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Photo Credit: Andy Kentla and Tony Chang/Chang Photography

(March 21, 2010) Rumored to be nearing retirement last year, leave it to Ivan Ljubicic to re-imagine a retirement community as the real estate to construct his career resurrection.

The path to Palm Springs is a journey through a celebrated past as you drive past streets named after Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Gene Autrey to reach the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Once written off as another old bald guy riding off into the inviting retirement sunset,  Ljubicic completed a career-revitalizing run by celebrating his return to championship form today.

In a match devoid of service breaks, Ljubicic thumped 21 aces and saved six break points to out duel Andy Roddick, 7-6(3), 7-6(5) in the BNP Paribas Open final.

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Playing his first Masters 1000 final since he lost to Roger Federer in the 2006 Miami title match, Ljubicic captured the first Masters Series shield of his career. He came achingly close to beating Rafael Nadal in the 2005 Madrid final before bowing in five sets and dropped another five-set decision to Tomas Berdych in the 2005 Paris Indoors final.

Ljubicic would not be denied today.

"In Madrid, I was break up in the fifth against Rafa in the final.  Tomas Berdych, Bercy, lost in five.  Not really the one I lost in Miami to Roger.  I mean, it was three tie breaks, but he was dominating it," Ljubicic said. "But, I mean, looking at my career, you know, in general, I did feel like, you know, I was missing it.  It's really fantastic feeling to finally have it."

During his early-season struggles last year players speculated the end might be in sight for the big man, Roddick reflected on that in trophy presentation.

"About a year ago there was talk in the locker room you were retiring. We would have lost a hell of a player," Roddick told Ljubicic during the trophy presentation. "I'm not so glad you're out there today."

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Later, Ljubicic said he never seriously considered retirement — he busy just trying to win a match. His breakthrough moment came on a chilly stadium court last March.

"I never considered retiring, no.  But I had difficult times.  I had difficult times in 2007," Ljubicic said. "I keep saying it.  Last year I lost five first rounds in a row in this period of the year.  I came here with five losses in a row. I played Nishikori in the first round I remember on center court.  Night session, and it was really cold.  I won 6 3, 6-3, and I was really happy, as happy as maybe today.  I finally won a match.  I felt like, Okay it's a turning point."

The 6-foot-4 Croatian kicked a serve that rattled Roddick's racket on his fourth match point to close the match. It completed a week in which Ljubicic swept World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, celebrated his 31st birthday then deposed defending champion Rafael Nadal in a third-set tie breaker.

Roddick had won seven of his prior 10 meetings with Ljubicic, but Ljubicic knocked Roddick, and a United States Davis Cup dream team that included Andre Agassi and the Bryan brothers, out of the 2005 Davis Cup World Group with a gut-wrenching five-set victory in Carson, California.

There was little between them in two tight tie break tests.


 

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