Aces high as Karlovic prevails in Australian Open marathon
Croatian sets first-round sets record for games played as he wins opening match with 75 aces against Zeballos in match lasting more than five hours
Ivo Karlovic fired down 75 aces in a record Australian Open marathon against Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos which lasted five hours, 15 minutes and finished in a 6-7 (6-8) 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 22-20 first-round victory for the Croatian on Tuesday.
The 37-year-old 20th seed threw his hands in the air in delight after Zeballos ballooned an attempted lob high into the night sky to finally bring an end to the gruelling 157-minute fifth set.
Karlovic embraced his exhausted opponent then exchanged high fives with a large part of the crowd which had stuck with the contest from its start in the afternoon sun to the finish under the low wattage lights on the tiny Court 19.
With all the other matches on the outer courts long finished, a carnival atmosphere had developed as the two players tried and failed to break each other’s serve in the final set.
Organisers sent ballboys running off to get more energy drinks as the marathon continued with the gloom punctuated occasionally by fireworks being set off at a match at the neighbouring Melbourne Cricket Ground.
“I was just trying to hang in there, just point by point,” said Karlovic.
“[I had energy drink] gatorades and water, I don’t know. I mean, I began really bad. As the match was going on, it was little bit less hot also. So that kind of also gave me opportunity to be more, how you say, not tired.”
Karlovic blasted 38 aces in the final set alone, while Zeballos chipped in with 33 in the match and 15 in the last stanza.
The break point Karlovic converted was only the fourth in the 42 games in the deciding set, with long rallies at a premium as the serves continued to thwack into the back fence at both ends.
Despite its length, the contest was still 38 minutes shy of the record for the longest match at the Australian Open – the 2012 final between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal having gone five hours and 53 minutes.
However, it was a record for the highest number of games in Melbourne in the tiebreak era, beating by one the 83 American Andy Roddick played to beat Younes El Aynaoui 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 at Melbourne Park in 2003.
The longest match in the record books is American John Isner’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (7-3), 70-68 victory over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut after 11 hours, five minutes of play over three days at Wimbledon in 2010.
“I was thinking about that other match Isner against Mahut, I was hoping little bit it could go this long so I could also have a record,” said Karlovic.
Karlovic will have two days to rest his legs before his second round contest against local wildcard Andrew Whittingham, a serve volleyer who earlier beat Czech Adam Pavlasek 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a relatively modest 145 minutes.
“Arm is good, but my knee, my back, little bit not so good. Elbow,” he said.
“I don’t know how I will recover. Tomorrow off. I will not even hit. I’m just going to do the ice bath, try to hit good, go to sleep early. Hopefully that will be enough.”
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic may have cursed the draw for throwing up Fernando Verdasco as the first opponent in his Australian Open defence on Tuesday but the tough match-up against the Spanish giant-killer ultimately proved a blessing in disguise.
The Serb launched his bid for a record seventh title at Melbourne Park with an impressive 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win over the man who knocked Rafa Nadal out in the first round of last year’s tournament.
Djokovic was forced to save five match points to beat Verdasco at the recent Qatar Open and was broken twice during a thrilling second set under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.
But the second seed defended brilliantly to defuse the veteran lefthander’s power game and closed out the two-hour 20-minute clash.
“I knew that winning the second set would be crucial because I definitely didn’t want to give him wings,” Djokovic said after setting up a second round clash against Uzbek Denis Istomin.
“I didn’t want to have him start swinging at the ball, as he knows.
“I don’t know how he felt about the draw. But I personally think that I could have drawn... an easier player. But nothing is easy obviously.
“From one perspective it was good that I got to have the very tough first-round match, because it made me prepare better and kind of approach this match and the tournament with the right intensity right from the blocks, right from the first point.”
Djokovic has owned Melbourne Park for almost a decade and his continued reign seemed assured as he roared to a 5-0 lead in the first set.