Ivanisevic exchanges rifle for racket

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The Independent Online

Goran Ivanisevic may be enjoying his national service in the Croatian Army but he has no doubt that his bullet-like serves remain his favourite weapon.

"If I was in a war, I would be dead in two seconds," said the Wimbledon champion after his 7-6, 6-3 first round Heineken Open victory over Jarkko Nieminen here.

Ivanisevic is allowed time off from his six-month stint in the armed forces to compete in major tournaments around the world and was clearly happy to be back on court in the warm-up event to the Australian Open.

"It was different holding a gun, hopefully I won't ever have to use it. I'm not that good. With the Kalashnikov you have to undo it in 40 seconds and put it back together in 60 seconds, at which I was terrible," he said. "I could undo it in 40 seconds but [assembling it] in 60 seconds, no way. I was thinking if I was in a war, I would be dead in two seconds."

In his nine days of service so far, Ivanisevic has found himself in completely different surroundings to those he is used to as one of the world's most famous tennis players.

"[On the circuit], you get used to all these nice hotels. The maid makes your bed. The maid cleans everything. [In the army], you have to do everything by yourself. You have to wait in a line for breakfast with hundreds of other people."

But in true Goran style, he still managed to find a lighter side to his army ordeal: "It was fun, an honour for me to be there. Just tough to wake up that early, but you get used to everything. You do some exercise, you go to shoot, you learn."

The 30-year-old, who stormed to the 2001 Wimbledon title, beating Pat Rafter in the final after gaining entry as a wild card and disposing of both the Britons, Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, also said he would retire from the game if forced to return to the route of qualifying matches and wild cards to compete in tournaments.

"No way would I go back and play 'qualies' and ask for wild cards, and wait to see if anyone would give me one," he said. "If I'm going to drop or get into a situation where I have to play 'qualies' or ask for a wild card, I'm going to stop."

Ivanisevic now faces Mikhail Youzhny, of Russia, on Centre Court today, but at the end of the year he will review his position and make a decision about his future.

"So now I'm going to see the end of the year how I'm standing. If I want to play more or not," he said. "I'm not going to announce I stop or not. I'm just going to disappear. You're not going to see my name again."

Whatever his decision, the tempestuous Croat believes his Wimbledon triumph, his first Grand Slam title, has changed his way of thinking on the court.

"To myself, I have nothing more to prove. But people look at you different. For two years, I was put on some funny courts and nobody even noticed. Now they know I'm there, they want me to win. But inside me, my dreams came true. It's easier to play. I don't take the losses so bad as I did before."

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