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Sport - Tennis Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Little known Karlovic stuns Hewitt, creates history

By Nirmal Shekar

Unseeded Ivo Karlovic of Croatia towers over the defending champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia whom he beat in their men's singles, first round match on day one of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon on Monday. — AP

London June 23 . Croatia has no claims to any of the wonders of the world, other than perhaps a Quixotic tennis champion who used to watch pre-teen schoolboy cartoons and then step out on court through a magic fortnight to finally author a fairytale climax to his career.

But nothing that Goran Ivanisevic, a 125-1 outsider who went on to win the Wimbledon title in his fourth final appearance here in 2001, did, or even said, could have measured anywhere as high on tennis's Ritcher scale of sensational events as did the mind-boggling knock-out punch dealt on the champion by Ivo Karlovic on the opening day of the 117th Wimbledon championships.

And, once Karlovic, world ranked 203, a qualifier, and playing in his first ever Grand Slam match, completed an unbelievable 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4 defeat of the defending champion and top seed Lleyton Hewitt on the centre court on Monday, quite a few Croatians might have come to believe they do have a wonder of the world sporting their young nation's colours.

Welcome, then, Croatia's walking Eiffel Tower. Walking, actually, would be an understatement. For the Tour's tallest player _ Karlovic stands 10 inches over 6 feet _ darted about like a dervish and covered the net with the arm span of a 747-400 airplane to author quite the most sensational start this tournament has had in 36 years.

In 1967, the Spanish touch artist Manolo Santana, seeded No.1 in defence of the title he won the previous year, was beaten in the first round. Charlie Pasarell won that match 10-8, 6-3, 2-6, 8-6.

Nothing quite as earth-shaking as that has happened in the men's championship here since then...not until Hewitt's forehand return caught the net shortly after 3.30 p.m. on Monday to advance Karlovic fair _ to borrow from the famous Aussie anthem _ into the second round.

After a rather nervous start on a day when Hewitt made far too many unforced errors, Karlovic raised his game several notches and played almost point-perfect grass court tennis to floor the champion in four sets.

``Probably I am going to realise what I pulled off another day. It still has not hit me,'' said the genial giant, who speaks with a stammer. "I was confident. I saw him play last week and he didn't play very well.''

A couple of weeks ago, the 24-year old Karlovic found himself in a bit of a spot. He has been a rather busy man over the last six or seven weeks, playing in Challengers and qualifying events on the main Tour, sometimes playing two matches a day in two different places.

And Karlovic did quite well to make the semifinals of the Surbiton Challenger during a week when he also played the Queen's Club qualifying event.

When he went to the Tournament Office at Surbiton to pick up his prize money, he was told that it was he that owed them money.

It turns out that Karlovic was fined $3000 for racquet and verbal abuse and his prize money did not even match that sum! Promptly, Karlovic caught the train back to his modest bed-and-breakfast place, a rather worried man.

Today, Ivo Who? has turned out to be Killer Karlovic or Karlovic the Conqueror if you like. And he has already made more money on a single day (even if he lost in the second round he would still take home a little over $23,000) than he ever did in an entire tournament in his life.

Such is life. Such is sport. And the irony would not have been lost on Hewitt who came in with great hopes of successfully defending the title he won last year.

Tenacity is Hewitt's calling card. The man is a high-intesity competitor who is forever in motion. But after a dream start, even as Karlovic stood tall, served bombs and blanketed the net with great authority, Hewitt looked ambushed and hogtied.

The key to the result was Karlovic's fighting qualities in the second set which saw him stave off five breakpoints _ he was down 15-40 in one service game and 0-40 in another _ and take it into a tiebreak which he won with a forehand pass on his first setpoint.

From that moment it was obvious that roadblocks were looming large between Hewitt and a fairytale start to his title defence.

His tactics backfired mostly, especially the lobs. For he might as well have been attempting to lob the Empire State Building.

And there is still indecisiveness in Hewitt, even on grass, about roaming into the forecourt even on the odd occasion. And for a man who doesn't have the heavy artillery to gain access to easy points, it was all downhill the moment Karlovic broke the Aussie to 3-1 in the third set.

In the fourth, Karlovic played two great angled volleys to give himself an opening on Hewitt's serve in the ninth game before two ground-stroke errors from the Aussie gave the Croatian the break.

Then, serving for the match, Karlovic came up with a nerveless display to bring up the finest moment of his career.

Srichaphan gets past Hrbaty

Meanwhile, Paradorn Srichaphan, Asia's finest and the man who has turned namaste into a popular crowd-thanking gesture, turned things around smartly in the decider to get past Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 38 minutes to advance to the second round.

Playing on the infamous Court No.2, where many a legend has come apart _ Pete Sampras was beaten by George Bastl in the second round on this court last year _ Srichaphan set off like a gleaming new Ferrari.

Serving with tremendous power and confidence, finding the early break with superb passes in the first set, the amiable Thai wrapped up the first set with a lovely forehand crosscourt pass and then dominated the second too.

But, surprisingly, Srichaphan took his foot off the pedal even as the toothy Slovakian sought to claw his way into the battle. Losing the third set on a double fault on setpoint, Srichaphan looked a beaten man through the fourth too.

Then again, just when you might have thought that the momentum was with Hrbaty, the Thai 12th seed who has become his country's best known athlete of all time pulled himself together, found the break he needed midway in the fifth and took the match on his second matchpoint as Hrbaty's forehand failed to cross the net.

Srichaphan's finest hour came here last year when he beat Andre Agassi in the second round. It was a year in which he won a title at Long Island and Stockholm and finished a career high No.16.

What is more, the title at the Tata Open in Chennai early this year gave him a head start to the new season but since then things have not gone swimmingly for him.

Yet, today, when the chips were down, Srichaphan showed great heart and he does have the game to make an impression here this fortnight.

Earlier in the day, the young man who is a popular favourite for the title with critics and fans alike _ Andy Roddick _ was quite brilliant in his 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 demolition of Davide Sanguinetti of Italy.

While it may not be wise to read too much into the result, given the quality of the opposition faced by the 20-year old American, there can be little doubt that Roddick, who won the Queen's Club title eight days ago, is in the best form of his career.

The results: Men: singles: first round: Ivo Karlovic (Cro) bt 1-Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4; 9-Rainer Schuettler (Ger) bt Michel Kratochvil (Sui) 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-5; 12-Paradorn Srichaphan (Thai) bt Dominik Hrbaty (Slk) 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3; 16-Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) bt Karol Beck (Slk) 6-4, 6-2, 6-3; Lee Childs (G.Br) bt 33-Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) 2-6, 7-6 (2), 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2; Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Mario Ancic (Cro) 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; Brian Vahaly (U.S.) bt Filippo Volandri (Ita) 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4; 5-Andy Roddick (U.S.) bt Davide Sanguinetti (Ita) 6-2, 6-3, 6-3; 23-Agustin Calleri (Arg) bt Adrian Voinea (Rom) 6-2, 7-5, 1-0, retd. injured; Max Mirnyi (Blr) bt 31-Vince Spadea (U.S.) 6-2, 6-4, 6-4; Flavio Saretta (Bra) bt Alan Mackin (G.Br) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2; Feliciano Lopez (Esp) bt Robert Kendrick (U.S.) 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Women: first round: Samantha Reeves (U.S.) bt 25-Anna Pistolesi (Isr) 6-4, 6-4; 27-Silvia Farina Elia (Ita) bt Maria Sanchez Lorenzo (Esp) 6-4, 6-2; Francesca Schiavone (Ita) bt Seda Noorlander (Ned) 6-2, 6-2; Conchita Martinez Granados (Esp) bt Antonella Serra Zanetti (Ita) 0-6, 6-3, 10-8; Angelique Widjaja (Ina) bt Evgenia Koulikovskaya (Rus) 7-5, 6-1; Virginie Razzano (Fra) bt Anastassia Rodionova (Rus) 6-3, 6-1; 22-Nathalie Dechy (Fra) bt Janette Husarova (Slk) 6-3, 6-2; 30-Denisa Chladkova (Czech) bt Klara Koukalova (Czech) 6-4, 6-3; Rita Grande (Ita) bt Patricia Wartusch (Aut) 6-1, 6-4; Cara Black (Zim) bt Sandra Kleinova (Czech) 6-2, 6-3; Eva Fislova (Slk) bt Ludmila Cervanova (Slk) 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-4; Daja Bedanova (Czech) bt Tatiana Poutchek (Blr) 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

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