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  Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Croatia goes wild for Goran
Goran and his dad kiss the Wimbledon trophy
Goran and his dad kiss the Wimbledon trophy
Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic received a hero's welcome when he returned to Croatia on Tuesday.

More than 100,000 people in Ivanisevic's hometown of Split flocked to the city's main waterfront to celebrate his remarkable five-set win over Australian Pat Rafter in Monday's final.

Ivanisevic flew into his hometown of Split at around 1800BST in a private plane provided by Slavica Ecclestone, the Croatian wife of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Goran proudly flies the Croatian flag
Goran proudly flies the Croatian flag
He then boarded a ship which took him to his final destination in the harbour, where he was greeted by prominent athletes and celebrities for a party to be capped by a firework display.

The champion is definitely in need of some sleep in order to find out if he is still dreaming.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the newly-crowned Wimbledon champion said: "I went out last night and just arrived back an hour ago, so I am still a bit asleep."

"Because I didn't sleep, I didn't wake up and so I think I need to go to sleep and wake up to see if it is true.

"It is coming slowly into my head. It is great. I am Wimbledon champion, but it is going to take about a week to realise that I am."

Ivenisevic began the tournament as a 125-1 outsider after recieving a wild card entry but said that his belief grew as he progresed through the tournament.


It was the best crowd there is ever going to be at any tennis match
Goran Ivanisevic
"I believed in some kind of destiny and everything was going well for me.

"Slowly I was believing more and more that this was the year for me and that God wanted me to win this year."

"Yesterday was unbelievable. It was just too good," said Ivanisevic who paid tribute to the Wimbledon crowd.

"I beat Greg (Rusedski) and I beat Tim (Henman) but they still believed in me."

"I was just proud to play in front of that crowd and English supporters.

"It was the best crowd there is ever going to be at any tennis match.

"I would like to thank them, because they supported me really well throughout the tournament and had sympathy for me because I had never won and they really wanted me to win."


I was carrying this big stone of pressure on my back for eight or nine years, but yesterday I threw it away and now I think I can fly
Goran Ivanisevic
In the BBC interview, Ivanisevic also paid tribute to beaten opponent Pat Rafter and pleaded with him not to carry out his threat to retire.

"I feel sorry, because he is a good friend and a great player," said Ivanisevic.

"He said he is going to retire and that is going to be really bad for tennis if he goes."

Ivanisevic claimed his experiences at Wimbledon this year would lead to him taking a calmer approach to the game in the future.

In the past he has had a reputation for having a short fuse.

"This was my dream and now whatever happens in my life, I am going to take it with less pressure and stress because nobody can take away this victory from me."

Jubilant fans watched the final back in Split
Jubilant fans watched the final back in Split

"Whatever I do, I am always going to be Wimbledon champion and now I can play tennis with less pressure.

"I was carrying this big stone of pressure on my back for eight or nine years, but yesterday I threw it away and now I think I can fly."

As Croatia's first Wimbledon champion Ivanisevic is expecting 150,000 fans to line the streets of Split.

Jubilant supporters who watched the amazing final on television cannot wait to greet their Grand Slam-winning superstar.

The 29-year-old hailed his incredible 9-7 final set victory over Rafter on a magnificently raucous Centre Court as "the greatest day of my life". And being such a proud patriot his thoughts immediately switched to the glory his win had bestowed upon his country.

"This is going to be great," said Ivanisevic, who carried his country's flag at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

"It's one of the biggest days ever for Croatia, sports-wise."

Eight months ago, Ivanisevic was smashing the last racket in his bag against Hjung-Taik Lee in Brighton and defaulting.

Less than a month ago he was beaten with embarrassing ease by Cristiano Caratti in the first round at Queen's.

After that episode, Ivanisevic insisted he did not care if he never played another tennis match again.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic
"I didn't sleep a bit"
BBC Sport's Daniela Relph
"This is a city celebrating it's Wimbledon champion"
Croatian journalist Toma Dragicvic
"The whole country watched Goran win Wimbledon"
Wimbledon site

Men's singles final

Ladies' singles final

Henman's defeat

Other finals

Scores and seeds

SOL at Wimbledon

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Audio/video

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See also:

09 Jul 01 | Europe
10 Jul 01 | Media reports
10 Jul 01 | Wimbledon 2001
Links to more Wimbledon 2001 stories are at the foot of the page.


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