Dubai: Ivan Ljubicic, who caused one of the most stunning surprises of 2010 by beating Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Roddick to win the Indian Wells title, may be unable to defend it after retiring from the Dubai Open with a damaged right leg on Monday.
The fifth-seeded Croatian pulled a muscle or a tendon while warming up and after 40 minutes of fruitless attempts to compete, conceded his first round match against Ukraine's Sergei Bubka, a qualifier ranked outside the top 300.
Ljubicic started by playing at less than full throttle, only to find that it allowed time for Bubka -- son of the man once voted the world's best athlete, pole vaulter Sergei Bubka -- to impose some dangerous attacking play.
Ljubicic then tried competing flat out, but found the injury too painful.
"I don't exactly know what it is -- I've never had anything similar to this before," he said.
"I can't play. I can't serve because I use the right leg to push off. And so I have no choice."
It was all the more frustrating because Ljubicic has discovered, even close to his 32nd birthday, that with the right schedule, his body sometimes allows him to play as outstandingly well as when he led Croatia to its Davis Cup triumph in 2005.
The former world number three has spent much of the last year within sight of the top ten -- a ranking he may now lose.
"I don't want to think of it," he said when asked about Indian Wells in two weeks time.
"But we will see. I shall go there no matter what. Hopefully I will be healthy enough to try to defend my title."
Asked if it was harder to stay healthier now, Ljubicic good-naturedly replied: "Yes, that's obvious. The body reacts more slowly in recovery. There are a lot of kilometres in my machine. Taking care of the body is the biggest priority."
Ljubicic's bad luck comes just two days before his fellow Davis Cup team-mate Mario Ancic is expected to announce his retirement at the age of only 26 following a long-lasting bout of mononucleosis.
Earlier last year's Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, the third-seed, was helped to progress by an unexpected burst of rain in the desert.
Berdych was 0-2 down in the second set against Jeremy Chardy, the world number 51 from France, when the 25-minute shower came. On resumption Chardy immediately delivered a double fault and Berdych soon broke back.
"This is definitely not happening too often here," said Berdych, who went on to win 6-2, 6-3.
"Maybe we can count the days on just one hand. It happened today for me in quite the right moment.
"It took a little bit of time to settle down, and I was able to have a talk with the coach, and when I went back on court it was very good."
Earlier another Frenchman Richard Gasquet, the outstanding but unfulfilled talent whom many still regard as capable of reaching the top, returned to the ATP Tour with an encouraging win and help from his mother.
The 24-year-old Frenchman survived several second set mini-crises against Grigor Dimitrov, the former Wimbledon and US Open junior champion, to reach the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win.
Even more important Gasquet felt little discomfort from the injured shoulder which has caused him to take a three weeks' break since retiring after only seven games of the Zagreb indoor tournament.
Gasquet will continue with comnpatriot and former top-10 player Sebastien Grosjean as coach in Indian Wells and Miami next month, and later in the year will team up with Riccardo Piatti, the Italian coach who has worked for a long time with Ljubicic.
Here Gasquet has neither, but is accompanied by mother Maryse. What does she tell him, he was asked.
"Not to be frustrated, because sometimes I can show a lot, a lot of frustration," Gasquet answered. "And she doesn't like it."