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Nothing Can Take Away Ivanisevic's Comfort Zone

June 22, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — Centre Court belonged to Goran Ivanisevic, just as it did three years ago.

The ball seemed to ask Ivanisevic's permission before it landed. The fans were eager to approve Ivanisevic's pleas to the heavens or grimaces to the place down below. Ivanisevic won his single major championship on Centre Court, and he returned there Monday, finally, for the first time since his amazing Wimbledon run in 2001.

Of course, the silly Croat with the giant serve and floppy smile gave the crowd what it wished. He beat 31st-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in what technically was an upset but really went just according to script.

"You cannot play bad on this court," a blissful Ivanisevic said after his 87-minute match. "You can be nervous. But bad? Is impossible to play bad. Everything, whatever I wanted to hit, went in."

On a day when play was interrupted four times by rain, the top women had few problems.

Newly crowned French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, seeded second, struggled early but recovered to beat Lubomira Kurhajcova of Slovakia, 7-5, 6-1.

Third-seeded Venus Williams, wearing a new dress with ragged edges created by Diane von Furstenberg, looked sharp in drubbing Marie-Gayanay Mikaelian of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-0, and fifth-seeded Lindsay Davenport, testing her sore knee, avoided trouble in a quick 6-2, 6-1 victory over Dally Randriantefy of Madagascar.

On the men's side, there was a minor upset when Croatia's Ivo Karlovic knocked out 13th-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Srichaphan had won the Nottingham Open on Saturday.

Defending Wimbledon men's champion Roger Federer of Switzerland had preceded Ivanisevic on Centre Court. He had the honor of inaugurating play on the legendary court when the grass was fresh and slippery, the pristine lines still bright white and when everything seemed possible to everyone. Federer was impossibly perfect in his 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory over British wild card Alex Bogdanovic. Federer moved so lightly across the court that Ivanisevic found it still with that brand-new feel.

"It's first time, actually, I walk on Centre Court first round in my whole Wimbledon career," Ivanisevic said. "It's new, it's nice. Grass is very green."

When Ivanisevic shocked the world by winning Wimbledon three years ago, he said he was hoping his injured serving shoulder would stay attached to his body. After Wimbledon, Ivanisevic played two more Grand Slam events -- the 2001 U.S. Open and the 2002 Australian Open. He had surgery on the shoulder in May 2002 and sometimes, he said, considered himself retired.

"But I wanted my one more chance here," he said. "So I come back once more time."

He is 32 and maybe not capable of serving 40 aces a match anymore. He had 13 Monday.

He is maybe not capable of cavorting around Centre Court as if he were 20, with a fresh shoulder, for two weeks. But, then, Ivanisevic did see 47-year-old Martina Navratilova come back after 10 years away from singles and win a first-round match.

"She is from other planet, you know. She's 48, 50 -- I don't know. She won, 6-0, 6-1. I mean, she is 48. Probably I going to be in wheelchair when I'm 48. So."

So Navratilova is 47, and women prefer to have a few years knocked off their age, and when Navratilova hears what Ivanisevic said she may put him in a wheelchair.

Next up for the Croat is 22-year-old Italian Filippo Volandri, who is playing here for the second time and won his first match here Monday. Ivanisevic is playing here for the 15th time and, as Navratilova showed, experience and smarts on grass trump a lot of other flaws, such as old age or bad shoulders. So does emotion.

"When I saw this crowd," Ivanisevic said, "then I said that was worth it for these two years, struggling, doing therapy, all kinds of therapy, being up and down, thinking to stop. But it was worth it. It was worth it to fight and come back and be today on Centre Court."

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