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.