East London - The South African Tennis Association (SATA) have pulled off a coup by announcing that
former world number three Ivan Ljubicic has been given a wild card into the SAA Tennis Open to be played at Selborne Park in East London from February 11 to 17.
The Croat will join Swedes Thomas Johansson and Jonas Bjorkman, Austrian Stefan Koubek, as well as South Africans Wesley Moodie, Rik de Voest and Kevin Anderson at the R875,000 event.
When Ljubicic broke into the top 10 in 2005, he became only the second Croat behind Goran Ivanisevic to do so. It proved to be a watershed year for the 28-year-old as he also led Croatia to victory in the Davis Cup. In doing so he compiled an 11-1 record (7-1 in singles, 4-0 in doubles) in Davis Cup play for the year, the best record since John McEnroe went 12-0 in 1982 for the United States.
Ironically it was not until his last match of the year when he played Dominic Hrbaty in the reverse singles at the final in Bratislava, that he was beaten – in a five-set contest.
Ljubicic performed superbly during the year but he was unlucky to bump the one man he could not beat – Roger Federer. Half of his losses in the first part of the year were at the hands of the Swiss world number one.
In 2006 Ljubicic broke into the top five for the first time and on May 1 that year he reached his all-time high ranking of three behind Federer and Rafael Nadal.
He has won eight career titles and has reached 11 other finals. His best results have come at indoor tournaments where he has won five of his eight titles. The surface and the conditions ideally suit his booming serve, which has to be one of the best in the game.
In 2005 he went an amazing 81 games without losing his serve. The run was ended by Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in the quarter-finals of the Masters Series in Madrid. That year he was No. 1 in break points saved (72%), No. 2 in aces (897), No. 3 in service games won (88%) and No. 4 in second serve points won (55%).
Last year was not too good for the Croat and he dropped out of the top 10. He is currently ranked at 22 in the world. His best Grand Slam performances came at Roland Garros in 2006 where he reached the semifinals of the French Open but then lost to Nadal.
Speaking from his home in Monte Carlo, Ljubicic said he was excited to be playing in South Africa. “I had a tough year last year and although I started the year beating Andy Murray to win in Doha, won the grass court tile of Hertogenbosch and got to the finals in Zagreb, Rotterdam, I was not too happy with my final year end ranking even though I finished in the top 20 for the third consecutive season. I’m fired up for 2008 and coming to South Africa for my first visit and playing in the SAA Open in East London is the perfect start for what hopefully is going to turn out to be a fantastic year for me.”
Ian Smith, Tournament Director and CEO of SATA said that long hours of negotiations had taken place to secure Ljubicic for the event. “We were determined to bring a major star to the tournament this year. Our aim is to build the tournament each year into a bigger and better showcase and in order to do that we have to lure the world’s best players to South Africa.
“This is not an easy task and long hours are spent negotiating the right package for the top players. But the hard work has paid off and Ivan is a huge star with a respected game and his inclusion in the field will no doubt boost the event to the highest possible level” said Smith.
Very encouraging words from Ivan.Now lets see what will happen on the court.