In the Good Ol' USA, you have to be a real tennis aficionado to fully know and appreciate Ivan Ljubicic. Not so much for Andy Roddick.
Like it or not, they will play in Sunday's BNP Paribas Open men's singles final. There will be more than 16,000 in the Indian Wells Garden. The tickets were sold long ago, with no guarantee of participants.
That's part of the attraction, and the difficulty of tennis. It is a niche sport that has a fairly established number of hard-core faithful. To those, the game is big serves and big matches and it doesn't matter when one of the players, such as Ljubicic, has consonants and vowels in funny places.
He is from Croatia, which for many United States tennis fans might just as well be the moon. You won't find him on the cover of Men's Quarterly, even though he never has a hair out of place. Actually, he has no hair.
Roddick, of course, is homegrown. Born in Nebraska, lives in Texas. Dated a movie star and married a swimsuit model. That kind of profile easily makes its way off the pages of Tennis Magazine and onto the pages of People.
Tennis promoters and officials love that, because it expands the sport's reach and marketplace. Joe and Mary from the local tennis club, who buy the tickets and watch the Tennis Channel and write letters to the local sports editor when the tennis coverage is lacking, are just as happy to have a Ljubicic-Roddick final, even though it matches No. 26 against No. 7.
Both players are well-spoken, Ljubicic a bit more analytical and Roddick a bit quicker with the quip. Ljubicic just turned 31 Friday and is an elder statesman on a tour that burns out its players, physically and mentally, by their late 20s. Roddick is 27 and actually heading in the same direction, even though the backwards cap and the occasional smart-aleck answer tend to mask the intelligence of his current game and his news conferences.
It won't be long before the media go-to player on the tour, for history and perspective, will be Roddick.
Tournament organizers certainly squirmed when the lesser-known Ljubicic hung in throughout Saturday's semifinal against one of the sport's rock stars, Rafael Nadal of Spain, and played what he called "the best tiebreaker of my life" to win the match.
And you could almost visualize the pacing in the executive offices when, in the second semifinal, Roddick split sets with another very good player who has almost zero name identification to the casual fan, Robin Soderling of Sweden.
A Ljubicic-Soderling final, fine for tennis purists, might have had Larry Ellison pondering renegotiation of the terms of his recent purchase of this event.
Sure, the tickets were sold, but TV ratings were at stake, and that's no easy thing when you are putting on a competing sports event in the eye of the hurricane also known as March Madness. Tennis fans think of good matches, no matter who the player. Tennis organizers think of that too, but also market share, branding, future licensing and future TV deals.
Nor did it help that the women's side of this tournament saw the departure of more famous players Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin well before the final, which will match Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia. They are Nos. 2 and 6, respectively, but they have yet to reach the point where TMZ gives a damn, which seems to be the measure of celebrity these days.
Sunday's women's final will begin at noon, the men no earlier than 2 p.m.
When Ljubicic and Roddick face off, the fireworks could be special, even though this won't be the always-lusted-for Nadal and Roger Federer matchup. Both serve big and hit huge forehands. Both also want this title badly, Ljubicic because he has lost all three of his previous chances in Masters Tennis Series finals, and Roddick because the Indian Wells tournament is the only major one in the United States he hasn't won.
The mildly interested will see the names and probably never consider reaching for the remote for a quick peek during the NCAA tournament. The aficionados will be here, happy for what they get to see and happy to know they will probably, once again, be part of a record turnout for this event, the fifth-best-attended tennis event in the world, after the four Grand Slams. The record 332,498 for 21 sessions will fall.
Larry Ellison won't want to renegotiate that.