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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tennis: Ljubicic beats Roddick to win Indian Wells title

AP Sports Writer

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Ivan Ljubicic had been in big finals before and always lost. Then getting beat in the first round in five consecutive tournaments last year had him thinking about doing something else.

"I had my problems, like everybody else," he said.

All that was forgotten Sunday when the Croatian outlasted Andy Roddick 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) in a battle of big servers to win the BNP Paribas Open, earning his first ATP Masters 1000 title after three runner-up finishes.

Ljubicic set up his fourth match point with the last of his 20 aces, then won with a serve that Roddick couldn't return. At 31, Ljubicic is the second-oldest winner at Indian Wells behind Jimmy Connors, who was five months older as the 1984 champion.

"It was really a mind game," he said. "When you have two big serves, not a lot of rallies happening, it's a very mental match. I was fortunate enough to be more relaxed by the end of the match."

Roddick was trying to become the first American man to win at Indian Wells since 2001, but he trailed in both tiebreakers. He had beaten Ljubicic seven times in 10 meetings, winning their last match at Indian Wells in two tiebreakers in 2007.

"I felt like I was winning my fair share of the rallies once we got into them," he said. "I just ran into a guy who served great on the big points. Unfortunately that's probably the one thing that I don't have control over out there."

Jelena Jankovic had a much easier time in the women's final, defeating Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4 for her first title in seven months.

Ranked 26th in the world, Ljubicic will rise to around 13th in Monday's ATP Tour rankings, returning to the top 20 for the first time in more than two years.

He broke through in an ATP Masters 1000 final for the first time after losing in 2006 to Roger Federer at Miami, and in 2005 to Tomas Berdych at Paris and Rafael Nadal at Madrid. Ljubicic is the first player outside the top 20 to win a Masters 1000 title since No. 21 David Nalbandian in 2007.

"Looking at my career, I did feel like I was missing it," he said. "It's really a fantastic feeling to finally have it. It gives something special to your career."

There were no service breaks in the 2-hour final. Roddick served three love games in the second set, but had nothing to show for his effort.

Ljubicic won the first three points of the first-set tiebreaker. Roddick's forehand error left him trailing 6-3. Ljubicic set up his winning forehand with a drop shot a tactic that repeatedly worked against Roddick.

Ljubicic raced to a 6-2 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, but he double-faulted on his first match point. He challenged the call on Roddick's service return, but the ball was on the line, leaving the American trailing 6-4. Roddick got to 6-5 with an ace before Ljubicic closed it out.

"He served great. The last two days were an exhibition on how to serve big points," Roddick said. "I felt like I was getting aced or he was hitting a service winner every time I'd worked my way into a game."

Jankovic, the former top-ranked player from Serbia, dictated from the baseline throughout her 1-hour match, hitting the lines and keeping Wozniacki on the run.

Jankovic broke Wozniacki three times in the first set and again in the first game of the second set.

"I wanted to be really aggressive, but at the same time patient, and not really go for too much or go over the limit with some balls," Jankovic said. "I waited for my opportunities, and when I had them, I took them."

Wozniacki brought her coach, who is her father, on court once in each set, but it didn't help. She never found a solution to Jankovic's pinpoint power.

"I tried to change it when I saw it was not going my way, but I just made a few too many errors at the important points," Wozniacki said.

She held to trail 5-4 in the second set, prompting Jankovic to summon her coach. Jankovic then served out the match, setting up match point with a backhand down the line. Wozniacki's forehand return sailed long on the final point.

"I was making a few too many errors and I didn't have too many first serves in," said Wozniacki, who won 19 of 30 first-serve points. "Normally, the other matches I set the points up with my service well. That didn't happen today. Then I was on the back foot and she was deciding."

Jankovic kissed her racket and later did the same to the crystal trophy, which was so heavy she couldn't lift it in triumph.

"I haven't been working out in the gym lately," she said. "Caroline could have done a better job. She should have helped."

Two years removed from being the world's No. 1 player, Jankovic is projected to rise to No. 8 when the WTA Tour rankings are released Monday. She hadn't won a title since August at Cincinnati; Indian Wells is her 12th career title.

"I'm looking forward to playing some good tennis and really doing the right things out there," she said, "and if I'm doing that, I'll be winning big titles and the ranking will come on its own. I'm looking to do well in the big events.

Wozniacki, last year's U.S. Open finalist, has yet to beat Jankovic in four meetings. The 19-year-old Dane will reach a career-high No. 2.

She had her best year yet in 2009, reaching eight finals and winning three. She lost to Kim Clijsters in her first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open.