Ivan Ljubicic may not be very well known here in the U.S., but the 27-year-old Bosnian Croat tennis player has made quite a name for himself after leaving his war-torn homeland.
Born in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ljubicic started playing tennis as a child in 1988, and soon won his first local awards as a junior. In May 1992, because of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ljubicic family left Banja Luka, and Ivan, his mother and his brother moved to Opatija, Croatia, while his father was unable to leave. In November 1992, they were reunited, and moved to Rijeka.
Soon after, in April 1993, Ljubicic went to a tennis club in Montcalieri near Torino, Italy. During the next three years, Ljubicic grew into a promising prospect. He decided to play for Croatia (at this time, because of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina did not have a tennis team) and in 1995 won his first junior championship – becoming the first Croatian under-16 champion ever.
The same year, he won his first ATP points, and played for the Croatian team in the Winter Cup (European under-16 indoors championship). Pairing up with ï¿½eljko Krajan, he won the Orange Bowl (the unofficial world under-16 championship).
In 1996, the family moved to Zagreb, while Ivan continued his successes. He joined the tennis club Mladost and played in more and more junior ITF tournaments.
His biggest success as a junior was the final of Wimbledon where he was defeated by Vladimir Voltchkov of Belarus. He also played in the Australian Open junior semifinal in 1997, and won the Eddie Harre tournament, which made him the no. 2 junior in the world.
Ljubicic turned pro in 1998, and played in the final of the ATP Challenger in Zagreb, where he lost to Alberto Berasategui. He played a number of smaller tournaments the same year, but had little success and finished the year ranked number 293.
In 1999, his luck turned, and he won two Futures tournaments, as well as a Challenger in France. He then entered the Super 9 tournament in Monte Carlo (today’s Monte Carlo Masters) where he reached the third round after an amazing run where he defeated Andrei Medvedev and Yevgeni Kafelnikov. He finished the year ranked number 77.
In 2000, Ljubicic played two semifinals, in Sydney and in Bastad, and three quarterfinals (Marseille, Copenhagen and Brighton). He also played in the third round of the Olympic tournament.
Ljubicic won his first ATP singles title at Lyon in 2001, after defeating Gustavo Kuerten, Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin and Younes El Aynaoui. At that point he reached number 29 in the professional rankings, and would continue to play well, participating in seven ATP Tour semifinals before finishing the year ranked number 37.
In 2002 he was in two semifinals and four quarterfinals on the ATP Tour, and the year also marked the first time he passed the first round on a Grand Slam, when he reached the third round of Australian Open.
He ended the year as number 49, and also number 2 in the number of aces behind Wayne Arthurs.
In 2003, he reached the semifinals of Milan, Dubai, Bangkok and Basel, and also the third round of Monte Carlo Masters and the quarterfinals in Rome Masters.
In 2004, he started the year as the runner-up to Nicolas Escude in Doha, and also played semifinals in Hamburg Masters, in Indianapolis and in the Madrid Masters.
At the 2004 Olympics, Ljubicic teamed up with Mario Ancic to win the bronze medal in tennis doubles, winning against the Indians Bhupathi and Paes after having been defeated by the Chilean duo of González and Massú, the eventual gold medalists, in the semifinals.
In 2005, Ljubicic produced markedly better results. He won two ATP titles and was the runner-up at another six, losing to world no. 1 Roger Federer in three of them, and world no. 2 Rafael Nadal in another one.
Most notably, he reached the finals of two Masters Series Events, losing to Nadal in Madrid and to Tomas Berdych at the Paris Indoors Tournament. He finished the year ranked number 9 in the world and earned his first appearance at the year-end Masters Cup where he was eliminated in the group stage.
Ljubicic has also been the top player of the Croatian Davis Cup team since the departure of Goran Ivaniševic. In Davis Cup 2005, the Croatian team defeated the United States in the first round played in March 2005. Ljubicic defeated Andre Agassi convincingly in straight sets in his first singles match. He then teamed with Mario Ancic to defeat the Bryan Brothers, then the world’s second-ranked doubles team. He finally clinched victory for his country, defeating America’s number one player and former world number one Andy Roddick in five sets.
At the 2006 Australian Open, Ljubicic reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time ever in his career. He defeated Thomas Johansson of Sweden in the fourth round. He lost to eventual finalist Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in the quarter-final.
He bettered this feat when he made the semifinals of the 2006 French Open, a run that ended with a loss to Rafael Nadal, who at the time was holding the record for the longest win-streak on clay.
At the 2006 Wimbledon Championships, Ljubicic had a tough first round against a tough first round opponent in 2005 quarterfinalist Feliciano Lopez. He won 11-9 in the fifth set and then defeated Justin Gimelstob before losing in the third round to Dmitry Tursunov after being up two sets to none.
Ljubicic’s climb into the upper echelon of men’s profesonal tennis may have taken a little longer than expected, but it would appear that he has finally arrived. Now, all he has to do is just add some Grand Slam hardware to his trophy case.