On this day: Roger Federer battles past Ivan Ljubicic to conquer Rotterdam



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On this day: Roger Federer battles past Ivan Ljubicic to conquer Rotterdam

Roger Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon 2003 and was ready to make an even stronger assault in 2004, winning 74 out of 80 matches and lifting 11 ATP titles, including three Majors and three Masters 1000 tournaments.

In 2005, Roger failed to defend his Australian Open title won 12 months ago, losing to Marat Safin in a fantastic semi-final clash after wasting a match point. Roger won the title in Doha before heading to Melbourne and bounced back from that loss to Safin with his first title in Rotterdam that came on February 20, defeating Ivan Ljubicic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 after challenging two hours and 44 minutes.

It was their eighth meeting and the fifth win for Roger who defeated Ivan in Doha final five weeks earlier as well. Unlike that match from Qatar, Roger had to work much harder to oust the Croat at the Ahoy Arena, winning his 15th straight final he entered after that loss in Gstaad in 2003.

Roger won ten points more than Ivan, playing better on both the first and second serve and fending off two out of three break chances to keep the pressure on world no. 19. Ivan fired 16 aces and saved five out of six break points to stay in touch with Roger, standing three points away from victory in the tie break.

Iy was undoubtedly the toughest test for Federer in the entire tournament, winning all four previous matches in straight sets and never losing serve. The first break point came in game seven and it was Ljubicic who had a chance to move in front when Roger netted an easy forehand.

The Swiss saved it with a service winner and held after a forehand crosscourt winner to get out of jail and avoid an early setback. The Croat was even closer to take the opening set after earning three break chances at 5-5, converting the first when Roger netted a backhand to move in front.

The nerves started to show up for Ivan in the 12th game but he stayed calm, repelling a break point with a fantastic backhand down the line winner and closing the set when Roger sprayed a forehand mistake. Ljubicic played better on his second serve and grabbed the set with that one break of serve in the closing stages, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter.

He saved a break opportunity at the beginning of the second set and struggled again in game four before bringing the game home to level the score at 2-2 and stay on the positive side of the scoreboard. Federer was in a better rhythm now, with another break chance in game six after a weak forehand from Ivan, squandering it when his forehand landed long and allowing Ljubicic to hold after two service winners, with the Croat remaining on the right track despite being pushed to the limits in the first part of the set.

On the other hand, Roger was sailing through his service games, with a room to push hard on the return that offered him another break chance in game eight thanks to a forehand down the line winner. The Croat repelled it with a solid smash, staying unbroken and hoping to reach the tie break where the pressure would have been on Federer.

Returning at 5-6, Federer produced two break chances with a forehand winner, seizing the second to take the set 7-5 and send the match into a decider. Roger held everything under control in his games and finally found the way to break Ivan just before the tie break, capitalizing on his reliable performance on the return to avoid a dangerous tie break.

Nothing could separate them in the first nine games of the final set and Ivan held after a deuce while serving to stay in the match, leveling the score at 5-5 to add more drama and excitement. Roger reached deuce on the return in game 12 as well but Ljubicic kept his composure to throw the match into a deciding tie break, the best way to conclude such a tight encounter.

A service winner pushed Ivan 4-2 in front before he lost the next point on serve that could have given him a considerable lead, netting a backhand to bring Roger back on the scoreboard. Two winners pushed the Swiss 5-4 up and a huge forehand awarded him another mini-break and two match points.

He converted the second when Ljubicic sprayed a forehand error to celebrate his 24th ATP crown and the first in Rotterdam where he made a debut six years earlier at 17.