Ljubicic cautious about Davis Cup prospects
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic has declared himself fully rested and raring to go two days before the start of the Davis Cup final against Slovakia.
The two unseeded nations are appearing in the final for the first time, but with Ljubicic in the form of his life the odds are stacked heavily in Croatia's favor despite playing in an arena that has become a fortress for the Slovaks.
With mounting speculation that Slovakian No. 2 Karol Beck may not play in Friday's singles, there was a mood of quiet optimism at the Croatian team's news conference on Wednesday.
"I feel comfortable with the surface, and my condition is good. I've had enough time to rest and prepare after a long season," said the 28-year-old Ljubicic, who reached four finals since the Davis Cup semifinal in September and qualified for the season-ending Masters Cup to finish inside the top 10 for the first time.
"It's 13 days since my last match in Shanghai, I've had three or four days of rest and practiced well here this week."
Ljubicic has a formidable record against Slovakian No. 1 Dominik Hrbaty, leading their clashes 5-0. He is also 3-1 against Beck and 2-0 against veteran Karol Kucera who could come in for Beck on Friday.
"I don't think [my record] is a big issue here," said Ljubicic, who is on course to match John McEnroe's 1982 feat of winning 12 out of 12 rubbers in a Davis Cup campaign.
"We are playing in Slovakia, it's best of five, the conditions are not the same.
"If I played Dominik anywhere else I would say I was very confident, but here I know it will not be easy."
Croatia's No. 2 Mario Ancic shrugged off Slovakian suggestions that he had been targeted as his country's weak link, saying Hrbaty would be under intense pressure to win his opening singles in the Sibamac Arena on Friday.
"He is going to have to win that match; he is their No. 1 player. It's going to be difficult for him," Ancic, who has slight reservations about a slower-than-expected surface, said.
"I've played him many times and won the last three so it's going to be a lot of pressure on him."
Croatian captain Niki Pilic, winning captain with Germany in 1988, 1989 and 1993, is relishing the prospect of leading his home nation to one of its greatest sporting moments.
"When I won three times with Germany we had a very good atmosphere ... but emotionally, as a Croat, this is a bit different," said Pilic, who would become the first captain to win with different nations.
"They are my people and most of them were born in the same town [Split] as me ... it's emotionally much deeper than when I was the captain of the Germans."
Slovakia, who beat holders Spain, the Netherlands and Argentina, all 4-1, and all in the Sibamac Arena, have used Hrbaty and Beck throughout the campaign as its singles players, although Kucera was practising hard on Wednesday.
"One guy [Beck] is 57 [in the world] and the other [Kucera] is 259 and by the way they are practicing we have a feeling that the guy who is 259 is going to play," said Pilic.
"There are few reasons why they might do that, one of which is that he has a bad knee."
All will be revealed at Bratislava Castle on Thursday when the draw for the final takes place.
There will be two singles on Friday, followed by a doubles on Saturday, and two more singles on Sunday.