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Aces High
L. Jon Wertheim
June 01, 2009
Towering Ivo Karlovic has a wicked serve—and not much else
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June 01, 2009

Aces High

Towering Ivo Karlovic has a wicked serve—and not much else

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Just as there is no less likely tennis powerhouse than Croatia—in last week's ATP rankings, the small European country claimed as many members of the top 50 (three) as the U.S.—there is no more unusual player than Ivo Karlovic. A 30-year-old from Zagreb, Karlovic stands 6'10", taller than any other man on tour, enabling him to generate the most extreme angles on his serves. For six years running he's led the men's game in aces per match. "It's like he's hitting the ball out of a tree," says Andy Roddick.

Unlike team sports, however, tennis has no position players. The sport is too tough for a player to conceal his weaknesses. In Karlovic's case, matches become battles between his exceptional serving and his unexceptional ... well, just about everything else. In the past year alone Karlovic has beaten Roger Federer and lost to six players outside the top 100. Karlovic's one-dimensional game was on display on Sunday in the first round of the French Open. Karlovic, seeded 26th, smote serve after serve beyond the reach of his opponent, Lleyton Hewitt. His 55 aces—on the supposedly serve-blunting red clay, no less—set an ATP Tour and Grand Slam tournament record. "The angle he gets, it's just physically impossible to touch a lot of his serves," said Hewitt, who as the defending champ was served off the court by Karlovic in the first round at Wimbledon six years ago. "You just have to hang in there and wait your turn."

Hewitt did just that on Sunday. Eventually Karlovic lost the radar on his serves and, with few other weapons to deploy, lost 6--7, 6--7, 7--6, 6--4, 6--3. (He's now a record 0--11 in five-setters.) When he walked to the net and leaned down to shake Hewitt's hand, he didn't project much disappointment. Another day at the office, this one ending with a record. And perhaps he was comforted by the knowledge that Wimbledon, a server's paradise, begins in just a few weeks.

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