Ljubicic adds to resume at Indian Wells
Ivan Ljubicic, the thinking man’s tennis player, proved physical power and a sharp brain can bring their rewards late in a career when he defeated Andy Roddick, 7-6, 7-6, to win his first Masters Series 1000 title in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Sunday.
Ljubicic, who has just turned 31, first played on the ATP Tour in 1999 – seven years after he had fled Bosnia with his family as a 13-year-old when he found militia barring the route to his tennis club. It has been a long road to what he calls “a really fantastic feeling to have done it — to have added a Masters 1000 title to the Davis Cup, the Olympic medal and two top 10 finishes. You know, it gives something special to your career. It was certainly not what I was expecting when the tournament started. I mean, of course not.”
Ljubicic is a realist and has been through too much in his life to expect fairy tales to come true. But he is happy when things turn his way.
“I have had difficult times back in 2007," he said. "And last year I came here with five first-round losses in a row. I played Kei Nishikori in the first round on Center Court. Night match. It was really cold. I won 6-3, 6-3, and I was really happy — happy as maybe today.”
He laughed. Ljubicic is a serious person but still possesses a keen sense of humor and is well-respected by his peers. It is why he was chosen to sit on the ATP Board a couple of years ago. Only Paul Annacone previously had been given that kind of decision-making power while still an active player.
But the way Ljubicic is viewed inside the game has not always been recognized by the public. This victory will help, and he will take his powerful game to Miami with a renewed sense of self-confidence.
It is easy to talk solely of the Ljubicic serve because, just as it had been against Rafael Nadal in the semifinal, the persistence, power and accuracy of that delivery was unquestionably the launching pad for his success. But there is a lot more to his game than a serve. The consistency of his hitting off the ground coupled with the ability to change the pace are fundamental attributes. And his service return is also of a quality that even a server as dynamic as Roddick can never be sure his serve is not going to be returned with interest.
Inevitably, break points were a rare commodity, and, strangely, they arrived in clusters. In the opening game of the match, Roddick went 0-40 down before some great first serves got him out of trouble, and in the sixth game, Ljubicic also found himself 0-40 behind. But he, too, came up with the goods before Roddick could capitalize.
It was Roddick who had the next opportunity, earning himself two break points at 4-4 in the second set. Ljubicic saved the first with a huge first serve that Roddick put long, and, on the second, he fooled his opponent with another good first serve – but slower. It reached Roddick at 126 mph instead of his average of around 136 and the forehand service return went into the net.
Those basically were Roddick’s chances done and dusted. The Croat had followed his decisive third-set tiebreak against Nadal with another of equal certitude in the first set Sunday, winning it 7-3, and when another loomed, one wondered whether he could maintain the standards he had set himself against a player who has been pretty successful at winning tiebreaks himself.
The answer was emphatic. A great rally developed on the third point, and Ljubicic eventually killed it with a backhand pass from midcourt after he had drawn Roddick in. Two aces, taking his total to 20 for the match, gave him a 4-1 lead, and Roddick netted a forehand to go 1-5 down. Ever the fighter, Roddick saved three match points (Ljubicic having double-faulted on one) but at 6-5 that Croatian serve found the mark again and the title was his.
For Roddick, there was an element of frustration because he had played well the whole tournament and in no way played badly Sunday.
“I ran up against it today, but overall I feel like a played well, especially considering where I was three weeks ago,” Roddick said. “This is certainly a good result for me.”
Roddick was appreciative of the support he received from the crowd but realized it was tough for fans to get anything going with Ljubicic serving as he was. “They were certainly trying, but every time there was a little bit of momentum, it was like popping a balloon. He did that. He did it all day.”
Ljubicic’s ATP ranking will rise from 26 to 13 after this victory. Coming into a tournament ranked 26 is not normally a platform for success, but, oddly, Ljubicic is the third player in the past 20 years to pull it off at Indian Wells. Alex Corretja of Spain was ranked 26 when he won the title here in 2000, as was Jim Courier in 1991.