Tennis: Ivanisevic silences the partisans

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The Independent Online
A pain in the neck ended Goran Ivanisevic's run of success at last year's Lipton Championships here, and the temperamental Croat is determined not to allow pains in the neck of the human variety to handicap his prospects on this occasion.

When the interaction of a partisan crowd became too raucous in response to one or two umpiring decisions during Ivanisevic's third-round match against Florida's Vince Spadea on Sunday night, the Croat made an effort to hold himself in check.

However, having survived the contest, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, the fourth-seeded Ivanisevic pointed a finger at a number of his persecutors. "There are idiots everywhere, but especially here," he said afterwards. "It's OK, it's a free country, so any idiot can come and watch tennis."

The heckling intensified during the final set, when the umpire, Carlos Bernardes twice overruled line calls in favour of Ivanisevic and ordered the points to be replayed. A frustrated Spadea later threw his racket and was penalised a point for making a gesture towards the chair, insisting afterwards that he had turned a low one into a high five and the umpire "interpreted it the wrong way".

Spadea described the official's decisions as "ridiculous" and the atmosphere as "just chaotic", adding that when play is interrupted by a noisy crowd the effect can be similar to a rain delay or one caused by injury.

"You just sit there forever, not moving," he said. "I had some bad things go against me, I guess Goran did, too, and the crowd got extremely involved. I just got too consumed with what was going on rather than focusing and capitalising on the opportunities I did have control of."

One could imagine John McEnroe's response to the situation. "He would have complimented my actions, probably with few drinks," Spadea said. "He could have gotten the crowd involved more, if that was possible."

A few years ago, McEnroe paused mid-serve here to inquire of a persistent heckler what it was like "to be ugly, unemployed and a dork".

Ivanisevic's reaction was also characteristic. "A guy told me, 'Damn you!' I think it's not a great thing to say. But then I hit an ace. I'm like that when there's more pressure on me. I can play much better when they are screaming and yelling and clapping. I have the opposite reaction inside me, then I always play better."

A year ago, Ivanisevic did not require external motivation. He advanced to his seventh ATP Tour final, having won titles in Zagreb, Dubai, Milan and Rotterdam, only to retire in pain from a crick in his neck after 10 minutes of the Lipton final against Andre Agassi.

"I think it was from all the playing and all the stress that I had," he recounted. "I was too tight, thinking how I could win. I didn't sleep well."

Ivanisevic now faces the 19-year-old Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, who has been voted the ATP Tour's Player to Watch. The youngster will have to keep an eye on his opponent. As Spadea said of Sunday's match, "Aside from all the drama and all the crap, the tennis was actually where he just outplayed me."

Hrbaty is paying his first visit to the tournament, as is Tommy Haas, at 18 the youngest player in the men's draw. Haas, a 6ft 2in German based at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, was doing rather well, too, scoring victories over Guy Forget and Javier Sanchez in the opening rounds. But yesterday he ran into the No 2 seed, Thomas Muster, who generally has a point to make, on and off the court. The Austrian won, 6-1, 6-2.

Muster will be remembered here for the Lipton final he missed in 1989, when instead he was on his way home to undergo surgery to severed ligaments in his left knee after being struck by a drunk driver.

A rapid recovery enabled him to work even harder on his game and his fitness until eventually he dominated the clay courts of Europe, winning the 1995 French Open and reigning briefly as the world No 1 last year.

He arrived at the Lipton last March as the No 1 seed and lost in his opening match. "I've never had much luck at this tournament," he said. "I'm feeling good this year. I'm playing well and I'm confident. But everybody reaching the round of 16 or quarter-finals is in good shape and is playing well. It's a long event. A lot of things can happen."

True. In the women's singles, the No 2 seed has already been eliminated. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario's dismal run of form continued with a 6-0, 7-5 defeat by Sandrine Testud.

It is not as if the 24-year-old French player is one of the bright young things on the tour, a Martina Hingis, Venus Williams or Anna Kournikova. Testud, ranked No 29, had lost her three previous matches against the Spaniard, but she managed not to suffer a let- down after zooming through the opening set and recovered after being broken when serving for the match at 5-4.