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Grabbing opportunity by the scruff of the neck

Jo Carter August 26, 2011
Goran Ivanisevic is the lowest-ranked player to win Wimbledon © Getty Images

In the space of a month, Stuart Broad has gone from a man struggling for form to the man of the moment. Having been a doubt to retain his place in the England team for the Test series against India, Broad repaid the selectors' faith with interest, scoring 182 runs and taking 25 wickets, including a hat-trick at Trent Bridge.

Inspired by Broad's Man-of-the-Series performance, we've picked ten examples of sports stars making the most of an unexpected opportunity.

Goran Ivanisevic
In 2001, Goran Ivanisevic had slumped to No. 125 in the world rankings after a persistent shoulder injury. A three-time finalist at Wimbledon, Ivanisevic was awarded a wildcard for entry into the singles draw, and grabbed his opportunity with both hands. After beating Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin to reach the semi-finals, Ivanisevic battled from two sets down to crush British No. 1 Tim Henman's hopes of reaching his first Wimbledon victory in a rain-affected five-set marathon. "This is destiny," Ivanisevic said after reaching his first singles final in nearly three years. Two months shy of his 30th birthday, the Croat became the first wildcard to win Wimbledon - and the only male wildcard to claim a grand slam title, after beating Pat Rafter 6-3 3-6 6-3 2-6 9-7 in another five-set epic.

Geoff Hurst
Sir Geoff Hurst retains the honour of being the only player to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, but if it hadn't had been for an injury to first-choice striker Jimmy Greaves, Hurst may never have got his chance. Greaves and Roger Hunt were manager Sir Alf Ramsey's first choice pairing for the three group games against Uruguay, Mexico and France, but when Greaves required stitches on a leg injury sustained against the French, Hurst was called up, and he did not disappoint. The West Ham striker scored the only goal of the game as England beat ten-man Argentina in the quarter-finals, before a 2-1 win over Portugal saw them book their place in the final. Greaves had recovered, but with no substitutes allowed, Ramsey was not willing to risk the Tottenham striker, and Hurst had his chance. The rest, as they say, is history.

John Daly
As ninth alternate for the 1991 US PGA Championship, the fact that John Daly was even at Crooked Stick was remarkable in itself, but when Nick Price withdrew to be with his wife for the birth of their child, the little-known Daly was given his big chance. Having driven halfway across the United States at the eleventh hour, Daly had no-one to carry his bag. Price's caddy, Jeff 'Squeaky' Medlin stepped in, and saw the rookie romp his way to a first-round 69 without a practice round on the notoriously difficult course. Playing in only his third major, Daly revelled in his moment in the spotlight, and high-fived his way down the final fairway as he claimed a three-stroke victory over Bruce Lietzke to become a household name.

Vitali Klitschko
When Kirk Johnson pulled out of a championship fight against IBO and WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis with an injury, Vitali Klitschko stepped in at the last minute, and the pair entered the ring in June 2003 in Los Angeles. Against all the odds, Klitschko dominated the early stages, and wobbled Lewis in the second round. When the fight was stopped at the start of the seventh because of a cut to Klitschko's eye, the Ukrainian was leading 58-56 on all three judges' scorecards. He may not have got his hands on Lewis' belts that night, but Klitschko would be crowned WBC champion less than a year later. He was denied the chance of a rematch against Lewis, who announced his retirement soon after, but many feel his performance at the Staples Center was the making of the Ukrainian.

Denmark got in through the back door at Euro 1992 © Getty Images

When Yugoslavia were disqualified from the 1992 European Championships because of the Balkan crisis, Denmark, who had finished runner-up in their qualifying group, received an unexpected call-up. With just two weeks' notice, the Danish side were underprepared for the tournament, and after an unremarkable 0-0 draw against England and a 1-0 defeat to hosts Sweden, looked to be heading home as quickly as they had arrived. However, thanks to a 2-1 win over France in the final group game, the Danes sealed their place in the semi-finals against defending champions Netherlands. Two goals from Henrik Larsen looked to be sending the Dutch crashing out, only for Frank Rijkaard's late equaliser to force the match to extra-time. Penalties ensued, and the exuberant Peter Schmeichel became a household name after his heroics, saving Marco van Basten's penalty to catapult Denmark into the final. Riding on the crest of a wave, they pulled off another scalp, beating reigning world champions Germany 2-0 to seal their place in the history books.

Alec Stewart
Having made just one half-century in 18 innings for England, Alec Stewart's England career looked to be coming to an end. Dropped for the Test series against India in 1996, he was granted a reprieve for the second Test when Nick Knight was ruled out with a broken finger. After making 20 with his first knock, Stewart was the pick of the England batsmen in the second innings, making 66 to help secure the series with a draw at Lord's, ensuring he wouldn't be dropped again in a hurry. "He's given us a headache," England coach David Lloyd admitted. "There has been talk that he is too old for the new-look England side but that innings was all about telling us, 'don't write me off. I can bat and I'll show you how'. Stewart retained his place in the team, and went on to average more than 80 in his next eight matches, including centuries against Pakistan, Zimbabwe and New Zealand and never scoring lower than 44.

Chester Williams
Williams sealed his place in the history books at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, but he had Pieter Hendricks to thank for his chance. When Hendricks was banned for the rest of the tournament after throwing a punch in South Africa's clash against Canada, Williams was drafted in. As the only black player in the Springboks team, Williams scored a then-record four tries in his first match in the quarter-final against Western Samoa, and played a key role in South Africa's historic victory on home soil.

Tina Cook was a late call-up to the Great Britain team © PA Photos

Tina Cook
Originally handed the role of reserve for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Tina Cook was a late call up to Team GB when Zara Phillips and Lucy Wiegersma were both forced to withdraw. Unfazed at being thrust into the team, Cook helped Great Britain win bronze in the team event before outshining her team-mates to claim a second medal in the individual event. Sat in joint sixth place going into the final show jumping stage, Cook produced a near-immaculate round with her horse Miner's Frolic to spring to the top of the leaderboard. After a nervous wait, Cook was awarded bronze behind Germany's Hinrich Romeike and Gina Miles of the United States.

Lester Piggott
Widely regarded as the greatest Flat jockey of all time, having amassed 493 career wins, including nine Derby victories, Lester Piggott has a chequered past. Convicted of tax evasion in 1987, two years after retiring from riding, he was stripped of his OBE in 1988. But upon his release from jail in 1990, Piggott announced his decision to return to the saddle.

His great friend and supporter, legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien gave Piggott the leg-up on Royal Academy at the Breeders' Cup - after the horse's intended jockey John Reid had broken a collarbone in a fall. Then as now, it was a prestigious event and the news that Piggott had been engaged for Royal Academy in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park added spice to the occasion. The Americans were fully engaged in the story, but the coverage was not always positive. "Here's England's Lester Piggott, just three weeks out of jail," the commentator said when the runners went to post. Many were of the opinion that a 54-year-old could not prevail - just 12 days after coming out of retirement. But no-one had told Piggott, who oozed confidence with a typical waiting ride. But it was far from plain sailing, as Piggott said: "I was beginning to think I'd win when all of a sudden he lost his action completely. Suddenly we were struggling to get back into the race and I had to get after him with a vengeance." Piggott engaged overdrive, Royal Academy responded and came with a thunderous charge down the straight to cut down It's All Greek To Me in the shadow of the post.

"I think it was the first Irish Breeders' Cup winner," O'Brien's son Charles recalled. "It was hugely emotional. People felt Lester had been badly treated so there was an element of revenge in the victory. The Americans certainly didn't get it. In the papers the following morning there was just stuff about the ex-jailbird."

Richard Attwood
He may not be a household name, but not many people can lay claim to setting a fastest lap at the Monaco Grand Prix, giving Graham Hill a run for his money in the process. Having made his Formula One debut in 1964, Richard Attwood struggled to hold down a seat, and was only handed his place in the BRM team following the death of Mike Spence, who died during practice for the Indianapolis 500. In only his second race in three years, Richard Attwood avoided a pile-up on the first lap that decimated the field, and despite setting three fastest lap times in the race, was unable to pip Mr Monaco himself to an unlikely victory.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk