Ljubicic beats Roddick to claim first Masters title
Ivan Ljubicic turned back the clock to win the Indian Wells Masters Series title in straight sets, beating home favourite Andy Roddick in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 7-5 (5).
The statistics were against the Croatian coming into the final. Roddick has won more matches than any other man on tour this year and held a 14-2 record in tiebreaks for 2010.
Ljubicic, meanwhile, had never won a Masters Series title and was bidding to become the oldest man to win one for the first time. He looked every bit the elder statesman stepping onto court with his bald head slathered in sun cream and adorned with a white sweat band.
But his tennis has belied his 31 years in this tournament. The Croatian has been the wily competitor of old, mixing big serves and heavy ground strokes with deft touches around the net and crisp volleying.
With Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in his wake, Ljubicic had just one more top ten player to take out to clinch his maiden Masters Series and become the second oldest man to win in Indian Wells, behind Jimmy Connors.
There was little to choose between the players in the match. A nervous Roddick faced three break points in the opening game but quickly collected himself and found some big first serves to hold.
Ljubicic similarly overturned a 0-40 deficit in the fourth game, putting his big serve to good use as he had done all week. It was his serve which saved him again when a wayward forehand let Roddick back into the game at 5-4. The American earned himself a solitary set point but Ljubicic demonstrated the mental strength that took him to number three in the world in 2006, finding his first serve when it mattered.
Roddick opened the tiebreak with a foray into serve-volleying which didn’t pay off and he found himself trailing from the outset. The Croatian remained solid on serve and took the tiebreak on his first set point, bringing Roddick into the net with a knifed backhand slice before neatly passing him with a cross-court forehand winner.
The American looked as though he had finally managed to break Ljubicic’s resolve at 4-4 in the second set when forehand errors started to creep into the Croatian’s game. But the 31-year-old’s serve came to the rescue again as he banged down a couple more aces to save a brace of break points.
Ljubicic took an early lead once again in the tiebreak and quickly worked his way to 5-1. When he double-faulted on championship point and then made an incorrect challenge on Roddick’s serve the American crowd started to hope that their man could find a way back into the match. But Ljubicic made no mistake fourth time around, firing down another huge serve out wide that didn’t come back.
The win completes a remarkable comeback for the Croatian who was languishing at 75 in the world last June. On Monday he will enter the top 20 for the first time since January 2008.