Todd Martin was a kid in a candy store during the boys’ singles event at the 1988 US Open. The American recalls being relatively unknown, while his quarter-final opponent, Goran Ivanisevic, was a promising junior.
“I beat him 6-2, 6-1. I walked off the court like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m destined for greatness. Look at what I just did to this guy,’” Martin told ATPTour.com. “It was the first time I had ever been on the court with him, the first time I ever watched him play. But I couldn’t help but walk off the court and feel pretty happy with myself.”
Martin is now the CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, into which Ivanisevic will be inducted on Saturday evening. The legendary lefty went on to reach No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and lift 22 tour-level trophies, including one at Wimbledon in 2001 as a wild card.
The pair had a tight ATP Head2Head rivalry when they competed on the ATP Tour, with the Croatian winning seven of their 12 meetings. Martin, however, is one of two players (also Pete Sampras) to defeat Ivanisevic multiple times at Wimbledon. But despite their close record against each other, there was always an element of mystery ahead of their matches.
“You just didn’t know. There were days when I just couldn’t get a racquet on his serve and when you did, he was focused and sharp enough to execute well from there,” Martin said. “There were other days when I walked on the court not knowing what to expect and I walked off the court thinking to myself, ‘Thank God I played Goran today.’ He did have various versions of himself. We all do. But with him, it was north, east and south.”
Ivanisevic could soar, struggle, or anywhere in between. Throughout this induction weekend, Hall of Famers, players and fans alike have recalled the “Three Gorans” — Good Goran, Bad Goran and Emergency Goran — which Ivanisevic created during his run to the 2001 Wimbledon title. But one Goran in particular made Martin’s life exceedingly difficult.
“As much as we talk about these other personalities, the one Goran beat me every time we played. I played this one Goran seven times, I know that,” Martin said. “The other two Gorans were so dramatic, so you couldn’t help but see them. But 90 per cent of the time he went on the court, it was the right Goran.”
For most of his opponents, Martin remembers his losses more than his victories. But that is not the case with Ivanisevic because of the lefty’s ability to control the action with his serve.
“I probably just didn’t feel as much a part of the result as I would against most players,” Martin said. “I don’t know how good his shoulder is right now, but if he were healthy at 49, I’d love to at least watch him serve to Novak [Djokovic] and see what Novak does. I imagine the serve is still humming pretty darn well, and I know the accuracy would be there.”
Martin would “fight absolutely to the death” against the Croatian, but Ivanisevic delivered so many aces and service winners to his side of the court, that there was little he could do. Martin was not alone in that regard, and that is a big reason why the Croatian is being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“I’m sure I could have done better,” Martin said. “But when you get to that point, which was probably only the case for me against Goran and Pete and once against Michael Stich, how could I judge myself critically against this?”