The last time Ivan Ljubicic played in the finals of an ATP Masters’ series event, the year was 2006. Back then, Ljubicic, the 6th best player in the world, lost to Roger Federer at the Sony Ericsson Open. Today, 31 year old Ljubicic clashed with world number eight, Andy Roddick, for the trophy at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. The Croat, ranked 26th, validated the axiom that age is just a number in defeating his younger counterpart 7-6, 7-6 to earn the biggest title of his career and his first Masters’ shield.
With a backhand down the line error by Roddick, Ljubicic had triple break point to open the match. However, Roddick used his serve to wipe out these opportunities. After the two men held serve the next two games, Roddick enticed Ljubicic into three consecutive mistakes for triple break point. The Croat returned the favor by blotting out the deficits with a few big serves of his own. Serving at 4-5, Ljubicic wasted game point with a couple of untimely mistakes. Then, with an overhead winner by Roddick, Ljubicic faced break/set point. But, packing plenty of heat on his serves, Ljubicic held. Ultimately, the set moved to a tiebreaker. Ljubicic jumped ahead by a mini-break as Roddick surrendered the first point. Next, with a backhand down the line winner and by coming up with the response to Roddick’s great defensive moves, Ljubicic extended his lead to 3-0. Later, when Roddick misfired on a forehand crosscourt pass, Ljubicic had double set point. With a forehand crosscourt pass winner, Ljubicic locked up the initial set.
Ljubicic picked up where he left off with a comfortable hold to start the second set. Roddick duplicated with an easy game himself. The key for each man was connecting on first serves. In the rallies, Ljubicic did his best to expose Roddick’s weaker wing, the backhand, while Andy tried to force a bunch of forehand blunders from Ivan. Still, when it mattered, each competitor always found the answer to the question asked. For instance, with Ljubicic serving at 4 all, a forehand error and his first double fault put him in a 0-30 pickle. However, with a backhand down the line winner and an unreturnable serve, Ivan leveled the game at 30 all. Subsequently, with two big serves, Ljubicic procured game point. Although Ivan had to erase two break points, by reaching a top speed of 141 mph with his serve, he secured the game for 5-4. With each person cruising on serve the last three games, a tiebreaker was again played.
Showing his 31 year old reflexes are still sharp, Ljubicic won the volley battle with a backhand down the line winner to capture a mini-break for 2-1. Afterwards, with two aces, Ivan stretched his lead to 4-1. With Roddick netting a forehand, Ljubicic had a second mini-break for 5-1. As Roddick failed to connect with the backhand down the line, Ljubicic had triple championship point. After double faulting the first time, on his third attempt, Ljubicic placed a strong serve which produced the error from Roddick. With that, the Croat pocketed his first Masters’ trophy.
For Ljubicic, it was indeed an extraordinary week. After defeating world number two Novak Djokovic in the fourth round, Ljubicic stared down world number three Rafael Nadal in the semifinals in three sets. Since Roddick come up empty today, the drought for the American continues in the desert. Michael Chang was the last native to conquer Indian Wells in 1997.
A class act even in defeat, Roddick mentioned that last season there were rumors circulating that Ljubicic was on the verge of retirement. Andy stated that it’s good to see that this was simply noise because “we would have lost a hell of a player”. Despite this difficult loss, Roddick still maintained his sense of humor. To the new owner of the tournament, Roddick conveyed the players’ gratitude in supporting the sport, “let us know if you need some money”. With this such a popular venue with the athletes, the American was certain that the competitors and the crowd would be willing to dig in their pockets to keep the event up and running if finances were ever an issue. The new champion had also some kind words for his opponent. Ljubicic cited “ I get my inspiration to play from you Andy since I see how hard you work”. While content with the result today, Ljubicic was already looking to the future saying “ if I’m fit, I will be here next year to defend my title”. After such a remarkable run, it’s comforting to know that retirement is not in Ljubicic’s current plans.