When the 6ft 10in Ivo Karlovic met the 6ft 5in Max Mirnyi in the third round here yesterday, something had to give. The head groundsman, Eddie Seaward, hoped it would not be the court.
Karlovic was the loser, going down 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, but even though he is leaving SW19 the memory of his astonishing first-round upset of Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian defending champions and top seed, will be writ large in the tournament's history.
Rafael Nadal will feel disappointed that he, like Karlovic, was unable to advance to the second week, when the excitement builds to a climax. But the 17-year-old from Majorca, who was beaten in straight sets yesterday, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 by Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan, played a part in expanding Spain's tennis horizons.
The Swiss Roger Federer, among the favourites for the title, went through beating Mardy Fish, of the United States, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.
Nadal was one of four Spaniards to make it to the third round, the first time that has ever happened. Surprisingly, the armada did not feature three of his country's leading players, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Alex Corretja, who all withdrew before the start of the Championships.
Nadal, 17 earlier this month, also came within one win of becoming the youngest player since Bjorn Borg to reach the fourth round of the men's singles. He was eventually overpowered by the No 12 seed, but not before providing more evidence that he is a potentially huge talent for the future.
Playing from the baseline, but showing a willingness to come to the net, he was in closer contention than the final scoreline suggests, at least after an error-strewn opening set in which he was broken twice. In the second set, Nadal seemed to have gained a measure of control when he took a 4-2 lead. But he began to show his age - and lack of experience - and lost the advantage with some rash play, which was swiftly punished by Srichaphan.
Srichaphan broke to move 5-4 ahead in the second set when the young Spaniard hit a volley into the net. Having served out for a two-set lead Srichaphan, looking increasingly dangerous after scrambling through the first two rounds in five sets, eased through the third set with some trademark powerful forehands as Nadal's resistance faltered.
"This was a great experience," said Nadal, the nephew of the former Spanish centre-back, Miguel Angel Nadal. "Unfortunately I didn't start well today and that is so important on a fast surface like grass. But I had chances at the end of the first set and when I was 4-2 up in the second. I'm disappointed, but I've proved I can play three high-level matches at a grand slam."
Srichaphan, who now faces Andy Roddick, the tournament favourite in the last 16, was impressed with his opponent. "He is going to be a top player, he has a big weapon," he said. "I'm just glad I didn't have to play him on clay because I would have no chance. But Roddick is next, he is a great player on grass and I've just got to concentrate on that next."
Mirnyi's success came with guile as well as pure power as he moved to the fourth round here for the first time in his career. Karlovic hit more aces - 26 to 7 - and was marginally faster with his serve. Both men hit 130mph aces, both had first serves averaging 118mph but Karlovic's second serve averaged 105mph to Mirnyi's 102mph. But Mirnyi held his nerve better on the big points and unsettled Karlovic by attacking at the net.
With neither player able to make an impact on the other's service game, the first set resulted in the inevitable tie-break, which Mirnyi took 7-5 thanks to a return winner on the seventh point - the only point to go against serve.
The second set seemed to be heading in the same direction until Mirnyi dropped the speed of his serve, allowing his 24-year-old opponent to get his racket on a few balls. Showing a neat touch on some of his passing shots, Karlovic secured the first break of the match in the 19th game and then served out the second set.
Mirnyi was not to be easily beaten and roared back in the third set, racing out to a 3-0 lead. But Karlovic, who served 128 aces in five matches in qualifying and the tournament proper before this, quickly regrouped and used his power to win his remaining service games. It was too little too late and the Belarussian clinched the set to take a 2-1 lead.
In the fourth-set tie-break, Mirnyi got a mini-break on the first point and broke Karlovic again on the fourth. From there the giant, ranked No 203 in the world, had no chance and handed Mirnyi the match when he netted his service return for 7-4. Mirnyi will now play the Swede Jonas Bjorkman in the fourth round.Reuse content