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  Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Goran flies the flag
Croatia's newspapers celebrate Ivanisevic's success
Croatia's newspapers celebrate Ivanisevic's success
BBC TV and radio presenter Adrian Chiles, whose West Midlands accent disguises the fact he is half Croatian, explains why Goran Ivanisevic's Wimbledon victory means so much to the Balkan state.

With Rafter 5-4 up in the fifth set, I decided I had to do something to change the course of the match.

So I switched from watching the game on the BBC to Croatian televison on my satellite. The commentator had long since lost the plot.

"Out! Go OUT!" he screamed at Rafter's lob as it drifted over the Croat's head. "Jesus Mary, Jesus Mary, mother of God", he intoned as it looked like Goran would come second for the fourth time in his career.

Croatia, not for the first time in its short history, is beside itself with sporting joy this week. A country still not officially a decade old; a country of only four million people, has a Wimbledon champion.

Goran's neighbours in Split
Goran's neighbours party in Split
As Goran Ivanisevic has pointed out already: "Everyone loves a winner; they respect a runner-up, but they love a winner".

Croatia knows how to celebrate sporting achievement - it's had plenty of practice - most notably in the soccer world cup of 1998 in France. Croatia beat Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals and the whole place went berserk.

In Split the revelry reached a pitch where mere singing, dancing and drinking could no longer quench the thirst for celebration. So they started driving their cars off the harbour into the sea.

In Zagreb, a dozen tramway cars were wrecked as things got out of hand. And all this for a team that lost four days later to France in Paris.

A Croatian fan put his arm round my shoulder after that game and said "we lost but we won". No buts this time, Goran's a winner.

Goran Ivanisevic wins Wimbledon
The moment of victory
But the scenes the world will see today when the champion arrives home in Split are a reflection of more than sporting passion. After the Balkan wars, Croatia remains largely unloved in the hearts and minds of the west.

Serbia's taken the lion's share of the blame for the peculiarly vile wars of the 1990s but Croats feel they are unfairly tarred with the same brush. And every bit of sporting success helps dissipate the gloom.

To every Croat Goran Ivanisevic's success says "we're special, we're gifted, we're winners, we're good people, we're Croatia".

What it comes down to is pride. Every member of the Croatian diaspora can walk a little taller in their adopted homes. Walking through West London in my Croatian football shirt today people are stopping to congratulate me. Me!

When you are from a small country it is so much easier to share in the pride of the champion. It's simple really, a numbers game.

Divide one man's joy by, in the case of the USA for example, 250 million people and there's not much to go round. In Croatia there's more for all of us.

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See also:

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


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