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Ivan Ljubicic Blogs From Chennai

Ivan Ljubicic© Ivan Ljubicic

Sunday, January 8, 2006   
This is the life of a tennis player on the run! I brought all my luggage to the courts with me this morning knowing that if I made it through to the final I would need to rush straight from the courts to the airport to catch my 11.30 pm flight to Melbourne. With the final starting not before 6.30pm it could have been tight if the final went three sets. And after the match there is the trophy ceremony and press commitments.

I nearly had all the time in the world to catch the flight! I was down one match point in my semifinal against Kristof Vliegen. That match started at 12 o'clock and I scraped out with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6) win. Then in the final I beat Carlos Moya 7-6(6), 6-2.

It's been a fantastic week. I really enjoyed the food, the hotel and the organization was great. To finish the week as a winner is great. I have a bad record in finals and that's why I wanted this title so much. I didn't want people to think of me as a guy who always lost finals.

I had some tough matches to reach the final. Then against Moya I was down 4-0 in the first-set tie-break and then down two set points at 6-4 before coming back to win the set. The second set was some of the best tennis I've played in the past couple of months.

To play my best tennis of the week in the final is a great way to start the year. I thought my 2005 was fantastic but I have started 2006 even better. I hope that is a sign of things to come for the season. Physically I feel okay. No complaints at all. I hope my body will survive as I have a heavy schedule planned.

I hope the blog is going to bring luck to the other players as it has brought it to me. I'm going to play a couple of exhibition matches next week in Kooyong against some great players, so it will be a good lead-in to the Australian Open. But it's not an official tournament so the mood will be much more relaxed. Melbourne is a very nice city and I have seen a lot of it in previous years. I have some relatives in Melbourne and they will take me around. It should be a fantastic week.

Thanks for reading my blog this week. I hope you've enjoyed it.


Saturday, January 7, 2006  

Well, it's been a long day. Unfortunately my semifinal against Kristof Vliegen got rained out at 3-1 in the first set. So we've got an early start tomorrow at 12 o'clock to complete that, with the winner to play Moya in the final. So it's pretty much straight to sleep after updating the blog. I don't need to eat anything because I had a big meal around 5.30 pm - 6 pm and I had some sandwiches around 8.30 pm - 9 pm while I was waiting. Moya's match was also interrupted by rain, so it was around 11 pm until I got on the court.

I was confident that we were going to get through the match tonight. But it began to rain pretty heavily and Gerry Armstrong, the ATP Supervisor, told me that even if the rain stopped it would take an hour to dry the court, which meant play would not have restarted till after midnight. And the forecast wasn't good, so there was really no option other than to call it a night.

I've been sleeping till 9 am or 9.30 am this week so I'll have to be out of bed earlier than that on Sunday.

I've played two singles matches in one day before but, from memory, never a semifinal and a final. I may be leading 3-1 but the key is to focus all my thoughts and energy on the semifinal because if I don't there will be no final for me. If I win the semifinal there will be enough time to prepare for the final, which starts not before 6.30 pm.

Hopefully the rain will stay away Sunday. I'm certainly hoping to make it to the final. My flight leaves at 11.30 pm so if everything runs on schedule I should be able to make that even if I make the final.

And I'll try to find time to write my last blog for the week. It's been a lot of fun.


Friday, January 6, 2006  

I'm back at the hotel after finishing my quarterfinal match - a 6-1, 6-3 win against Gilles Muller - and am waiting for room service. So this is a good time to update the blog.

I really played very solid tonight. My first serve percentage of around 66-67 percent was extremely high for me and that put a lot of pressure on him. I felt that I read his serve well.

After accepting the wild card I came ready to play and now that I'm in the semis I'm just two steps away from the title - I won't give up from here. I reached the final in Doha in the past two years and now I'm just one win away from reaching a final in the first week of the season for the third straight year. So my results this week haven't been by chance. I've always played good tennis when I've been physically ready and after a period of solid practice.

This morning I let myself sleep to around 10 am. If I wake too early I sometimes feel like taking a nap in the middle of the day and that didn't suit my plans. I hit with Bopanna at 2 pm for a little longer than 30 minutes. We actually started about 10 minutes late because when I went to the stringer to get my racquet for the warm-up it wasn't ready. The stringer said he thought I was practicing at 3 pm. I went up half a kilo in string tension before the match. I started the tournament at 26.5 kilos and I'm now at 27.5 kilos. I'll stay at that for the semifinal but if I win I may even go to 28 for the final; but it depends on the conditions. Once I get going in a tournament I feel stronger and that I need more control.

Around 4.45 pm I had an early dinner, or is that a late lunch? I knew I was third match on from 5 pm so I could go a little heavier. I had a plate of pasta with grilled chicken. Right now I'm just waiting for room service to bring a late dinner. I'm having beef a tenderloin steak with some fried rice and Naan - the Indian bread is one of my favorite things to eat.

On Saturday I've arranged to practice with Bopanna again before my semifinal against Kristof Vliegen, which I'm happy about. Sometimes towards the end of a tournament it can be difficult to find players to practice with because they have moved onto the next event. Usually I have my coach with me and he hits a good ball. But if my coach is not with me I can normally find one of the local guys who is happy to hit with me even though I may only want to hit for 10 or 15 minutes. And the doubles guys are good about hitting, too. I remember I warmed up in Vienna with Mark Knowles once.

Aida and I are both fine now. We had headaches for one day but that was all.

Check back for my post tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have another win to report.


Thursday, January 5, 2006  

I'm pleased to report I had another win today, a tough 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Jiri Vanek to move into the quarterfinals here in Chennai. Going into the locker room after a match is different for tennis players. It's not like you're part of a football team where, if you've had a win, you all go to your own locker room and sing and cheer and generally make as much noise as you can. In Chennai, like at most tournaments, there is only one lockerroom for all players and you end up sitting next to the guy you've just beaten. So you've got to show some respect for your opponent who is feeling bad because he has just lost. And you've also got to respect the other players who are in there getting ready to go out and play the next match.

So I'm celebrating tonight's win in a very different way to how I celebrated at my last event, the Davis Cup final. In Bratislava the team had our own locker room and the celebrations continued in full force after we'd left the court.

Coming off the court many people and players who you walk past will say 'well done' or 'congratulations.' I saw Paradorn in the physio room (I was icing my shoulder and he was preparing for his match) and he was one of the players to say 'well done.'

Today was nice knowing exactly what time I was going to play: first match on center court at 5 pm. (In the first round I was third from 5 pm.) You can plan your match-day routine with certainty. As long as matches don't start at 10 am I'm happy to play the first match of the day. I arrived on site at 2.15 pm and had a warmup between 3 pm and 3.30 pm with Bopanna. Warm-ups on match days are very different to a practice session on a non-match day. In a warm-up I'm just trying to feel all my shots. I'm not trying to work on anything new. After the warm-up I showered and changed clothes, changed my grips, got my drinks ready and then went to the physio room to put some tape on the small toes of both feet.

The only concern today was the transition during the match from daylight to playing under lights. That gave me some problems, but it was the same for both players. And I'm not using that as an excuse for dropping the second set. Jiri played some amazing points to break me to go 2-0 up and he served well to hold for the rest of the set.

During a match it's important to try to take a moment to relax and reduce the stress of the situation. On changeovers I try to relax my mind and tune out for a few moments. I may also see if the grip needs changing or if the strings are okay.

After the match I met some sponsors with Radek Stepanek and then it was back to the hotel. Tomorrow it's quarterfinal day against Gilles Muller. He took out Roddick in the first round of the US Open so I know he is a very dangerous player.

Catch you tomorrow,


Wednesday, January 4, 2006  

After last night's late finish I ordered room service - a club sandwich - and fell to sleep around 1.30 am-2 am. I woke around 11 am and hit the gym straight away, riding the bike for 20 or 30 minutes. My wife and I both woke up with headaches, with hers worse than mine. I think it's because we're in air conditioning everywhere we go. My wife may travel with me a little less in the first half of the year because she's studying to take the bar exam back in Croatia. She's thinking of becoming a lawyer or a judge. So the Australian Open will probably be one of her last long trips with me.

I had breakfast and headed to the club for a 2 pm practice with Germany's Simon Greul. I was really pleased with the practice and although I feel a little tired I thought I would be feeling a lot worse.

After practice I did some interviews at the courts and then dropped off my racquets to the stringer in preparation of tomorrow’s match against Jiri Vanek. I left five racquets to be restrung - one for the warmup and four for the match. (For best-of-five matches I drop off seven or eight racquets). Often I'll go for a different string tension the first day after I arrive on site and get a feel for the weather conditions and the balls. I always string between 26.5 and 28 kilos.

I practiced with Vanek on the first and second days and hopefully I picked something up during those hits that I can use tactically to my advantage. It's the first time we've played. I know he is serving well and his backhand is strong.

A lot of players have commented on the blog and they think it's a great idea. I'm pleased I'm the first player to write a blog for A lot of journalists from back home have asked me if they could use some quotes from the blog in their stories. Of course I said yes.



Tuesday, January 3, 2006  

I was scheduled to play third match from five o'clock tonight so I warmed up between 4 pm and 4.30 pm with a local guy, Bopanna, who will be a very good player.

I came back to the hotel and watched some matches on TV, with a plan to come in after the first match on center court was over. I watched Paradorn's match from my room - it was a long one, lasting 2 1/2 hours. The fact that the first match went long allowed me to eat a good sized amount of pasta for dinner as I knew I'd have extra time for it to digest before my match. After Paradorn's match I then watched Carlos' match from the players' lounge on site

I feel fantastic with the win tonight (d. Garcia Lopez 7-6(6), 7-5). It was a very difficult match. I was down 4-1 with a double break in the first set tie-break and then in the second set I was down 4-2 before I broke back. For the first match of the year I was feeling the ball pretty well and being the only one in the tournament who played competitive matches in December gives me an advantage.

With the match finishing around midnight I wanted to do press straight away because I knew it would be late for the media who have their own deadlines. After that I did some stretching. I prefer to ride an exercise bike for 15-20 minutes after matches but there is no bike on site and the hotel gym is closed this late at night.

Tonight (or should I say 'this morning') I expect that it will take me a couple of hours before I can fall to sleep because the body is still switched on after a match. But the good thing is that matches start late in Chennai and on Wednesday I have the added benefit of having the day off. If I wake up in good time I may look around the streets a little bit. I'll probably practice around 3 pm or 4 pm.

Talk to you tomorrow.


Monday, January 2, 2006  

I went to the courts around 12:15 pm for a 1 pm practice with Radek Stepanek. He asked me about a week ago if I wanted to play doubles but I decided not to because if I lose in the singles I'd prefer to go early to Melbourne. It was a little hot so we started slowly before moving into some practice points when we got a bit tougher with each other. He's quite a funny guy, Radek.

After practice I saw the ATP physio. My neck was a little sore so I just wanted to double check that everything was fine. And it was.

We had the opening ceremony at 4 pm. I was there with Moya, Stepanek and Srichaphan. There was a little bit of rain but it didn't interrupt us.

Then I did some long, long interviews until 6:15 pm with lots of newspapers and TV. Everyone was interested in my past season and my goals for the next month. India is a huge country with a lot of people and media, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised with all the questions. I've never done so many interviews at one time, but there were lots of interesting questions, so it was fine.

There were some questions about my early life and my family's escape from Bosnia. I have recounted the story many, many times to writers and I would like to say it just once and have everyone know about it, but it's understandable that the media wants to hear me say it in person. I'm comfortable to talk about it and I often find that a couple of different recollections come to mind when I start telling the story again.

Some reporters were also interested in our reaction to having Goran as the No. 4 player on the winning Davis Cup team and him being the next Croatian captain.

After that it was back to the hotel for dinner and to watch some football on TV.

It feels a little different this week not having my coach (Ricardo Piatti) here with me. It's much easier when he is around. He'll always arrange the practice and we'll work on a couple of things in my game. The first week is very important but when I decided to accept the wild card to play in Chennai at the last moment it didn't work out for Ricardo to come with me. But we talk on the phone and he knows me so well that he's still a big help even though he's not here.

Tomorrow night I play my first match against Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez. Wish me luck!


Sunday, January 1, 2006  

Happy New Year! I'm pleased to say my wife and I saw in the New Year at a players' party in the hotel bar. One thing I hadn't thought of in India is the need to avoid putting ice in your drinks. People have said to me that you never know what type of water was used to make the ice and it could carry some health risks. I woke up around 10.30 am and just had a light breakfast of toast with honey and jam. I didn't want too much food in my stomach as I had a 2 pm practice. I had arranged to practice today with Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez, but that was before the draw came out. I play him in the first round.

In situations like this players take it as automatic that they will find someone else to practice with, so we didn't even need to call each other to cancel our practice. I just went to the tournament desk and told them I would now be practicing with Hyung-Taik Lee. I spoke to Guillermo later at the players' party and he was fine.

When I first arrived in Chennai I practiced with Jiri Vanek. If we both win our first-round matches we will play each other in the second round. Players will still practice with each other in situations like that.

After practice I went back to the hotel for a poolside photoshoot with Paradorn Srichaphan, who is a big star here in Chennai. I went back to the club for a 5pm practice with Thierry Ascione and then had an early dinner.

Tonight my wife and I watched a movie, Shrek, which I had seen before but was happy to watch again. It's a funny and beautiful movie made even more interesting by having famous actors doing the voiceovers.

Tomorrow my wife will get out and see some of the city. The hotel is really beautiful but it's not the real Chennai. She wants to see what everyday life in Chennai is like. I hope to be able to take a look around on Wednesday.

Catch you tomorrow.


Saturday, December 31, 2005  

I'm pleased to be back in India for the first time since 1998 (when I played Challengers in Bombay and Ahmedabad). But it was a pretty tough journey for my wife and me. We left Nice at 1.30 in the morning and then had a five-hour layover in Milan and later a 2-hour wait in Dubai for the final flight to Chennai.

Driving from the Chennai airport to the hotel, one of the first things to strike you is just how chaotic the traffic is. While it's similar to what you find in China and Croatia when you're off the main highways, I said to my wife 'I wonder what Americans would make of this?' It's hard to comprehend the volume of traffic on the road and the chaotic way people drive. Most of the time there aren't any traffic lights or lines on the road. People just weave in and out I'm amazed there aren't more accidents.

And, picture this: It's common to see a man driving a humble motorbike with his wife sitting sidesaddle on the back, holding an infant (or two!) in her arms. No-one is wearing a helmet!

We arrived on Friday morning and I was so tired I went straight to sleep. I practiced in the afternoon with Jiri Vanek and then had dinner and went to sleep. Today (Saturday) I practiced twice, first with Rainer Schuettler and then later with Vanek again. I also took part in the draw ceremony.

It's great to go into a new season after finishing last season on such a high. The celebration with Croatian fans in Zagreb after winning the Davis Cup was fantastic. It's very difficult to say how many people crammed into the main square but I'd say there were at least 60,000-70,000 people cheering and screaming. Fortunately Goran didn't ask us to get naked like he did after winning Wimbledon. It was too cold to get naked!

I'm looking forward to this week in Chennai and please keep checking back each day to read how my week is going.

Happy New Year to you and your family!

Ivan Ljubicic

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