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By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/24/2006 | Sports | Unrated


Ivan Ljubicic represented Croatian tennis in superlative fashion and should be exceptionally proud of his achievement


By Jeff Lesser

For the second straight year, Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia’s #1 player and the 7th ranked player in the world, fell in the Australian Open to unseeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus. While this would normally sound like a severe upset and a certain Grand Slam choke-job by the 6’4’’ Croat, this was anything but the case. Instead of losing in the second round, as he did last year, Ljubicic was defeated this time three rounds later— in the quarterfinals. It was an extremely impressive showing for the Croatian that will only bolster his confidence and success in the coming year.
Ljubicic broke through in the rankings during the latter portion of last year to become one of the top ten players in the world. This recent rise in rank left Ivan the highest-ranked player to have advanced past the third round in a Grand Slam in his entire career. In this year’s Australian Open, Ljubicic posted an extremely valiant effort, as he finally performed well in a major to reach the quarterfinals. In doing so, Ljubicic dispatched a formidable first round foe, hard-serving Australian Chris Guccione, in straight sets. In his first ever match in Rod Laver Arena, the main court at the Australian Open, he easily sent home Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. The third round pitted Ivan against 31st-ranked Feliciano Lopez, and Ivan played another great match, again winning impressively in straight sets. At this point, he had already had the best Grand Slam showing of his career, reaching the fourth round.

In the fourth round, Ljubicic played one of the greatest matches of his life, with a surprisingly-easy dismissal of the 10th-seeded 2002 champion, Sweden’s Thomas Johansson. Ivan had entered the quarterfinals of a major for the first time in his life and, in doing so, had not dropped a set. In the quarters, Ivan was set to face Marcos Baghdatis, who shockingly defeated second-seeded Andy Roddick in the fourth round. Baghdatis carried with him a versatile game, a large and vocal fan base, and enormous confidence.

The quarterfinal match began well for Baghdatis, as he took the first two sets with little resistance from Ljubicic. However, Ivan fought tremendously, and took the next two sets on the strength of solid play and more aggressive groundstrokes. The dedicated Croatian fans had much to cheer about, as the atmosphere was more like a Davis Cup rubber than a Grand Slam match. It appeared that Ljubicic had the momentum, the experience, and the crowd support to pull out the fifth-set victory and reach the semifinals. However, Baghdatis’ relentless play wore on Ljubicic and youth prevailed over age, as the 20-year-old Cypriot defeated a man six years his senior and 47 ranking spots his superior. Baghdatis ultimately won the match, 6-4 6-2 4-6 3-6 6-3. Ivan Ljubicic battled and put forth a more-than-respectable effort in not only pushing Baghdatis to the fifth set, but in reaching the quarterfinals in the first place.

Fans who see only the score will get an incorrect picture. They will see that the seventh seed lost to an unseeded player in the quarterfinals, getting outclassed in the fifth set. They will think that a player who has played fantastic tennis in the past half year simply choked in the quarterfinals of a major tournament. However, those familiar to Ivan Ljubicic and his past trials and tribulations know what a success story this is. Ivan Ljubicic finally broke through in a major. He put up such a valiant struggle in the quarterfinals that he almost pulled off a comeback from being down two-sets-to-none.

Ivan Ljubicic built off of his Davis Cup recent ATP tournament success to put together the greatest Grand Slam showing of his career. This performance will only add to his confidence and game. Fans should expect only bigger and better things from Ivan, as he will use this quarterfinal appearance to achieve greater feats. With a successful Grand Slam under his belt, Ivan Ljubicic has solidified his position at the top of the tennis game. In reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, Ivan Ljubicic represented Croatian tennis in superlative fashion and should be exceptionally proud of his achievement.


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