WIMBLEDON, England — Goran Ivanisevic became one of Wimbledon's most improbable champions Monday, beating Patrick Rafter in five riveting sets after barely getting into the tournament.
Two points away from defeat, Ivanisevic rallied to beat Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 and become the second player to win a Wimbledon singles title without being seeded. Boris Becker did it in 1985.
Ivanisevic needed a wild-card invitation simply to play and — in the end — no man played better. Or with more obvious emotion.
"This was my dream all my life," Ivanisevic said.
Teary-eyed as he served his final points in the last game, Ivanisevic finally won the championship when Rafter returned a serve into the net and cried as he embraced his father in the stands.
The moment Ivanisevic knew he had climaxed his long climb back — from being a Wimbledon runner-up for the third time in 1998 to being ranked 125th in the world entering the tournament — he fell on his back and rolled on his stomach at Centre Court.
Then he stood up, clutched both hands on his head and went to the net where he and Rafter hugged. Ivanisevic, his face contorted as tears fell, then ran into the stands and hugged his father and other supporters.
"When I came here, nobody even talked about me," Ivanisevic said. "Now I'm holding this trophy."
It was very nearly Rafter's, who was runner-up last year to Pete Sampras.
"Someone has to lose, and I'm the loser again," Rafter said.
Rafter led 7-6 and went up 0-30 on Ivanisevic's serve. Ivanisevic fought back to take the advantage, then Rafter tied the game, leaving him two points away from victory for a second time.
But Ivanisevic survived with a service winner and his 25th ace of the match.
Now the pressure was on Rafter, the Australian who came into the tournament seeded third and is contemplating retirement after this year.
Serving in the next-to-last game, he fell behind 15-30 when he hit a backhand volley long. And when Ivanisevic hit a service return for a crosscourt winner, he had two break points.
He only needed one of them as he hit another forehand winner on Rafter's service. Sensing his moment had come, he pumped his fist and took his final break between games to contemplate how he would fulfill his dream.
He didn't make it easy on himself.
Ivanisevic fell behind 15-30 in the last game, then fired a 116 mph ace on his second serve to tie it. He wiped his face, then asked for the same ball for his next serve.
His 27th ace, and a 40-30 lead, followed seconds later. One more point and the championship would be his. Again, he wiped his face as he fought to hold back his tears. He lifted up his socks and licked his upper lip.
Then he double-faulted.
Ivanisevic got the advantage when Rafter hit a backhand to the net but, once more, one of tennis' best servers double-faulted, tying the game again.
Then Rafter hit a ball wide from the baseline, and Ivanisevic had his third match point. This time, he knelt where Rafter's ball had landed and crossed himself. Then he kissed the ball. But Rafter tied the game again with a deep backhand lob. And that was his final point.
Ivanisevic faulted, then Rafter hit the second serve into the net. And, once more, Ivanisevic wanted the same ball back. He hit it into the net, then reached back for one last big serve.
Rafter could only hit it harmlessly into the net.