Ljubicic's stayin' alive

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Veteran Croat Ivan Ljubicic captured a most unlikely title last week by going all the way on the hardcourts at Indian Wells.

The former top-five star has seemingly come back from the dead this season, culminating with his first-ever ATP Masters title last week when he stunned heavy American crowd favorite and former world No. 1 star Andy Roddick in the lucrative final at IW. Ljubicic had finished as a Masters event runner-up on three other occasions, with two of the losses coming against two of the game's greatest -- Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

"Looby" had been a dismal 3-7 in his previous 10 meetings with his fellow huge-server Roddick.

A 13-year-pro, the 31-year-old Ljubicic headed to the California desert as the 20th seed, but somehow managed to beat several of the tour's biggest stars, like the Wimbledon runner-up Roddick, the former world No. 1 Nadal (semis), and Novak Djokovic (fourth round) -- or three of the Top-10 players in the world. Heck, Djokovic and Nadal were two of the top-three performers on the planet heading into last week. (Djokovic is still No. 2, while Nadal fell from No. 3 to No. 4 this week.)

Ivan Ljubicic prevailed at Indian Wells to secure the first ATP Masters title of his career.
The bracket-busting Ljubicic swatted 20 aces en route to upending a seventh- seeded Roddick and becoming the second-oldest champion at Indian Wells. Jimmy Connors was a mere five months older when he hoisted the trophy there back in 1984.

Ljubicic, who turned 31 just last week, has now won eight of his last nine matches and is a solid 11-4 this year, which started off with a disappointing third-round loss against 6-foot-10 fellow Croat Ivo Karlovic at the Aussie Open.

The 6-foot-4 Ljubicic, who finished at No. 5 in the world back in 2006, is now all the way up to 13th in the world after opening 2010 at a respectable No. 24. The powerful Croat could always serve, and, of course, that's exactly what propelled him to only his second title in the last three campaigns last week.

The seasoned vet now owns an even 10 titles on the ATP World Tour, against 12 runner-up finishes, and is back inside the top 20 for the first time in more than two years. Seven of his 10 wins have come on hardcourts, which would include Indian Wells.

As good as Ljubicic has been on the circuit, he's still only ever reached one Grand Slam semifinal (2006 French Open) and one other major quarterfinal (2006 Aussie), and has only ever reached the fourth round at a major three times (1-2). At one point last year, the slugging Banja Luka native bowed out in the first round of a tournament no less than five straight times, which, no doubt, had him thinking about the "R" word (retirement, that is).

But he's now the first man outside the top 20 to capture a Masters title since David Nalbandian turned the trick three years ago.

FYI: The unassuming Ljubicic soared as high as No. 3 in the world in May of 2006.

Ljubicic, who led Croatia to its first and only Davis Cup title back in 2005, tried to get his once-formidable game back together last year after battling some frustrating back problems for a good portion of the 2008 season. He entered '08 as the No. 18 player in the world, but ended that season all the way down at No. 45 and starting to have doubts about his future in the sport (tennis, that is).

Did You Know?: Ljubicic and countryman Mario Ancic are one of only two doubles teams to ever beat the mighty twin American Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, in Davis Cup play. The other tandem was France's Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra.

Ljubicic, who escaped a war-torn Bosnia at the tender age of 13 back in 1992, has been a prominent figure on the ATP Tour over the past decade, having not only enjoyed a stay inside the top 10 for a couple of years, but having also served on the ATP Player Council since 2002 and becoming its vice president (2004-06) and president (2006-08). And in 2007, the class act earned ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year honors for his work with Special Olympics.

The resurgent Ljubicic, who's part of this week's loaded field in Miami, said he has designs on reaching the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London, and if he keeps on performing like he did at the 11-day BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells)...he will.

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Scott Riley
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