Best of Five: Ljubicic played tournament of life at Indian Wells
Ivan Ljubicic beat Djokovic, Nadal, Roddick on way to Indian Wells men's crown
The slumping Jelena Jankovic showed signs of life in winning the women's title
Nadal fell to Ljubicic in the semis, but should leave feeling great about his game
1. We quite often wonder whether Player X can win a big title. More often than not, the answer is "yes." And here's why: in tennis, it's fairly easy to catch lightning in a bottle. Get hot for two weeks, catch a few breaks with the draw, serve well on crucial points and ... presto. The latest exemplar of this is Ivan (Northern Iowa) Ljubicic. Rumored to be headed into retirement last fall, the Croatian veteran played the tournament of his life week at the BNP Paribas event in Indian Wells. First, Roger Federer fell unexpectedly to Marcos Baghdatis. Then Ljubicic "caught a gear" with his tennis and took out Novak Djokovic, a resurgent Rafael Nadal and then Andy Roddick to take the title. Ljubicic, 31, might not have been the marquee choice of the tournament or the sponsors. But his title ought to fire the rest of the field with some optimism. If he can do it, why not me?
2. Speaking of resurgent Balkans ... the women's title went to Jelena Jankovic, who'd been wandering in the desert for more than 18 months now. Playing with authority and defending expertly, she ran off six matches including a very solid win over new No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki in the final. With Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova now out of the Sony Ericsson event (and with Ana Ivanovic still slumping badly), Jankovic has a real opportunity to make up some ground. Onward to Miami!
3. Those sounds you heard last week ... were a gasp in horror followed by a sigh of relief. First, Rafael Nadal took the court wearing shorts that would have gotten him laughed out of the Boca Raton Shuffleboard Club. (Could we just bring back the sleeveless shirts and piratas already, and stop trying to make this guy something he's not?) Then the soothing sigh: Nadal looked fantastic, striking the ball viciously, moving unemcumbered, winning matches. While he wilted in a final tiebreaker against Ljubicic in the semis, Nadal ought to leave the desert thrilled with his state of play. As a bonus, he teamed with Marc Lopez to win the doubles title. You'd be in your rights to wonder why someone who's so often injured is playing doubles in his first hardcourt tournament (he's entered in Key Bicayne as well) but enjoy the show for now, I suppose.
4. Nice tournament for Li Ning. Not a new Chinese star, but a former gymnast who began an eponymous shoe company, the footwear of both the men's and women's champions.
5. Welcome to tennis, Larry Ellison. You had the Agassi-Sampras, "snit for Haiti," as one of you called it. You raised seven figures for charity. You had stars losing, stars returning, erratic TV coverage, questionable withdrawals, heroic play, drama, melodrama ... fans (and hopefully sponsors) ultimately going home happy. Just another week on the caravan.