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The weekend of his life?
(op-ed) Or Just a start!
Ljubicic almost singlehandedly dooms U.S. hopes
Posted: Sunday February 09, 2003 8:56 PM
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- Ivan Ljubicic almost gave up playing Davis Cup six years ago.
The Americans wish he had.
Ljubicic and his Croatian teammates ousted the United States from the first-round of the Davis Cup on Sunday, thesecond time in three seasons that the Davis Cup's most successful nation has bowed out early.
Ljubicic, 23, won the deciding match when he defeated American No. 1 James Blake 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 to give Croatiaan insurmountable 3-1 lead. In the inconsequential second singles, Mario Ancic defeated Taylor Dent to give Croatia a4-1 victory.
The Americans still can't win without their top players. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have "retired" from Davis Cupand their No. 1 rising star Andy Roddick was absent this time with a wrist injury.
The United States has won more Davis Cups than anybody else, but not since 1995. Now it faces a playoff in Septemberto stay in the Davis Cup elite 16 and could face possible opponents like Thailand, India, Venezuela or Italy.
American captain Patrick McEnroe, who has not won an away match since taking over two years ago, praised Ljubicic.
"I think he had the weekend of his life," he said.
Ljubicic was overpowering, winning three "live rubber" matches against the United States to become only the ninthplayer in Davis history to do it.
He racked up 29 aces against Blake to go with 30 against Mardy Fish on Friday. He had 22 combining with GoranIvanisevic in doubles. Croatia will play in Spain in the quarterfinals. Neither Croatia nor the former Yugoslavia has everreached the Davis Cup final.
Ljubicic grew up as a Croatian living in neighboring Bosnia and fled his war-torn homeland in 1992. He learned some ofhis tennis when an Italian club brought the rising young star to Italy to escape the war and practice.
By 1997, he was good enough to be on Croatia's team playing a Davis Cup match in Finland. But he lost three straightmatches and felt so bad he almost gave up Davis Cup.
"I was as low as possible. I felt like I wasn't going to play Davis Cup anymore. The feeling at the time was: 'I don't needthis.'" He changed his mind. Blake had a few scattered chances against Ljubicic, but the Croatian's serve was too much on the fast indoor court. AndBlake was unable to control play from the baseline when there were rallies.
The match swung in the third set.
Blake broke serve in the third game, ending Ljubicic's run of 42 service games in the tie without a break. But Ljubicicbroke back in the eighth game, evening the set at 4-all.
Blake suddenly lost his concentration in the game and fell behind love-40, shouting out to a fan: "Put the sign down." Afan in the stands replied: "Go home James."
Blake was never the same after that. Ljubicic held serve in the next game, and then broke Blake to win the set.The final set was the most lopsided as a dispirited Blake was unable to hold off Ljubicic, who won the match when Blakenetted a forehand.
"That comeback in the third set I think was the key of the match," Ljubicic said. "He [Blake] slowed down a little bit,missed a couple of balls. I hit a great passing shot. It all happened very quick I didn't even have a chance to think aboutit."
Blake said Ljubicic's serve was too big. He also failed to convert the few chances he had.
"You don't get any rhythm on his serve, and on your serve you have to be so focused because you know he can hit fouraces the next game