Croatians take it to Team USA in the First Round of 2005 Davis Cup

In a truly resounding effort of will and determination, Ivan Ljubicic did what no one thought he could do.  He not only won all 3 points vs Team USA, but he did it on US soil in Carson, California and vs. our best players.  After dominating Andre Agassi in the first match winning in 3 decisive sets, Ljubicic teamed with rising 20 year Mario Ancic #23 in the world to beat our great twin doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan (their first ever loss in Davis Cup and they hadn’t even lost a set going into this match).  Ljubicic and Ancic also won the Bronze Metal in doubles at the Athens Olympics last year.  Mr. Ivan then knocked off favorite Andy Roddick in 5 sets on the last day to secure the Tie for Croatia.  Roddick got USA on the board in the 2nd match of the first day rallying to beat Ancic in 4 sets.  However, Ljubicic was not to be outdone. For the second time in 2 years, he won all 3 points in helping the Croatian team beat Team USA.  In 2003, he beat James Black and Mardy Fish to conquer the dreams of Team USA.  That tournament was held in Croatia.  This time around, he did it against our top players.  He came into this tourney already playing in 4 finals this year; winning one and losing the other 3 to a guy named Federer.  He took the Swiss #1 to 3 sets in 2 of their 3 matches and was very confident.  He showed it right from the start with a powerful, consistent serve that averaged around 130 plus MPH.  His one hand whipping backhand was flawless and his conditioning seemed extraordinary, especially for traveling and playing so much.  He has reached a career high # 14 and will most likely crack the top 10 in the months to come.

     Ancic was preparing for Agassi if they had to play a fifth and deciding match but that match never happened and this may have been the last stop for Agassi in Davis Cup.  He is slowing down while approaching 35 years old but still at #9 in the world.  I asked him how long he intends to play and he said as long as he thinks he can compete for a Grand Slam.  Next up for the disappointed Americans is the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells in mid-March, which offers the best competition and just about all the top players play unless they are injured.

     In my opinion, the USA Team was simply outplayed by a prime, young, HOT player at his peak.  No one played that poorly, just bad timing.  Even though Ljubicic played 3 straight days, he seemed less tired than Roddick as the match went on.  Two  tough tiebreakers in which Roddick lost the 3rd set after leading 4-1 in the tiebreak as he squandered 3 set points before falling 13-11. The 4th set tiebreak was also very close and Roddick pulled it out when Ljubicic double faulted.  However, Andy was broken on the first game and he could never recover.  Time is now for Roddick, who has been in the top 3 since near the end of 2003 after capturing his first and only Grand Slam at the US Open.  He had a good 2004 year but came up short of Roger Federer as like everyone else did.  He lost to Lleyton Hewitt in the semi-finals of this year’s Aussie Open.  His game is great, don’t get me wrong but sometimes he looks a bit lost out there. Since ending his relationship with Coach Brad Gilbert, he has remained near the top but needs more consistency and possibly some more serve and volleying to put more pressure on the other great players.  Meanwhile, USA Coach Patrick McEnroe was very disappointed as well but knew he had been beat by a great team.  Agassi went to the Croatians locker room to congratulate and praise their play, showing why he is so respected in the game.

     Time will tell on the young and the not so young Americans in the tournaments to come.  Hopefully good signs ahead.  The USA team will play later this year in September against a country yet to be determined to basically qualify for next year.  So both the USA-finalist in 2004 and Spain-who won the Davis Cup in 12/04, are out for this year which leaves the field a bit wide open.  My picks to look out for at this time are Russia and Croatia.


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