WIMBLEDON — It was unbelievable.
It was unpronounceable.
“My name,” he said, “is Zivojinovic.”
He served like a cannon. He moved like a Westinghouse. He was the tall, dark stranger at center court, taking chunks out of Ivan Lendl, the No. 1 player in the world.
“My name,” he said, with every smashing point, “is Zivojinovic!”
Zivojinovic. Slobodan Zivojinovic. Pronounced like it’s spelled. I think. Who’s to say?
He had no seeding here at Wimbledon. He was back of the bus. Ground floor locker room. He was a 6-foot-6 Yugoslav with the serve of a hurricane and the grace of Henry Finkel.
And there he was Friday, Centre Court, the semifinals, and he was staying even with the best player in the world.
“My name,” he said as he prepared to tear the cover off the tennis ball once again, “is Zivojinovic!”
Huh? Advantage, Zeevohyeenav–
They had started playing late in the afternoon, he and Lendl. It would be over in an hour and a half. That’s what people figured. Unseeded players don’t last in these high- pressure rounds. And Lendl won the first set.
But the stranger was strong. He was tireless. So what if his most quotable sentence was “unnnngh!”
“My name,” he said, as he won game after game, and went into a tiebreaker,
No one could get it right. Not the journalists. Not the crowd. Not the umpire who sat in the chair at Centre Court and had to announce every point.
No. No. No.
“My name,” he said, as he rushed the net . . .
But wait. What about the tennis? Oh, the tennis was remarkable, if you like
turkey shoots. This was a match of you blast me, I blast you. When Zivojinovic was serving, Lendl was lucky to get a racket on the return. When Lendl was serving, Zivojinovic was lucky to get it back over the net.
Tennis, it is said, can be like a ballet. This was more like the Bristol Stomp.
It went on for one hour. Two hours. Three hours. The sun was gone. The air was cool. Still, the stranger kept coming. He won that second set. He won the fourth set. A Yugoslav journalist ran through the press room with a gleeful scream. “We’re going to the finals, I tell you! . . . “
Who would have thought it? Where did this guy come from? Where does any guy like that come from? A table in some laboratory, maybe?
“My name,” he said, as he walked out for the fifth set, “is . . .
Well, you know his name.
Or maybe you know his manager. His manager is Ion Tiriac. Pronounced like it’s spelled. I think. Who’s to say?
Ion advises Zivojinovic. Friends call Zivojinovic by his nickname, which is
“Bobo.” Ion also coaches Boris Becker. Friends call Becker by his nickname, which is “Boom Boom.” Sometimes Bobo and Boom Boom practice together. We won’t go into it.
No. No. No.
“My name,” he said, as he chased a lob. . . .
Well, anyhow. The fifth set went back and forth — much to the dismay of the chair umpire — but finally Lendl broke that mighty serve. And on the last point of the match, Lendl sent his own serve right at Bobo’s feet, which are farther from his head than most people’s.
Bobo took a swipe at it and clomped the ball into the ground.
Game, set, match, Lendl. Nice try Mr., uh. . . .
The two men shook hands. Then they walked off together. As they walked off, Bobo put an arm around Lendl. Then he tripped on the net.
“Are you very disappointed?” the Yugoslav journalist asked him afterwards.
“I am disappointed,” said Zivojinovic, in pretty good English. “Some of the balls were bad, then everything was OK. I’m a human being. Playing on the center court — I got nervous. It is not easy. Everybody’s looking at you. You play the semifinal to be in the final, and it’s a great thing.”
Maybe he was confused. Maybe he was overwrought. Who’s to say?
Obviously, to have come so far, from unseeded to within a game of the final, was a draining experience. But after all he had tried, he had just missed. He was left at the semifinal dock, waiting for his ship to come in.
“I am not happy,” he said.
“He is not happy,” the journalist said.
The umpire is happy.