The 'Third Guy' saves day for Ivanisevic

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The Independent Online

Goran Ivanisevic has always operated at the head of a huge entourage. There was the good Goran, the bad Goran, the wild, anarchic Goran, the gentle, whimsical Goran and more demons than you could fit in a troopship.

Now there is another Goran, one who might just have changed the face of recent tennis history had he shown up a little earlier.

He calls him the Third Guy, a wise counsellor who arrived with beautiful timing on No 1 court yesterday and steered Ivanisevic through the final phase of a thunderous four-set victory over America's latest tennis phenomenon, 18-year-old Andy "A-Rod" Roddick. For most of the match Ivanisevic needed about as much assistance as a god of war, pounding the confidence of the brilliant, cocky young graduate of the University of Nebraska with a stream of aces, but when he blew two match points while serving at 6-5 in the fourth there came a terrible sense of dread.

Three times Ivanisevic had suffered the pain of final defeat at the neighbouring Centre Court and now, at a sometimes world-weary 29, he has scaled his ambition down to the point where he just wants to leave a place he loves with a "good feeling, a belief that I have done good". That hope, so gloriously underpinned by the perfect service game and brilliant control of the court, seemed certain to be fulfilled with passage into a fourth round meeting with Greg Rusedski on Monday until the demons arrived once again.

This time, though, they were put to the sword along with Roddick. The Third Guy, said Ivanisevic, steadied the winning hand. His role was revealed when Ivanisevic was asked the question that has clouded his career, and so many of his dreams and nightmares: Goran, when you were blowing those match points, what was the Inner Goran saying to the Outer Goran?

"They were both nervous," said Ivanisevic. "I said: 'Guys, guys...' One has to be under control, but they were both going a little bit. One was rushing, the other one was rushing even more. Then the third one came and said: 'Guys, relax. It's a lovely court, relax, just calm down.' The third guy had to come. I had to call him. He's the emergency one. Emergency, 911 call, and he came on deuce in that last game. 'Calm down', he said. 'Two aces, thank you.' He's the brain man. He's controlling."

All the time Ivanisevic was explaining this elaborate but rather sensational thought process under pressure, he was wearing a smile on a face that so often has been contorted with pain, real pain, imagined pain, the distress of a superbly gifted player not always in charge of his destiny. You could only say, thank God for the Third Guy, because if Ivanisevic had slipped to defeat yesterday, if all the perfectly assembled power and carefully evolved strategy had gone to pieces, there is no saying how many tennis rackets would have been smashed, how many choking regrets would have been expressed.

As it was he smiled serenely, approved of the whisking of his old nemesis, the former Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, to trial – "It's perfect, man, he should spend the rest of his life in The Hague" – and happily itemised the breaking down of his dangerous young opponent, 7-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

Ivanisevic said: "The way I served today, especially in the first two sets, is just too good. I mean, I can't ask for more. I was serving aces [41 in all] and he was just walking left to right. I said to myself: 'If I can serve like that, he's gonna give me a chance. He's a great player, gonna be an even better player than now, but he gives you some strange points. Five-four tie-break, he plays drop shot, I don't know why, in the middle of the service line. He's running to the net, I say: 'Thank you.' I just wanted to put the return because his every forehand is 200 kilometres an hour and I know he's going to make some mistakes. He has to miss one or two somehow. But I keep my mind. I play from the back surprisingly well. Just that last game I made my life a little bit difficult... you know I wouldn't be Goran Ivanisevic if I didn't.

"On the second match point something happened to me that I never had before. I hit my first serve and couldn't move. First time, I couldn't come to the net. You know, I was like blocked, like I had come into the sand – the sand that takes you down. I stand on the baseline, say: 'Gee what am I doing here?' I cannot move, still. Then he returns and I miss the next shot. I just wanted to win so badly I freeze for a couple of seconds. Good thing I hit another couple of aces afterwards."

Ivanisevic was asked if he had matured. He smiled and said: "I'm not a psychologist, you know." He once said that he stayed well clear of psychologists. "They drive you crazy, you know," Goran confided.

In between the artillery barrages, Roddick showed why so many judges believe he is a big part of the future of the American game. He served formidably at times and produced some searing ground strokes, but the weight of the Croatian's game simply wore him down.

He said: "I agree with the view that Goran is probably the best grass-court player never to win Wimbledon. It's tough when you are playing a guy who serves like that, who makes you feel that you don't even have a chance in return games."

Ivanisevic believes that he can bring still more meaningful spectacle to the second week of Wimbledon. "I always say, anyone can win in the second week – and I believe I can. I'm expecting more from myself now. Against Greg Rusedski I seem able to win the big points, and so I must be confident when I play him again. I think I can be even prouder of myself when this tournament is over. I believe I can go a long way this time. I have the game to do it, and the confidence and a real nice feeling." He also, perhaps most vitally of all, has the phone number of the Third Guy.

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