Reuters - Tue, 23 Mar 07:59:00 2010
Ivan Ljubicic has suffered his fair share of misfortune on tennis courts around the world but the big-serving Croat could not be any happier with his new-found relaxation and winning form.
Just two days after celebrating his 31st birthday, the ATP Tour veteran finally clinched his first Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells and on Monday he was rewarded for that success by returning to the world's top 15.
While Ljubicic takes great care to remind anyone who will listen that one triumphant tournament does not necessarily mean another will follow, he believes he is playing the best tennis of his career.
"The fact that I won here (at Indian Wells) doesn't make me the number three or the number five player in the world," the former world number three told reporters.
"I just need to be realistic and try to consolidate these results with some other solid results, work on my body and make sure I stay fit and I can compete.
"I know how difficult it is to beat me, to beat myself, and I'm gonna give a hard time to everybody who is gonna be on the other side of the net.
"That's the only thing I can promise at the moment," Ljubicic said after overpowering American Andy Roddick 7-6 7-6 in Sunday's final. "I think I'm playing better tennis now than in 2006 when I was number three in the world. I'm ready to win big ones and I'm ready to beat anybody."
Victory over Roddick in the final of the elite ATP Masters 1000 event lifted Ljubicic from 26th to 13th in the rankings on Monday.
The articulate Croat had already paved the way for that significant climb by upsetting second seed Novak Djokovic and reigning champion Rafa Nadal earlier in the tournament.
Above all, though, Ljubicic is especially happy with relaxed way in which he now approaches his matches.
"For me, it's much easier than it was in 2007," the 6ft 4in (1.93m) Croat said. "That was a really difficult year for me mentally. It was very, very hard."
Now a winner of 10 ATP titles, Ljubicic rose to a career-high third in the rankings in 2006 when he beat virtually everyone in the game with the exception of world number one Roger Federer.
However, he lost ground over the next two years and suffered a major setback in 2008 when was sidelined for two months because of a recurring back injury.
"I changed my fitness coach last year in September, and that gave me new motivation to work hard again with different workouts," Ljubicic said. "Now I feel really motivated with nothing to prove to anybody.
"I'm playing for myself again as I was doing at beginning of my career. I'm enjoying every good result and it's more relaxing for me now than it was three years ago.
"I'm not gonna react on expectations now from media, from public, from people, from anybody. I know what I can do. One thing is sure: I'm not gonna play with a lot of pressure."