scot moved level with the Aussie on four Queen’s Club titles last weekend. It would certainly sharpen Murray up for his quest at a second Wimbledon title.

Frenchman Nicolas Mahut has also received a wildcard. He will always be remembered for his contribution to Wimbledon history, although it is a match he would probably rather forget. In the 2010 first round he lost 70-68 in the fifth set against John Isner in a match that lasted 11 hours, five minutes, 183 games and 980 points across three days. He went on to lose again to the US player in the first round the following year. Will he get the chance to make it third time lucky?

The main interest in the women’s wildcards will surround British player Laura Robson, who has just returned to action after nearly 18 months out injured. She made her comeback from wrist surgery in the Aegon International in Eastbourne last week. Although she was dispatched 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour by Daria Gavrilova, she will just be happy to be back on court after a lay-off that has left her without a world ranking. Playing at a venue she won the junior Wimbledon title and a silver medal in the Olympic Games mixed doubles, will certainly do her no harm in attempting to get her career back on track.

A left-hander returning from injury to announce themselves back to the world of tennis? Goran would be proud.