Hewitt stunned by Karlovic's gigantic game

Australian becomes only second defending men's champion to lose in first round at Wimbledon as 6ft 10in qualifier dismisses top seed
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The cliche about letting the racket do the talking rang true on the Centre Court and in the interview room yesterday after one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Championships.

Lleyton Hewitt became only the second defending men's singles champion and top seed ever to lose in the first round, Manuel Santana, of Spain, having been eliminated by the American Charlie Pasarell in his opening match in 1967, the year before the start of the professional era.

The man who separated Hewitt from his title yesterday, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4, was Ivo Karlovic, a 6ft 10in Croatian qualifier, ranked No 203 in the world, who was competing in his first match in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament.

Karlovic has a stammer, which becomes more pronounced in the company of strangers, such as tennis writers from around the world, whether he is speaking in Croatian or English. The 24-year-old from Zagreb took a long time to say he was overwhelmed by the result and the crowd's response on the biggest day of his tennis career, although his beaming face was evidence enough

"Mr Ivanisevic," who is helping Karlovic with his tennis and has also arranged for him to visit a speech therapist, telephoned him at the All England Club to add his congratulations. "He was always my idol and I always hold him as a god," Karlovic said, eyes shining. "Back home, for sure, this is going to be a big story."

Karlovic's victory, and Hewitt's defeat, is a big story everywhere. The 22-year-old Australian arrived at Wimbledon having already lost his world No 1 ranking to Andre Agassi and waved goodbye to the Stella Artois title he had held for three years. Most pertinently of all, he also said farewell to his coach, Jason Stoltenberg, who, like Darren Cahill before him, had decided that he needed to move on.

On top of that came confirmation that Hewitt had filed a $1.5m (£935,000) lawsuit against the ATP Tour, who had fined him for failing to do a television interview at an American tournament last year.

Had he been distracted by everything that was going on in the background? "No, not at all," he said, adding that he had done nothing different in preparing for the tournament. "I came over after Kim [Clijsters, his partner] played her final at the French. Last year I probably came over a little bit earlier. The year before that, though, I came over the same time. Kim had made the final of the French. I don't think that's got a whole heap to do with it."

Karlovic arrived in SW19 after qualifying at Roehampton by beating Stefano Pescosolido, of Italy, who happened to be the previously lowest-ranked player to beat Hewitt (No 198 at a Challenger tournament in 1998). Prior to qualifying for Wimbledon, Karlovic had qualified for the Stella Artois Championships after losing to Alex Bogdanovic, the Belgrade-born British competitor, in the quarter-finals of the Surbiton Challenger.

No wonder Karlovic was wide-eyed yesterday when he stepped on the most famous court in the world. It was as if he was looking to see if the court was the same dimensions as the ones he is accustomed to. "I was completely scared at first," he admitted.

With the tallest player in the world almost shaking on the other side of the net, Hewitt settled into his nimble stride and won the opening set after only 19 minutes. It seemed that Hewitt would continue to control the match, but he found that the giant rabbit had begun to morph into a tennis monster, and was giving as good, and sometimes better, than he got.

Hewitt had cause to rue missed opportunities. "I could easily have been 6-1, 4-0 up," he said. Instead, Karlovic was able to serve his way out of trouble from 15-40 in the second game in the second set and from 0-40 in the fourth game, and went on to win a tie-break, 7-5.

"I gave him those chances," Hewitt said, "and, to his credit, he picked up and his whole game got a lot better. He did not make many easy mistakes. He picked up a lot better on half-volleys and low volleys than he did early in the match, and pretty much cut out his double-faults, as well."

That is not to say that all was over for Hewitt after the disappointment of the second set. "I had a break point early in the third set and in the fourth set, as well," he said. "He hit a couple of aces. There wasn't a whole heap I could do at that stage."

Karlovic admitted that he was "a little bit lucky" in the second set. "But that's life, that's tennis," he added. Moreover, after his weak-kneed start to the match, he began to feel he had a chance."I began to believe I could win in the third set," he admitted.

Always tall, Karlovic decided to switch from basketball to tennis when he was 11 years old. His parents, Vlado and Gordana, are both average height, he said, adding with smile, "Maybe I don't know who is tall. Postman, maybe."

The reaction to Karlovic's win spread round the grounds. Andy Roddick was in the middle of a post-match interview after his first-round win against the Italian Davide Sanguinetti when the result came through. "If you're playing a guy who's serving out of a tree, it's kind of tough to break consistently," the American fifth seed said. "Then you play maybe one or two bad games and that's the match. Normally Lleyton's great at getting through those tough matches, but, every once in a while, it's going to catch you."

Roger Federer, the Swiss fourth seed, who lost in the first round last year Mario Ancic, of Croatia, did not fall into any traps yesterday. "I felt good today," Federer said after defeating Hyung-Taik Lee, of Korea, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6. "I saw what happened to Lleyton before I walked on court. I know how I felt last year."


Upsets in Wimbledon men's matches to rival Lleyton Hewitt's defeat by Ivo Karlovic yesterday

Charlie Pasarell v Manuel Santana (1967)
In 1969, the big-hitting American Pasarell took five hours and 12 minutes to lose against the legendary Pancho Gonzales - the longest match in the history of the Championships. Gonzales survived seven match-points to win 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. But Pasarell had already made his mark. Two years earlier, he opened the Championships as the ritual sacrifice against title-holder and No 1 seed Manuel Santana of Spain. Santana, a clay-court expert with the brilliance to win on grass too, was dismissed 10-8, 6-3, 2-6, 8-6.

Roger Taylor v Rod Laver (1970)
The only reason why Laver's name is not at the top of the all-time list of Grand Slam tournament winners is that he was barred from them at the height of his powers after turning professional in 1963. The open era brought more titles, and when he faced Britain's Roger Taylor in the fourth round in 1970 he had won 31 consecutive matches and was favourite to complete a Wimbledon hat-trick. Taylor, advised by the press that he may as well stay at home, overwhelmed the champion 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.

Peter Doohan v Boris Becker (1987)
"Boom Boom Boris" burst on to the scene with incandescent energy as Wimbledon's youngest champion at the age of 17 in 1985. His flame burned with an intense heat for over a decade. He won the title again in 1986 and arrived at the 1987 Championships as favourite. He will not have had a sleepless night knowing Peter Doohan was waiting for him in the second round. But the unremarkable Australian played the match of his life to win 7-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Nick Brown v Goran Ivanisevic (1991)
Charismatic Croatian Goran Ivanisevic was one year away from reaching his first Wimbledon final, in which he lost a five-setter to Andre Agassi, when he came up against the unheralded Briton Nick Brown in the second round of the 1991 tournament. Brown, a 29-year-old who had quit the game for five years and was two years into his comeback, was the lowest ranked player in the tournament at number 591. But he won 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. .

George Bastl v Pete Sampras (2002)
Sampras returned to his favourite hunting ground in 2002 without a tournament win in two years and carrying an injury. He was seeded as low as six and things did not look rosy. However, he looked in little trouble as he overcame Martin Lee 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, and he was expected to dispatch the 145-ranked lucky loser Bastl with similar efficiency. But Sampras' luck ran out on Court No 2 as he wearily went down 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4.



Lleyton Hewitt, the defending champion and No 1 seed, loses to Ivo Karlovic, a Croatian qualifier playing in his first Grand Slam match

Britain's Lee Childs bridges a gap of 452 places in the world rankings to knock out Nikolay Davydenko, the No 33 seed

Greg Rusedski beats Alexander Waske and will now meet Andy Roddick, who sweeps aside Davide Sanguinetti

Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport and Daniela Hantuchova all progress without losing a set