Tsonga destroyed by Karlovic's serve
Ninth seed left powerless as 6ft 10in Croat hammers 46 aces to win in four sets
Saturday 27 June 2009
It was not so much a tennis match as a shooting gallery, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the firing line. The No 9 seed was visibly shell-shocked after being on the end of 46 aces from Ivo Karlovic yesterday. Asked how he felt he had played he said, "I didn't play. He served well and that's it." The Frenchman explained: "You can't do anything against a serve like that. He's the best server I have played against."
The 6ft 10in Croat barely dropped a service point, let alone a game, in a 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 victory. He did take a while to get in to the groove. His first serve was a fault and Tsonga successfully returned the second serve. That was as good as it got for Tsonga.
He won just three of the next 23 points on Karlovic's service. Then, in the 11th game, he went 30-love up. Just as he began to dream of a crucial break Karlovic, who double-faulted only twice, delivered four aces, the latter three averaging 134mph. This was as close as Tsonga came to breaking Karlovic's serve.
Karlovic went on to take the set on a tie-break but Tsonga, satisfyingly, took the second-set tie break with an ace of his own. However, Tsonga only won three points against serve in the third set, and was broken himself in the 12th game. That was the only service break in the match and the fourth set moved inexorably to another tie-break. Karlovic unsuccessfully challenged the line call in the second point of the tie-break, but he broke in the following point after coming to the net. All over? No, the weakness of his all-round game was highlighted as he missed a simple volley on his own serve to allow Tsonga back into the match.
Cruelly, with Tsonga serving, a deflected return wrong-footed him to give Karlovic two match points. The first went adrift with a wayward backhand, but then the giant Croat served. Boom. Another ace.
"I was watching him and he was getting frustrated," said Karlovic. "All match he did not have one break point, so of course he was not happy."
Karlovic knows his strengths. When asked about compliments he had received for his tennis he said, "Only for my serve". But he added, "Some people appreciate something that is different."
Is such a serve-based game good for tennis? Is 6'10" Karlovic (eight inches taller than Tsonga, who would be a big lad in most company) the shape of the future? Such questions will be the subject of phone-ins if he goes on and beats Roger Federer, who would be his probable quarter-final opponent. Tsonga said: "with that serve he can go a lot further," but first he must beat Fernando Verdasco, a Spaniard with a clever touch around the court. Verdasco eased past his fellow Spaniard, Albert Montanes in four sets yesterday, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6.
It proved easier than the previous round, when the world No 8 beat Belgian Kristof Vliegen in a tight four-set match that featured three tie-breaks, but Verdasco will surely have to take a better percentage of his chances against Karlovic after converting only three of nine break-points against Montanes. Verdasco, nevertheless, is one of the game's most improved players this year. He beat Andy Murray on his way to the semi-finals of the Australian Open, where he lost to Rafael Nadal after a titanic five-hour contest.
Now a very different type of opponent awaits. Once or twice a generation a player comes along with a serve and not much else, but sometimes that serve is enough. Think Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion and Roscoe Tanner, the runner-up in 1979. Maybe Karlovic is this generation's exponent.
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