INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Ivan Ljubicic played the match of his life to upset third seed and holder Rafa Nadal 3-6 6-4 7-6 on Saturday and reach the final of the Indian Wells ATP tournament.
The big-serving Croat, seeded 20th, recovered from a set down before crunching a forehand down the line to clinch the tiebreak 7-1 and seal victory in two hours, 34 minutes at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Ljubicic, who turned 31 on Friday, will compete for his first Masters 1000 title in Sunday’s final against American Andy Roddick, who held off a fightback by Swede Robin Soderling to win 6-4 3-6 6-3.
“It was a great, great match,” the Croat told reporters after firing down 17 aces for a tournament total of 66. “Probably the best I’ve ever played in my career.
“I struggled a little bit at the beginning with the wind ... but I felt from the beginning okay from the baseline. I didn’t feel like he was in control of the points.
“I just felt if I found the rhythm of the return then I can have the match, and that’s exactly what happened,” added Ljubicic, who beat second-seeded Serb Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.
“It’s a great, great moment and my fourth Masters final. I hope it’s gonna be finally the victory. We’ll see tomorrow.”
Ljubicic began the match tentatively on a breezy afternoon in the California desert, twice double-faulting before netting a forehand to be broken in the first game.
He also lost his serve in the ninth, after a clever Nadal lob forced an error by the Croat as he stretched his racket upwards, to lose the opening set in 34 minutes.
The Spaniard, whose crosscourt forehand was scintillating, seemed poised for a straight sets demolition after going 0-40 up on Ljubicic’s serve in the sixth game of the second set.
But Ljubicic saved four break points to hold and then broke Nadal for the first time in the ninth game, after the Spaniard double-faulted, before leveling the match.
Service breaks were traded in the first two games of the third set before the players went into a tiebreak which Ljubicic dominated as Nadal made a series of unforced errors.
Seventh seed Roddick reached the final at Indian Wells for the first time in four attempts after holding off sixth-seeded Soderling in one hour 46 minutes.
“I definitely would love to win this,” said the American, who clinched his 28th ATP Tour title in Brisbane in January. “This is probably the only real big tournament in North America that I haven’t won.”
The powerful-serving American, who had lost to Soderling in their two previous meetings, broke the Swede in the seventh game to sweep through the opening set in 37 minutes.
Although Soderling leveled the match by twice breaking his opponent in the second, Roddick returned the favor in the third and clinched victory when the Swede hit a backhand long.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury