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One For The Ageing

March 22, 2010

Ivan Ljubicic turned thirty-one on Friday. The last thing he might have expected for his birthday was to win the first Masters of the season. Yet by soaring above expectations, that is exactly what Ljubicic took home a mere two days later. The 2010 BNP Paribas Open of Indian Wells belonged solely to Ivan Ljubicic. In winning it, he proved thirty-one is not too old to keep dreaming. It was his first Masters trophy.

Perhaps it is underestimating Ljubicic to suggest a Masters trophy is that last thing he would expect. Ljubicic has had a solid if not outstanding career, finishing in the top ten twice and the top five once. Prior to Indian Wells, he had made three Masters finals and had reached the final in Dubai only weeks earlier. He came in seeded at twenty-sixth and known as a dangerous opponent to come up against in the early rounds. He proved just how dangerous he was by unexpectedly taking out Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Roddick on his way to the title.

What makes Ljubicic’s run all the more impressive, (as if it needed to be considering his scalps), was that before Indian Wells he stood at the ugly end of five to none in head to heads versus both Nadal and Djokovic. His record against Roddick wasn’t necessarily any better at seven to two. This didn’t affect Ljubicic’s mental ability as he quashed history by beating them all. The question is how and why did Ljubicic suddenly beat people who have been overcoming him routinely for years.

If I had not watched the matches I would have assumed Ljubicic played out of his skin, blasted winner after winner and served out of his tree. He didn’t. Instead, Ljubicic opted for a steady mind, patience in bundles, a powerful first serve, and the ability to take any opportunity he could. In layman’s terms, Ljubicic hung in there. With Djokovic and Nadal struggling for rhythm or with mentality, Ljubicic bided his time, refused to drop serve, and struck when he could. The story with Roddick in the final was no different. Ljubicic didn’t break Roddick once and neither was he broken. Instead he waited until the two tiebreaks that would decide both sets and knew that his steadiness would pull him through.Where Djokvoic, Nadal, and Roddick struggled with break point opportunities, closing matches out, and all-round consistency, Ljubicic excelled. In the end it paid off and as he let out a huge smile and ran to embrace his wife, we could all see just how much this meant to him.

It may not have been the most riveting way to win his first Masters, but make no mistake, this win was no fluke. It wasn’t aggressive ‘painting the line off both wings’ tennis, but it was enough to seal the veteran the biggest win of his career. As Ljubicic climbs back into the top twenty for the first time since January 2008, he leaves us wondering what more is to come. One thing is for sure, no one will be counting him out ever again.

Ivan Ljubicic

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