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Split Personality
Franz Lidz
November 16, 1992
Croatia's Goran Ivanisevic is a loose cannon on and off the court, but right now his game is booming
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November 16, 1992

Split Personality

Croatia's Goran Ivanisevic is a loose cannon on and off the court, but right now his game is booming

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So deceptive is Ivanisevic's low-toss hatchet swing that opponents sometimes can't tell whether the serve has passed them on the forehand or backhand side. "Goran is like a pitcher who can put his 120-mile-an-hour heater on the edge of the plate every time," says U.S. pro David Wheaton. "Plus he's lefthanded."

Ivanisevic's matches average about 23 seconds of action. "You can get rusty playing him," says 13th-ranked Richard Krajicek of Holland. "He'll hit three aces, make two double faults. He's up 40-30, and you haven't touched the ball." At Wimbledon, Ivanisevic nailed 206 aces in seven matches, which included victories over Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras and a five-set loss to Andre Agassi in the final.

As a kid in the Balkans, Ivanisevic admired McEnroe for his temperament as much as for his tennis. "When Mac crazy, he'd get pumped up and play better," he says. "I was opposite. When I crazy, I break the racket and lose. I wanted to play, but something was stopping me." After a tirade in Heidelberg young Ivanisevic was thrown out of the semis of the European 14-and-under championships. "It's nice feeling to break rackets when upset," he says. "So I break many. I am professor in the school of how to break the racket."

Brett, the longtime coach of Becker, was hired by Ivanisevic's father, Srdjan, early last year. Brett has brought a purifying calm to Ivanisevic's game, fine-tuning his volley, his ground strokes and, most important, his esprit d'attaque. Ivanisevic has a reputation of being a bigger tanker than the Exxon Valdez. "There's a thin line between creativity and self-destruction," says Brett. "The idea is not to contain Goran's explosiveness but to channel it in a positive way."

Ivanisevic thinks the responsibility of being a kind of ambassador for his embattled country has matured him. The Olympics were a personal crusade. He carried the Croatian flag in the opening ceremonies and won four straight exhausting five-setters on clay in deadening heat. Although Ivanisevic dropped the first two sets of his quarterfinal match with France's Fabrice Santoro on tiebreakers, he remained firm if not downright implacable. Instead of stewing, he reminded himself who he was playing for.

"Something wild was in me," he recalls. "I told myself I have to win. It doesn't matter if I stay on the court for 10 hours. Croatians are fighting for their freedom, and they will be more motivated to win the war if I win. I start to fight more. I start to think different. I have clear in my mind." He points his two index fingers to his chest. "In my own way, I fight for my country. The racket is my rifle."

Last week he opened fire at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. His first target was Cedric Pioline, a Parisian who couldn't serve a croque-monsieur at a Montparnasse brasserie. The next duck in the shooting gallery was Krajicek, another practitioner of the modern power game. Ivanisevic outgunned him 6-4, 7-6. "I hit three aces; he hit three aces," he said, yawning. "Very boring."

Next Ivanisevic popped off Wheaton before Becker popped him off. Becker went on to win his third Paris Open title by downing France's Guy Forget 7-6, 6-3, 3-6. 6-3. "I'm feeling O.K. about this defeat," said Ivanisevic afterward. "When you are winning too much, sometimes you think you should never lose again. I am learning to lose."

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