Goran 'happy and sad' after finale

Updated: June 26, 2004, 8:29 AM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.comn

WIMBLEDON, England -- Thirteen minutes into his third-round match against Lleyton Hewitt, Goran Ivanisevic's body language was easily interpreted. After Hewitt broke his second service game, Ivanisevic's shoulders sagged and his self-deprecating grimace was well established.

"I'm sad that I have to leave, but I'm happy that it's no more practicing, no more questions from you guys," Goran Ivanisevic said.

By the third set he was stretching his groin muscle between points and it was obvious that the end of the 32-year-old's Wimbledon career could be measured in minutes. On Friday, No. 7-seeded Hewitt prevailed, predictably, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and is through to the round of 16.

When it was over, the 2001 champion told Hewitt, "You kick my ass very well."

Hewitt, the 2002 champion, said, "You're a great champion. It's been an honor playing against you out here on Centre Court."

Afterward, Ivanisevic didn't sound like a loser.

"Everything," he said, "was perfect -- the weather, the crowd, the court. I enjoy myself. I'm happy. I'm happy and sad. I'm sad that I have to leave, but I'm happy that it's no more practicing, no more questions from you guys."

The journeys of Ivanisevic and Martina Navratilova, two former champions here in their final singles appearances, have been the feel-good story of the fortnight. Everyone loves an underdog, particularly an old underdog. Muhammad Ali. Jack Nicklaus. Randy Johnson. Michael Jordan. All things seem possible when age no longer matters.

For a few delicious days, it didn't. The 47-year-old Navratilova defeated Catalina Castano in the first round and Ivanisevic knocked of No. 31 seed Mikhail Youzhny and Filippo Volandri to advance to the third. Good stuff, as far as it went, for the No. 700 and No. 415 ranked players in the world.

But then, inevitably, the laws of nature prevailed. Order was restored to the tennis universe.

Navratilova, who is the same age as Gisela Dulko's mother, lost to the 19-year-old Argentine after winning the first set. The nine-time Wimbledon champion looked tired at the end. As a result, the eventuality that Michael Stich feared so much did not come to pass. On Wednesday, the 1991 champion here, went off on BBC Radio.

"If Martina does go through to the third or fourth round of The Championships, then I think it would be terrible for the women's game," he said. "The girl she beat in the first round should just pick up her racket and go home.

"To lose to Martina -- even on grass 6-1, 6-0 -- is a terrible thing for women's tennis. The result shows there is no depth in the game at all and that you have (only) four or five girls at the top who could win the event."

Navratilova cracked back after Thursday's loss to Dulko.

"I get really upset when I see one-hit wonder, one-Slam wonder Michael Stich criticizing the depth in women's tennis," Navratilova said. "How many games did Federer lose in the second-round match?"

The answer: The defending champion lost exactly three games to Columbia's Alejandro Falla.

"Ivanisevic comes, wins two matches," Navratilova continued. "He hasn't played for a few years. I'm not knocking the depth in men's tennis, but they're quick to knock the depth of women's tennis. Look at how I hit the ball, not at the result. Not at the fact that I'm 47.

"Want to talk about depth in women's tennis? Who did Venus Williams lose to today? Most of you guys don't know what Karolina Sprem looks like."

Stich's, clearly, was a minority position. Many players came to Navratilova's defense.

"She's amazing," said Andy Roddick. "Not every 47-year-old woman can do that, huh? It's pretty incredible what she did. And she's probably the only one who thought it was a good idea, and she kind of proved a lot of people wrong."

Ivanisevic wasn't expected to go far here, either. After winning the Wimbledon title memorably in 2001, he missed the last two events with injuries. His record coming into the event was a sketchy 2-9, but he managed to beat two serviceable players. Hewitt was better than serviceable. He has been playing well lately and had beaten Ivanisevic in their two previous encounters, both on grass, without losing a set.

This match, too, wasn't close.

Ivanisevic said he would fly home on Saturday to Croatia and support his Davis Cup team in their September match against Belgium. Maybe, he said, he would become Croatia's Davis Cup captain.

"Right now," he said, "I just want to relax. When I wake up, no more therapy, no more exercises, no more painkillers, no more nothing. I just want to enjoy and be proud of myself, everything I did in the last 15 years.

"I gave all my life into this sport. I know it's finished, but I don't know it's finished. It's still mixed up in my head a little bit. I going to realize probably in next couple of days that I'm going to think I should practice. I going to hide the rackets so I don't go and practice again."

Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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