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March 31, 2006

Ivan Ljubicic


THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. 2003, your last not-so-great year, you lose to a guy in the Australian Open that nobody's ever heard of before. Something happened between the end of 2003 and now. What happened?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Well, I think everything switched at Olympics 2004, Athens, winning a medal there in doubles. You know, finally something big happened, something very important, something that's gonna stay there for all my life.
So after that, I really felt confidence. I really felt like I have something in my career already, now I can relax and then play and enjoy tennis. That's, I think, where everything kind of started.
Unfortunately, a week after that I went to US Open and I broke my rib so I couldn't really play well at the US Open. But I felt already that there I was playing good tennis. 2005 obviously was fantastic year. Now 2006 is even better.
Q. Do you remember Conseco (phonetic spelling)?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yes, of course I remember that match.
Q. Was that a low point in your career?
IVAN LJUBICIC: It was one of the low points, yes. I mean, unfortunately, I had a lot of low points at the Grand Slams.
Q. Now is this one of the high points?
IVAN LJUBICIC: It's one of the high points, yes, definitely. Today's match was just, I mean -- everything went my way, I have to say, except one challenge call on breakpoint. But everything else was great.
I really -- I'm serving fantastic and I'm playing well. I'm moving well. I see the ball fantastically. It's really happening all positive for me.
Q. You lost to him fairly easily in Shanghai. What was the turnaround?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Well, it's completely different because I beat him in Madrid, which is little bit more similar to this, this conditions, than Shanghai. Because Shanghai, that surface is just horrible. I mean, it's soft and no rotation, you hit the slice off the topspin, the ball bounces the same way. It's just not for tennis. That court was obviously perfect for his game. And after the match I said that this surface suits his game perfectly, and, you know, he ended up winning that title.
But, you know, I like to play on this kind of court. It's fairly quick. It's good for my serve. The ball bounce pretty high. I like to use my rotations, topspin and slices. This court definitely suits my game perfectly.
Q. Where is your confidence right now?
IVAN LJUBICIC: I mean, I'm not flying really too high, I'm just trying to win match one by one. Like in the first round, I had a lot of problems against Robin Vik, he was really playing well. I know that if every match if I don't play well, I'm gonna lose. Because I'm not the kind of player that if I'm not playing well -- okay, I'm still gonna win some matches because of my serve and stuff, but I'm still gonna struggle.
So, obviously, confidence is very high. But I have also one big goal, which is to reach Shanghai again, to reach Masters Cup. So far it's looking very good, you know. But, again, you have to win matches to get there.
Q. Where is winning a Masters in terms of your goals?
IVAN LJUBICIC: It's not really about winning Masters, it's to be there. That's really huge goal. It's, you know -- that feeling that you belong to really top --
Q. No, winning a Masters Series.
IVAN LJUBICIC: A Masters Series, well, yeah, it's definitely high. Miami is the biggest after Grand Slams, there's no question about that, the biggest event. I lost twice in the final, five-setters. So we'll see what's gonna happen Sunday.
But it's definitely nice to be in the third final out of, what, four, last four Masters Series that I played.
Q. There are players on this tour who are essentially finesse players and there are players who are essentially power players, but you have a blend of both of those things. Where does that come from?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Well, I think it's a talent that you have to, you know, like what some guys have. Then you put hard work in it and, you know, that is the combination you're gonna get.
Roger is just like perfect combination of both. Because he's great worker, he is fantastic talent, so he is like always somebody who we are looking and like wishing that we are there. He's really like a guidance to me, like what my game can be, because we do play similar tennis. I use my serve a little bit more than he does, he probably return a lot better than I do, but when the ball, it's in play, we also both try to be aggressive off the baseline.
Q. Is this Piatti's influence on your game?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Piatti's influence, it's not, I mean -- he has big influence in my life, more than my tennis, because we do really talk a lot about tactics and really little about technique, really little about pure tennis stuff. But, you know, he really help me a lot to grow as a man, to become professional tennis player, which has great significance.
Q. You just described Federer's game. If you meet Federer in the final, what is your approach? What is any player's approach?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Well, yeah, last two years we played a lot of matches and, well, I lost all of them, but I'm bringing something, you know, to Sunday's match - if he wins, of course.
I think in Indian Wells, the most recent one, I was trying little bit too hard. I went for some shots that I'm usually not going for. I found myself a little bit uncomfortable in some areas because, as I said, you know, I was going for something that I'm usually not.
So I think the only thing what I have to do in eventual final against him is just to stick with my game, try to play my game. And if he's better, he's better, which he's probably gonna be. But I just want to keep my game plan and not go left-to-right, not go for too much, not do some things that I'm not doing so far.
Q. James Blake was saying that it's almost like a basketball player who was playing Michael Jordan in the early '90s. To play against Federer, no matter what you do, you pull out your best shot, he just makes --
IVAN LJUBICIC: That's one thing that we all have in common. We play tennis and then we play against Roger and we lose (laughing).
At least there is one feeling that everybody feels the same except Roger, you know.
So, it is. I mean, of course every time when I have to play against him it's like, "Okay, maybe this is the one." But it's never happening. A couple times I was very close. I really just hope to be at least close on Sunday - of course if he wins, because David is great competitor, of course. Nobody believes that David can win but, you know, it's nice to be in the final and, you know, to watch the other guy playing and to see what's going on.
Q. Is your strategy to hold back a little bit more than you did in Indian Wells?
IVAN LJUBICIC: I think in Indian Wells I was going for little bit too much, really, off the baseline. Of course if he give me some soft shots and, you know, some short balls, of course I'm gonna go for it. It's no question about that.
I'm just saying that in Indian Wells I was doing something that I'm usually not doing on court.
Q. Has it also been good not to have any naked bodies in your locker this year?
IVAN LJUBICIC: It definitely keep you more focused (laughing).
Q. Tournament is not over.
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yeah, exactly. Exactly (smiling).
Q. You and Mario are such a force in doubles. Last year you said that you had no interest in qualifying for Masters Cup doubles because your singles was still your priority. Do you still feel that way this year?
IVAN LJUBICIC: I think definitely it's very hard, these days, to compete at high level in both singles and doubles. For me, singles are definitely priority at this moment. I'm not saying that it's not gonna be all the time, but in this moment singles is definitely priority.
But the tournaments that we enter, the tournaments that we play, we really play to win. Here, we had a chance yesterday to reach the semifinal. We just never really know what happened.
It's really hard to reach the Masters Cup because it's like eight best teams, and these guys are playing all year long together. I don't think we play enough tournaments to really get there.
But like, for example, in the Grand Slams, we really try too hard, like in doubles, because it's best-of-five singles and it's just too much. That's where you earn a lot of points for the Masters Cup. Eventually, if you win a Slam, you are qualified for the Masters Cup. So I wouldn't say it's one of the prime goals to reach Masters Cup in doubles.
Q. The experience of being a champion in Davis Cup, are you playing better because you're a champion of something, or did you play well in Davis Cup because you're getting better?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yeah, well, it's definitely a fantastic feeling to be a world champion in something in tennis. It's great. I consider it number two sport in the world. So it's great feeling to be a world champion and it gives you a lot of confidence.
I know that, like, even Roger Federer never won Davis Cup, so it's really something special, something that gives you confidence when you go out there and you look at the other opponent and you feel like you have something more than the other guys do.
It's not easy, I understand. It's something that you can't win by yourself, so it's definitely great feeling. You know, I feel proud because of that.
Q. How do you think the use of instant replay has worked out?
IVAN LJUBICIC: I think it's good. I think it definitely worked out well. Felt fine. Sometimes when I was lower ranked, I felt like the top guys have advantage of the lines man. Like sometimes in the big points they always gonna go for the better player. So, you know, now it's not happening. It's definitely -- at least I feel like the chair umpires are actually not even trying to make overrules anymore. They give all the pressure to the players. If they want to challenge calls, you know, they just go for it; I'm not gonna touch it.
So I think it's a change in the game, you know. I'm not necessarily positive for any changes, but I think it's a good change. This one is a good change.
Q. You like the limitation on the challenges?
IVAN LJUBICIC: No, I don't think that's good actually. I don't think you should be limited to challenge. Because on clay we can ask the umpire to check any mark that we want. And here, we are, you know, challenge for -- we are restricted to two. So I don't think it's good that we are limited.
Q. Ten years ago another Croatian reached the final in this tournament.
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yes, yes, he told me yesterday be careful about your neck, yeah. I spoke with him yesterday. He said, "Be careful. If you win, just sleep on the same pillow, don't open the window," and stuff, yeah (laughter).
Q. Before you spoke with Goran about this, did you know this story?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yeah, of course I knew, because I was waiting for him. I was part of the team, Davis Cup team, that he was leading, he was No. 1 player. So after that final, he flew to Croatia and he played the Davis Cup.
So I saw him like two days after, and he was walking like this (head tilted).
Q. We all know he can be very funny. But when he told you on the phone...
IVAN LJUBICIC: ...he was deadly serious, yeah, definitely. Actually, he sprained his ankle now. I mean, I told him the other day, "Just sleep. Just stay at home." Because anything he does is just horrible.
Q. You know about the thing in his foot, that he stepped on a shell?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yeah, of course. I mean, many things. Smacking the door -- smacking the finger with the doors.
Q. Running out of racquets.
IVAN LJUBICIC: Running out of racquets in Brighton, yeah. Yeah, many funny stories.
Q. There are some coaches and federations who believe in setting deadlines for players, You must make the Top Whatever by age 21, that sort of thing. You're living proof that you can have your best tennis in your late 20s. Do you think that puts too much pressure on younger players?
IVAN LJUBICIC: It definitely puts the pressure, which I don't think it's negative. I mean, it's okay to put the pressure on the players because that's what they're gonna live with all their life.
But I don't think they should cut -- like if one guy is good and you think you're good, he has definitely some skills, you should wait for him. I understand a federation, like big federation, I know a lot about Italian Federation, you know. They have lot of good players, they have a lot of good talent so they have to organize everything. In Croatia, it's easy, you know. You have few players, and if somebody's good, just tell him just go away from Croatia, go somewhere and practice and it's much easier.
But this with federation, I don't know. It's like, for example David Sanguinetti. He has best ranking when he's 34, 35. It doesn't matter. I mean, sometimes you are gonna be a mature man when you're 28, sometimes when you're 19, like Nadal, for example. So I don't think you should limit the players, you know, to become good already at age 20 or 21.
Q. Goran, as we all know, only won the one Slam. If you won two, would that make you the greatest Croatian player ever, or are you on a losing battle whatever you do?
IVAN LJUBICIC: I would love to have those problems (laughing). I mean, I don't know. It's hard to say.
But he was up there. He was top player for so many years. I mean, even if I win a Slam now or two, I hope, but I'm not gonna be top 10 player for ten years, what he did, you know.
So it's hard to say. But, you know, his Wimbledon especially, everybody knows it's not normal Wimbledon, it's not normal Slam, what he did. It's definitely special.
It's hard, because, I mean, his best ranking is No. 2 in the world, he won 22 tournaments and four Wimbledon finals. It's hard. I don't think so. I mean, as I said, I mean, to win two Slams, it would be very nice. But Roger is healthy at the moment, so it's hard (laughter).
Q. You know how well you're serving of course. Today you're playing one of the best returners in the game. Are you astounded at even how well you served today against him?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Yes. I think like quarterfinal and the semifinal against Calleri and then Nalbandian, it's maybe the best two matches I ever served outdoors. It's really hard to serve well outdoors. And I was serving really great.
The thing about the serve is like if the guy returns and you hit the winner the shot after, it's even better because it puts even more pressure on the returner to pick a side and try to hit a good return instead of just touching the ball and get it back.
So it's combination. Those two combination, it's great. I mean, I dropped five points on serve in the whole match today, and against Calleri was tremendous also. So it's definitely great feeling.
But we'll see. I mean, I hope the serve is gonna work out.
Q. Do you think you've personally depressed the entire Argentine Davis Cup team?
IVAN LJUBICIC: Well, it's hard to depress them. I mean, they definitely are gonna go to Croatia and try to win, you know. It's completely different conditions there.
Q. Can you talk about Croatian tennis. How big is it right now? Obviously, with your success.
IVAN LJUBICIC: It's hard to say. I'm never there really. I mean, people back home are saying, you know -- sending me SMS messages and congratulate me for all the wins that I am doing now, but it's hard to say for me how big is it in Croatia. It's definitely big, and I hope it's gonna stay like this for a long time because Mario is only 22, Cilic, another great junior who is coming up, he is 18. He's doing well. I'm only 27. Just few days ago, I had my birthday.
We have for sure four, five years to do well. We definitely, I think, gonna have a chance to maybe repeat this Davis Cup, what we did last year.
But it's great, you know. I would love to see also other young guys to come up and do well as well.

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