Tramlines: In his own way, Ljubicic was great
"It's the end of something beautiful for me." — Ivan Ljubicic
To say that Ivan Ljubicic, who retired earlier this week, was one of the most limited players to ever reach number three in the world might initially sound like a disparaging remark.
In reality though, it is actually a compliment; because despite not having the raw, natural ability that some of the game's true greats were blessed with, the likeable Croat managed to reach the game's top tier through sheer application and hard work.
He might have been a bit too reliant on his serve and he didn't quite have the reaction speed or fluidity of a Federer or a Djokovic, but he always came out to play, and his consistency and determination ensured he chiselled out quite the career.
While many other players will look back on their years in the game and think to themselves: 'If I only worked a little harder on the practice court, if only I developed this shot or that shot or raised my game in this tournament, I might have achieved so much more,' Ljubicic can look back on a career where he won 10 titles and earned over $10 million and say to himself: 'You know what? I did okay.'
It was in 2006 that Ljubicic reached number three in the world, helped by his two best Grand Slam performances — a quarter-final appearance in Australia and a run to the semis at Roland Garros.
However, his two stand-out career highlights came elsewhere — first in 2005, when he was the catalyst for Croatia's surprising run to Davis Cup glory and then five years later, when, despite seemingly being a spent force, he produced a miraculous 10 days to win the Indian Wells title.
During the 2005 Davis Cup season, Ljubicic played two singles rubbers and in the doubles in all four of his country's victories - finishing with a magnificent 11-1 record.
In the first round against the USA, he managed to beat Andre Agassi in straight sets, then teamed up with Mario Ancic to beat the Bryan Brothers in the doubles. It was the first time the brothers had ever been beaten in Davis Cup play and they have only lost one other match since.
Then Ljubicic beat Andy Roddick, who he had a frosty off-court relationship ever since a US Open clash back in 2003 when the Croat was unhappy with the American's behaviour, in five epic sets to set Croatia on their way for their fairytale run.
Ljubicic was perfect in the quarter-final against Romania and then again in the semis against Russia, and his only defeat of the whole Davis Cup run came in the final against Slovakia when, after winning his first singles match and the doubles, he fell in five sets against Dominik Hrbaty in a truly thrilling contest in Bratislava.
Even in defeat, Ljubicic played his part in a match for the ages, as both he and Hrbaty managed to play way above their usual levels in a classic encounter.
Ljubicic's career seemed to be winding down when he arrived at Indian Wells for the 2010 edition of the prestigious Masters event, but everything clicked during an incredible week when he beat both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on his way to the final; once there he again disposed of old rival Andy Roddick to become the oldest ever first-time winner of a Masters event at 31.
"I had my problems, like everybody else," said Ljubicic after that victory. The previous summer he had dropped outside of the world's top 50 and this was his first victory in four attempts in a Masters final.
"Looking at my career, I did feel like I was missing (a Masters title). It's really a fantastic feeling to finally have it. It gives something special to your career."
It was one of the most popular victories on the ATP Tour in recent years, and not just with fans, but with the players too who appreciated Ljubicic's work on the ATP Player Council where he had previously served as president.
He is also a keen supporter of the Special Olympics movement and was awarded both the ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of Year in 2007 and the ATP Aces for Charity grant in 2011 for his work with them.
He decided to retire in Monte Carlo because that is where he now calls home with his wife Aida, his three-year-old son Leonardo and their five-month old baby girl Zara.
Due to his fantastic tennis career he has set his family up for life. He may not have won any Grand Slams and he might not be revered by casual tennis fans in 20 years time but the boy done good, and in his way, you could say he did great.
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