Thirty-one is turning out to be a good number for Ivan Ljubicic. The Croat celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday and two days later the tournament longshot stands atop the tennis world after an improbable run to the Indian Wells BNP Parisbas title.
Ljubicic capped his dream week this afternoon beating favorite Andy Roddick 7-6(3), 7-6(5) to capture his first career Tennis Masters title, and his 10th crown overall.
“It’s been a fantastic week,” an elated Ljubicic told the crowd after the 2-hour, 7-minute win.
Ljubicic was under pressure several times during the match, but just as he’s done throughout his career his monster serve kept him out of harm’s way. And in the tiebreaks, Ljubicic stepped on the gas and played the better tennis. Today, he was the better man.
Ivan served 21 aces (to Roddick 12) and saved all six break chances he faced. He also cracked his backhand for a few winners and his forehand held up when he needed.
The two won 84 points each, but the Bald Bomber just came up bigger and was the aggressor in the breakers.
Roddick, who had one of his best weeks in a long time in the U.S., played well off the ground and was again dominant on serve, but one has to wonder if his newfound defensive strategy is going to beat the more offensive-minded players.
On the podium, a gracious Roddick said, “I’d like to congratulate Ivan on having such a great week. I don’t how much of this true but about a year ago there was some talk in the locker room that you were maybe close to stopping tennis. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but let me just say we would have lost a hell of a player. I’m not so glad you are out here today but in general, yes.”
Ljubicic was equally kind in response: “When I watch you [Roddick] play I get inspiration to work hard hard because of the amount of energy you put in the court just tremendous. So i hope you keep going and win a lot of major titles.”
While much has been made of Andy’s improved backhand, I counted just twice that Roddick went down-the-line off that two-handed wing. A year ago he was creating opportunities with that down-the-line shot and causing opponents problems.
But today I saw it just twice – and he won the point both times he tried. If Andy is going to rely on this defensive tactic he can’t keep hitting his backhand cross court. It probably wasn’t the difference today – though you could see Ivan sitting in the ad court anytime he went to Roddick’s backhand – but against the top guys they will take advantage.
For Ljubicic, you have to think this is a one-off week for the veteran. His last hurrah. A final celebration for the warrior. And good for him.
Ivan beat three Grand Slam winners – Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – and finished the event winning three straight tiebreaks. Not a bad week for a guy who was virtually an afterthought in major events. And hadn’t won an outdoor title since 2007 and who had never won on American soil.
Roddick now joins good friends Mardy Fish and James Blake as recent Americans who have come up short in the Indian Wells final. Andy was also trying to add Indian Wells to a trophy case that already included hardware from North American events the US Open, Canadian Open, Miami and Cincinnati.
Happy Birthday Ivan! Thanks for living up to the March Madness.
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