Ivan Ljubicic took out Rafael Nadal today in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1). I think even Ivan would admit that this was a surprising result. Before the match, he said the strategy against Nadal was to “hit five winners per point to win every point” for two or three hours straight. Ljuby was wrong. He didn’t even play his best tennis (51 unforced errors!) yet still managed to take out the defending champion.
Ljubicic relied on his serve (17 aces) during the match to save multiple break points against him. He kept his cool after a disappointing first set and took advantage when Nadal’s forehand went AWOL a la Roger vs. Baghdatis for a chunk of the second set. When Rafa broke back immediately after Ljubicic scored the early advantage in the third, it suddenly seemed like the Croatian was just delaying the inevitable. Then the 31-year-old gritted his teeth like the grizzled veteran that he is and played a brilliant final tiebreak.
I’m not smart enough to tell you what really happened out there. Thank God for Scooby Doo.
Ljubicic faces the winner of Roddick vs. Soderling in the final. Rafael Nadal’s title drought continues, his last win coming last year in Rome. He has yet to defend a hard court title in his career. But Rafa still has an opportunity to end the tournament on a happy note, when he and Marc Lopez play top-seeded Nestor/Zimonjic in the doubles final later this afternoon.