In all the talk of Goran Ivanisevic's multiple personality Greg Rusedski and his supporters may have lost sight of a singular fact. He is simply a hell of a tennis player when he gathers in all the various Gorans under one banner, possibly the best on the grass of Wimbledon who have never won the tournament.
At his peak of efficiency, which we have seen more consistently these last few days than probably at any time since he roared to his first final here nine years ago, he is smart, programmed, pulverising.
His ravaging service game tore away at the foundations of Rusedski's confidence on No 1 Court yesterday. The British hero was a shell of a contender well before the mayhem of a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory was completed in one hour, 29 minutes. Rusedski conceded the fact with a bleak resignation when he handed his racket to a ball boy after Ivanisevic had served successive aces. At the time Rusedski was merely a set down and was leading 3-2 in the second. But he knew. The ball boy knew. The crowd knew. There could only be one winner.
As far as Ivanisevic was concerned Rusedski might have been hoisting a white flag. The Croat, who now has outright ownership of Rusedski's tennis soul with a career record of 9-0, said, "It helped me when he handed his racquet to the boy. I knew he was not returning my services well, and he was not picking my serve. I was mixing a lot, you know. Usually I was serving a lot on his backhand in previous matches but today I decide to serve on his forehand, which maybe surprised him.
"But when I hit that return at 1-0 in the tiebreaker, just picked the side, hit that, I knew it was going to be my match. I said, 'it doesn't matter, four, five sets, it's going to be my match."
The broader question, so dramatically highlighted by the fall of Pete Sampras, concerns his ability, at the age of 29 and with a shoulder racked by a shooting pain almost every time he fires in one of those aces, to win three more matches and finally carry off the title which has been denied him three times at the last hurdle. All he will say is that he is happy with his game – and his various heads. After his brilliant victory over the American pro-digy Andy Roddick, he made the riveting revelation that he had been assisted by a Third Guy – a third element of his pysche which resolves any sense of panic worked up by the Inner and the Outer Goran.
If some felt that Ivanisevic was pushing the limits of self-parody in his euphoria after the win over Roddick, he may have been one of them.
Yesterday he preferred to discuss the superbly grooved game and superior tactics which delivered a remarkably comfortable victory. But of course he also knows his audience, and he was playful enough by any standards when he was asked, "who was playing today, Goran number four or one of the first three?" Said Ivanisevic, "Just the first two Gorans. Like I say, they are together here, playing together, living together, fighting together. And this is just perfect, you know. When these two are together then you can expect anything, a lot of good things, which I'm proving now that I'm playing maybe the best tennis I've ever played at Wimbledon. Am I walking in a zone? I don't know where I'm walking, but I'm walking. Maybe I'm flying at the moment. Hopefully, I can continue like that."
The next test comes in tomorrow's quarter-final against the silky US Open champion Marat Safin, who is beginning to find his feet on grass and who has earned the admiration of Ivanisevic, who shares the services of his manager with the 21-year-old Muscovite. Ivanisevic says, "It's going to be a tough, interesting match. He's a great player. He's the one that I like on the tour, you know, unpredictable. He can play great tennis, bad tennis, something like me. Hopefully, he's going to be this bad Safin on Wednesday. But he's improved a lot on grass. I saw him at Queen's start to serve and volley. But I'm looking forward to him, it could be a great match and an opportunity for me to go further."
Victory yesterday did not persuade Ivanisevic to remove his shirt, as he did so exuberantly after the Roddick triumph, but it was not for any lack of joy. "I only have three," he said, "so I have to be careful now. My shoulder is working fine, though there is pain, still a need to have an operation. But believe me I'm not going to lose here because of my shoulder. I'm not going to complain about my shoulder. Somebody wants to beat me, he has to beat me. If my shoulder falls off, it is bad luck."
Against Rusedski there were indeed two Gorans but however happily their representative talked of the by-ways of their psyches, there was no disguising the serious intent of the one who held the racket in his hand. His mastery over a man he had beaten eight times previously could scarcely have been more complete and for Ivanisevic the explanation was simple enough. "I am a better player than him," he said. "That's probably why before today I won eight matches and he didn't win one. I return better than him, I serve better than him. He doesn't like to see me the other side of the net, you know. He sees me, he gets nervous and he starts to do some stupid things, and I just take it."
Ivanisevic had thus far scarcely mentioned the Third Guy, the brain, the controller, the man who responds to the emergency calls. But, perhaps as another developing superstition, he gave him brief whirl. "He has put everything in order," said Ivanisevic. "Calmed things down."
Such talk is infectious and you felt bound to ask him: "Do you often think how many titles you might have won if he had shown up a little earlier?"
"Oh, yeah," said Ivanisevic, "probably a Wimbledon. But that's life you know. He was out of a job for long time, you know. Now he has a job – a steady job. I think he's going to be there."
Ivanisevic wasn't specific about the date, but he could well have meant this coming Sunday. Much stranger things have happened in SW19.Reuse content