Do I at least get some credit? At the start of the Indian Wells tennis event I had picked an Andy and a Croat to reach the final. And well, that’s happened. Only I thought the Andy would be Andy Murray and the Croat would be Marin Cilic. Instead, we are left with a bracket-buster of finale featuring Andy Roddick and Ivan Ljubicic dueling in the desert for the first Tennis Masters title of the season.
Earlier today Ljubicic played smart, heady tennis and a near perfect tiebreak to shock defending champion Rafael Nadal 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(1). In the second semifinal, Roddick earned his first career win over Robin Soderling defeating the Swede 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
While Roddick’s had a decent year to this point, Ljubicic’s arrival in the final is a big surprise – did anyone on this planet have him reaching this far? But the Croat’s had success in the desert before and this week the former Top 5 player has resurrected his big game.
“Probably the best I’ve ever played in my career,” said Ljubicic. “I enjoyed it, really… Great, great moment, and the fourth Masters finals, four different Masters, so I hope this one, it’s gonna be finally the victory.”
Today, Ivan used his now-31 years of experience to hang in against Nadal by cracking serves, keeping points short and blasting winners. Nadal aided Ivan’s efforts by making a ton of uncharacteristic errors and directing much of attack in the third set to the stronger Ljubicic backhand wing.
And when given an opening at a winner, Ljubicic let it rip and more often than not he found the range.
For Nadal, it’s another event without title, the last coming 10 months ago in Rome. It was, however, Nadal’s first event back from the knee problem in Australia and good news is is the knee seemed to hold up.
Also holding up is Roddick’s defensive game. Like it or not, more and more that’s been his strategy. Keep the ball in play and hope the other guy misses and today the more powerful Soderling was missing.
Roddick cruised in the first set behind an early break, then earned another break to begin the second. But credit to Soderling who didn’t go away. The Swede broke back then broke Roddick a second time to force the third.
In the decider Roddick again broke early but was remarkably broken back. Roddick grabbed another to salt the match away to reach his first final at Indian Wells.
“I think ultimately the fact that I put a lot of pressure on his service games ended up helping,” said Roddick who was broken three times in the last two sets. “I normally don’t need two breaks to win a set, but today I did.”
Said Soderling, “I felt I was still waiting for my best tennis. We played two sets and the conditions were a little bit tough. I felt that I was playing a little bit better at the end of the second set, but then he broke me. It wasn’t the greatest match, but I tried everything. He came up with some good shots at the end.”
So for tomorrow, we are left two of the biggest servers in one of the oldest Masters finals we’ve had in a while – Roddick 27, Ljubicic 31.
“I would love to have that win tomorrow, because it would mean the world to me,” said Ljubicic who has never won a Masters event. “I really feel like 2005, 2006 when I played my best tennis I deserved that one Masters. Tomorrow I’m gonna have another chance to go for it.”
Head-to-head Roddick has won seven of the 10 meetings most recently right at Indian Wells in 2007 when Andy won in two tiebreaks. I expect the same tomorrow with two, maybe three tight sets with Andy the favorite. He’s never won Indian Wells and even though I think Ljubicic has the edge in serve and backhand, I like that Andy’s playing in the U.S. and I think he’ll be steady enough tomorrow (even steadier than Nadal – strange to say!) to diffuse Ljubicic and his monster serve.
However, Ivan has been hot and a hot server can run the table. And the bald bomber has been up the challenge this week with wins over Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But can he make it a third win over a Grand Slam champion? I’m leaning no. The pick is Roddick.
In the women’s final, new No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki meets Jelena Jankovic in a battle of two counter-punching players who really like to keep the ball in play. Right now, though, Wozniacki does a better job of it. Plus, she’s younger, fitter and hopefully hungrier. If she can keep her wits she’ll win in straight sets.
The women’s final begins at noon with the men’s to follow at 2pm Indian Wells local time.
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