Wimbledon 98: Ivanisevic's battering ram

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IT IS to be hoped Daniel Vacek recovers from the concussive experience he suffered at Wimbledon yesterday.

There was the look of a shellshocked soldier wandering between the trenches when he left Court No 2. The Czech had been dispatched 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 by Goran Ivanisevic and the bits of the beating he probably remembered in a sweaty dream last night were each of 44 aces that whistled past his ears. He may be able to claim medical compensation for his trauma from the All England Club.

Heavy artillery is a permanent part of Ivanisevic's game in SW19. The points are short, even by his standards. He probably thinks a rally is a person who puts his coat in a puddle. "I always go for the big serve," Ivanisevic said. "That is how I play here. The ace or the double fault. I made a lot of double faults today [15 of them] because I was risking more."

When you see the intimidating name of Goran Ivanisevic on your order of play you half expect this man to turn up wearing animal pelts and a double-edged axe over his shoulder. The Croat is indeed the antithesis of the Fred Perry figure, a great Bohemian of the circuit.

He arrived on court with the appearance and demeanour of someone who had just managed to fit in this tournament around Glastonbury. There was a purple rococo bandana around his forehead and a brooding look whenever points went against him. He spat a lot.

It is rather odd to think of Ivanisevic as a resident of Monte Carlo, where if you are not a member of the Grimaldi family then you are almost certainly a professional tennis player protecting the money. You expect him to live in a forest bivouac, skinning rabbits to keep alive. If he stuns them with his service action, then at least they have a quick death.

Last year Ivanisevic served more aces (1,048) than anyone else, the fourth time in six years that he had topped the list. His Wimbledon total this year is 89.

It takes a special kind of stoicism to endure this bombardment and for a while Vacek did manage it. His sandy hair was sticking up on the top of his scalp, which was quite appropriate considering the coconut shy he found himself in.

If a turning point has to be located it came at the time when Ivanisevic served an ace to prevent himself going two sets down. He had just been very angry. "I made a mistake," he said. "I tried to play cool and I am not cool. It is not me. I lost my serve in the second set and then I started to talk to myself, stupid things." In tone and delivery the murmurs sounded like a bunch of Croatian asterisks. "You don't want to know what I said," he reported. "I cooled down, but I think it's best to break the racket. It's better to explode straight away."

Ivanisevic has been coming here for 11 years now and his two finals help give him the second best record in the draw behind Pete Sampras. His recent Grand Slam record however has been that of a duffer. He has won one round in his last five Slams.

Ivanisevic had developed an attitude. He only turned up at tournaments if he had nothing better to do. "The last six months have been the worst of my career, but that's passed," he said. "This year I'm feeling much better, much happier and I have a desire to play and practise. Two months ago I was thinking "Jesus, I have to practise now for one or two hours, it's a pain in the ass", but now I have fun playing and on the court.

"I feel inside of me that it's coming and it's just a question of time when I'm going to break through and make a good result. I can beat anybody when I play good here."

There were, though, some wobbly moments once again yesterday when Ivanisevic did not appear particularly interested in the game of tennis. He bit his fingernails between his opponent's serves. He gave up on too many balls. "Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and it's not good, you know," he said. "But I know why people want to watch me, because it is always a thriller and they can expect everything from nothing to great tennis."

The broad range is next available in the fourth round against the American Todd Martin. The two men inhabit the easy half of the draw in which, Ivanisevic apart, Richard Krajicek is the only remaining seed. "Last time I beat him [Martin] 7-6 in the fourth, and if I play like this I am not afraid," the Croat said. "He has to play great tennis to beat me." He had better book a course of therapy as well.