Living one of the most career defining moments in your sportsman life at 31 years and 2 days of age isn't a very usual experience for a tennis player. But Ivan Ljubicic isn't an usual player and in the singular Indian Wells desert, surrounded by at least 25 golf camps in a radius of 60 km has finally won his first Masters 1000 title.
Before the eyes of the new tournament owner, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle and king of the last America's Cup, the atypical Serbian arrived after adventurous passages to Como during the first Balcan war confirmed he could be a top-player again, and fully deserving to be considered so.
Although only 12 months ago he was thrown down to No.76 in the world rankings and had more than a thought to retirement. His victory is also the victory of his beautiful wife, Aida, who lovely kissed him after the two tiebreaks that gave him the title against Andy Roddick; bit it's also the triumph of his Italian coach Riccardo Piatti, who pumped his fist in exhultation and kissed his bald head circled by an unlikely hairband.
Piatti had, in the past, the possibility to abandon the "old horse" he brought to reach the world's no.3 position to follow the younger, and definitely more lucrative, Serb Novak Djokovic. Instead the Perusian coach preferred loyalty to money and Ljubo repayed him becoming the brightest sign of Piatti's ability to extract the best also from players not natural born champions.
The Croat had already upset once, in 2006. He was, and nowadays is, a service player, so his first Grand Slam semifinal arrived at the Roland Garros, and not, for example, at Wimbledon where he had refused for many years to go, surprised firstly himself, who nonetheless has declared to love playing on the clay.
Then he lived a parenthesis full of self-doubts and a rollercoaster recent past. In these last monts he re-found serenity, he said, he came back to play for himself, enjoying the game, not "reacting on expectations now from media, from public, from people, from anybody".
He's now relaxed, and you could see it in the final two matches, because winning three tiebreaks in a row, against Rafa Nadal and Andy Roddick, fully dominating them isn't a chance.
In the final match Ljubo showed all his improvements from the advantage side, with deep down the line backhands demonstrating he's more than a mere boomer, although he was meaningfully helped by 21 aces.
In the semifinal he lost the first set being broken in the first and last game of the partial, and nonetheless he didn't break down.
Like Davydenko did in the Dubai final, the Croat started to advance, to be more aggressive, to gain consistency and anticipation to his game. Playing with his feet on the baseline he dictated rallies and when he has the initiative he rarely errors, above all he rarely hit a ball without having an idea of what to do.
Surely Andy Roddick, who continued not to won the only American Masters 1000 he miss (in his country he won at least once all the events except this, Delray Beach and Los Angeles).
And, despite he perceptibly improved his backspin backhand and now used it alternatively as a defensive resource, mainly crosscourt, or as an attacking weapon in chip and charges with down the line approaches, he was again too passive when he should find enough self-confidence in himself to capitalize the 31% of first deliveries by Ljubo in his first two service games.
He was too submissive also whenever the 31 years old shortened his balls: Roddick never profited from these chances and Ljubo could came back to open new wounds on his feebler side.
So hebecame the lowest ranked player to triumph in Indian Wells since Alex Corretja in 2000.