Ivanisevic rolls back years to catch the match

He arrived to a champion's ovation, just as he had left to one three years ago. Goran Ivanisevic's return to Wimbledon, his 16th and final Wimbledon, was everything he must have dreamed of as he struggled with injury and loss of form in the intervening years. The crowd stood to receive him even before his head poked around the famous dark green canvas. Little wonder he looked, more than once, to the heavens. And not just because of the fitful rain. Indeed he enjoyed an astonishing number of fortuitous net cords. The gods were with him and he gave a thumbs-up of thanks.

In fact the 32-year-old Croat's biggest concern was not the threat posed by the 31st seed, the Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 10 years his junior, who seemed overawed by the occasion and made untold forehand errors in a straight-sets 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 defeat.

Ivanisevic was desperate to end the match in time to watch Croatia play England at Euro 2004 and did so with 80 minutes to spare. Indeed he raced from the court to the interview room. "It was beautiful," he said of stepping on to Centre Court again. "An unbelievable feeling. Last time I played there I had a great memory." He now has another.

However, so passionate is Ivanisevic about his football, he had even entered the practice courts in the distinctive red and white chequerboard Croatian football shirt.

Wimbledon officials would not have stretched to allowing him to take to the Centre Court so attired but they did grant him the sentimental honour of being second on after the reigning champion, Roger Federer. Ivanisevic's appearance meant that for the first time in Wimbledon's history there were two unbeaten men's champions on show.

His victory in 2001, when he became the first wildcard winner - on a rare Monday final - followed his epic three-day, rain-interrupted semi-final against Tim Henman when he broke British hearts only to win them afterwards.

The years since have not been kind, and he was unable to defend his title. A persistent shoulder injury has been especially troublesome and he even hurt himself stepping on a broken shell in the Miami surf. "I was never depressed," he insisted yesterday. "They still want me to play here."

Indeed Ivanisevic promised himself one last hurrah and will retire once he is defeated in this competition. This, he said, is his farewell, although it never looked like ending against Youzhny, who started poorly and only rallied briefly in the second set. "He has come to go," said Ivanisevic's father, Srdjan, of his son, who himself added: "I have won my Wimbledon. I want to retire here." Ivanisevic Snr watched alongside the former Croatia football captain Zvonimir Boban and celebrated joyously afterwards.

Ivanisevic may prove to be a dangerous wildcard yet again - fitness permitting. His serve was solid, having lost only a little of its pace, the double-faults have been eradicated and his backhand was simply explosive. "I played one of my best matches for a long time," he said. Indeed it was only his second win in 10 tournaments this year.

Being lobbed twice in the opening game did not augur well but Ivanisevic quickly broke his opponent with two raking forehands. He wrapped the set up easily with a trademark service down the centre.

The second set, with a long hiatus for rain which induced the odd Ivanisevic wobble and briefly appeared to galvanise Youzhny, went to serve. The tie-break was easily taken by Ivanisevic, who ran quickly through the third set as the Russian's resistance crumbled and his opponent's confidence burgeoned. "I was thinking it would be nice to finish it in three," Ivanisevic said. And he did.

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