Croatian veteran Ivan Ljubicic rallied for a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1) triumph over world No. 3 Rafael Nadal on Saturday to reach the final of the Indian Wells Masters 1000.
Ljubicic, a former world No. 3 now ranked 26th in the world, denied Nadal a shot at a repeat title and a third in four years.
The Croatian, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday, had surprised world number two and second seed Novak Djokovic in the fourth round en route to his first semifinal since he won the ATP title in Lyon last October.
Ljubicic will now meet
seventh seeded American Andy Roddick.
In the meantime he could savour his first victory over Nadal since 2005 as he stopped a five-match skid against the Spaniard that included defeats last year in the quarter-finals of Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Shanghai.
Nadal was playing his first tournament since a knee injury forced him to retire from the Australian Open while trailing Andy Murray in a tight quarter-final match.
“Rafa, off the baseline he was fantastic, there was not much I could do really,” Ljubicic said.
The two had traded breaks of serve to open the third set, Nadal missing with two forehands to give up the first game and Ljubicic double-faulting on break point to surrender the next.
Ljubicic, who served eight of his aces in the final set, faced one more break point — after a double-fault in the eighth game — but got out of the jam as the set went to the tiebreaker.
He took a 2-1 lead with a 138 mph ace, and a 3-1 lead with a backhand winner.
Three Nadal miscues saw the Spaniard facing a 6-1 deficit, and Ljubicic gave him no time to climb out of the hole as he blasted his forehand winner on his first match point.
Ljubicic now has a chance to become the first 30-something since 30-year-old Andre Agassi in 2001 to capture the title.
Ljubicic had looked sluggish as he surrendered a break in the opening game of the match.
He mustered only one break point against Nadal’s serve in the opening frame, and was broken to love in the ninth game to surrender the set.
But after saving four break points in the sixth game of the second set, Ljubicic seemed energized, and he got the break he needed to extend the match when Nadal double-faulted on break point in the ninth game.
The defeat didn’t spell the end of Nadal’s Indian Wells campaign.
With compatriot Marc Lopez he beat Canadian Daniel Nestor and Serbian Nenad Zimonjic.