Ljubicic wins SA Open singles title

2008-02-18 00:00

IN what was a fitting finale to a most successful week for South African tennis, top seed Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia defeated the second-seeded Stefan Koubek of Austria 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 to take the SA Airways Open title at Selborne Park in East London yesterday.

Both finalists were evenly matched on a muggy, humid day with low cloud cover, but 2006 world number three Ljubicic had the extra power when it really mattered.

The Croat said conditions for the final were the best of the week.

“The weather was perfect. No wind meant I was confident in my serve,” said Ljubicic. “I didn’t feel I played great tennis in the earlier rounds but I am very happy with the form I showed from the quarter-finals onwards.

“It is tough at my age [29 next month] against the up-and-coming young guys in the early rounds, as they run like rabbits, but I am pleased to have won five matches in six days,” said the number one seed.

“After all the injuries I suffered last year, my goal is to get back into the top 10, and then the Grand Slams and the Olympic Games in Beijing, China are also huge events for me.”

At 6’4” the rangy Ljubicic was a matter of 18 cm and 23 kg bigger than the left-handed Koubek, who at 1,75 m tall (5’9”) and 68 kg found himself pushed further and further back behind the baseline in trying to contain the Croat’s ferocious forehands and rapier-like backhands.

“It isn’t fun waiting for Ivan to serve,” Koubek said afterwards. “He served unbelievably well today and all I could do was try and keep the ball in play. Ivan risked a lot, though, and it came off for him.”

The first set went to serve before the man who always held the edge ran away with the tie-break 7-2. After each had broken the other’s serve, Ljubicic made the decisive break in the fifth game of the second set — enough to take it 6-4 and with it the trophy following a sizzling ace — one of 16.

Ljubicic won 80% of his service points to Koubek’s 60%, while he won 40% of his return points to the Austrian’s 20%.

Statistics aside, the packed centre-court crowd and viewers on TV were treated to some fizzing first serves, high-kicking second serves, cross-court winners and inch-perfect passing shots that were rifled down the line. Both finalists praised the crowd for giving them “awesome” support on what was a happy occasion for the Eastern Cape city.

In Saturday’s first semi-final, Koubek (31) made short work of sixth seed Frederico Gil of Portugal, enjoying a good workout in winning 6-4 6-3.

The other semi-final was an altogether different animal. Ljubicic and third seed Thomas Johansson of Sweden (33 next month) are best friends and both reside in Monte Carlo, yet they slugged it out with gusto, each holding serve in the two sets, but the top seed had a decided edge when it really mattered, easily winning the tie-breaks for a 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-3) victory.

Results of the SA Open



1-Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) bt 3-Thomas Johansson (Swed) 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-3)


1-Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) bt 2-Stefan Koubek (Aut) (7-6 (7-2) 6-4



1-Jonas Bjorkman (Swed)/Kevin Ullyett (Zim) v 3-Thomas Johansson (Swed)/Stefan Koubek (Aut)

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