Ivanisevic continues charmed existence

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- Goran Ivanisevic was about to serve on match point when a voice from the stands broke the silence at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

''Yea, Goran!'' the fan shouted. Ivanisevic turned toward him, grinned and waved, then won the next point to close out his first-round victory at the U.S. Open.

The colorful Croat was back on the Grand Slam stage Wednesday, basking in his role as reigning Wimbledon champion. With a near-capacity crowd firmly in his corner, Ivanisevic beat Hugo Armando 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

''I never saw so many people watching me first round,'' Ivanisevic said. ''It's a great honor that I achieve and people respect me. It's a great feeling.''

Fans love Ivanisevic, but few expect him to duplicate his magical run at Wimbledon, where last month he became the first wild card to win a major men's title.

Now he's seeded 15th and in the weaker half of the draw but again considered a long shot. He's still hindered by chronic shoulder soreness that will require surgery at the end of the year, and Wednesday's victory was just his sixth at the Open since 1996.

For the third straight day, there were no upsets among the top players. Top-seeded Gustavo Kuerten and Martina Hingis advanced, as did Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles and Serena Williams. Patty Schnyder gave Wimbledon runner-up Justine Henin a scare before losing 6-7 (7), 6-1, 6-4. Two-time champion Patrick Rafter beat Christophe Rochus 7-5, 6-2, 6-1.

On a near-perfect day for tennis -- clear and mild -- the only precipitation came from Czech Michal Tabara, who admitted he spit at American Justin Gimelstob approaching the net to shake hands after their match. Gimelstob, who won in five sets, annoyed Tabara with his demonstrative manner and injury timeouts.

''I think he wasn't fit,'' Tabara complained. ''He take injury time because he cannot breathe and cannot move.''

Gimelstob said he didn't see Tabara spit, probably because he was looking in another direction as he celebrated the win.

''The chance is 100 percent I didn't see it, or I would have been on the other side of the net,'' Gimelstob said. ''I guarantee you the next time I see him, I'll take it up with him.''

For entertainment value, only Ivanisevic could rival a spat about spit. His news conferences may be the most exciting 15 minutes in sports, and topics Wednesday included his sore left shoulder, off-color English and plans to play soccer for his hometown team in Split, Croatia.

''I signed the contract, so I'm on the team,'' he said. ''I'm going to be even more nervous, because is not my sport. When they going to give me the ball, I going to get rid of the ball straightaway, just give it to the closest guy next to me, even if he's from the other team.''

Ivanisevic apologized for language he used at Wimbledon to describe a linesman who annoyed him, and said he's trying to be more careful about his choice of words.

''I swear on the court in Indianapolis, some religious group, they call,'' he said. ''Everything what I say, everybody complaining, this group, that group. I have nothing against those people. Just that's the thing I say. I'm not going to say it anymore.''

Ivanisevic resisted using curse words when discussing his rotator cuff injury. The shoulder hurts, he said, as it did at Wimbledon, but he slammed a record 213 aces there and had 25 against Armando.

''I have a lot of aces, but a lot of painkillers also,'' he said. ''Each ace, one painkiller.''

Ivanisevic, 29, will be sidelined for several months following surgery, but he plans to play again at Wimbledon.

''How can I not show up, even with one leg?'' he said.

Wednesday's win came on the one-year anniversary of his last match at the Open, a dismal loss to Dominik Hrbaty. Ivanisevic won the first set, then lost 18 of the next 19 games.

It was the fourth time he was eliminated in the first round at the Open, and he sank into a slump that left his fragile psyche shaken and his career in doubt.

''Last year was disaster,'' he said. ''I remember that, talking pretty sad things. But now is different. Today was too nice day to go back and spoil everything.''

Ivanisevic plays Gimelstob next. A first-time U.S. Open finalist is likely to emerge from that half of the draw, with Kuerten and American teen-ager Andy Roddick the most formidable potential opponents.

''It's a good chance for old Goran,'' three-time Open champion John McEnroe said. ''He's very dangerous. That half is pretty wide open. It's unpredictable who is going to come out of there. Why not Goran?''

After what happened at Wimbledon, that's a good question, and the enigmatic Ivanisevic will provide the answer.

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