Australian Open 2019: Kei Nishikori defeats Ivo Karlovic in spectacular five-setter as Milos Raonic knocks out Stan Wawrinka

Karlovic, the oldest man in the draw at 39 years and 333 days, was cheered off the cour after almost overturning a two-set deficit in the second round

Paul Newman
Thursday 17 January 2019 08:41
Rafael Nadal catches reporter asleep in his Australian Open press conference

Kei Nishikori was the winner but it was Ivo Karlovic who received most of the plaudits at the end of their second-round match here at the Australian Open on Thursday.

Karlovic, who will be 40 next month and breaks age-related record with almost every match he plays, came close to pulling off a remarkable victory in Margaret Court Arena before Nishikori won 6-3, 7-6, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 after more than three and three-quarter hours.

Having fought his way back after losing the first two sets, Karlovic had three virtual match points when Nishikori served at 4-4 and 0-40 in the final set, but the 29-year-old Japanese held firm and went on to win the deciding tie-break 10-7.

Asked after the match how much longer he intended to carry on playing, Karlovic said: “If it’s like this, another eight or nine years.” The journalists talking to the world No 73 broke into laughter, but he insisted: “I’m not being funny.”

Karlovic added: “I feel OK. It was a good match. I was fighting, even though I was down two sets to love. I believed that I could come back and in the end I was really close.”

At the age of 39 years and 333 days Karlovic was the oldest man in the main draw here. By winning his first-round match against Hubert Hurkacz, a man 18 years his junior, Karlovic became the oldest winner of a men’s singles match here since 44-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1978. If he had beaten Nishikori, he would have equalled Rosewall’s achievement of reaching the third round that year.

The win over Hurkacz also made Karlovic the oldest men’s singles winner at any Grand Slam tournament since 40-year-old Jimmy Connors beat Jaime Oncins in the first round of the US Open in 1992.

Nishikori represented a step up in class for Karlovic, though the world No 9 had had to come back from two sets down to beat Kamil Majchrzak, a qualifier, in the first round.

While there is more to Karlovic’s game than his big serves – he volleys well and hits stylish sliced backhands – it is his thunderbolt serves that remain the key to his success.

One of the game’s best returners, Nishikori handled the 6ft 11 Croatian’s serve well in the first two sets, but his opponent then started to get into his stride. Karlovic took the third and fourth sets with single breaks of serve and served out for the fourth with the perfect game, winning it with four successive first-serve aces.

Ivo Karlovic almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament thus far

There were no breaks of serve in the fifth set, which went to one of the new first-to-10-points tie-breaks. Karlovic led 7-6 in the tie-break with his own serve to come, but a missed volley proved crucial as Nishikori went on to win the match by winning the last four points.

“He could have won the match, especially in the fifth set,” Nishikori said afterwards. “It was a really tough match. It could have gone either way. The tie-break could have gone his way too.I don't know how I managed to save a couple of break points, but I was very happy to win today.”

Karlovic hit 59 aces in the match, a tally which he described as “OK”. He said afterwards that after two years in which he had been hitting more double faults – perhaps as a consequence of a series of injuries – he was serving well again.

“When you have a lot of injuries you don’t even notice but your motion kind of changes,” Karlovic said. “I didn’t know why I was doing a lot of double faults and I was losing matches because of them. Already after last year’s US Open I began to work harder on my serve.”

Nishikori said facing Karlovic’s serve was never easy. He added: “I felt like in the first couple of sets I was returning really well. I was guessing right and hitting well. But after the third set I think he mixed it up really well. Even after a few sets he was still serving really well. He was hitting a lot of aces.”

Milos Raonic defeated Stan Wawrinka

Karlovic said he was proud of the age records he is setting. “It’s unbelievable. I remember when I was maybe 24 I was thinking that if I could play until 30 it would be unbelievable. Now I’m almost 40. It’s incredible.”

Asked about the reason for his enduring success, Karlovic said: “My secret is Croatian food and good genes.”

Milos Raonic, another of the game’s big servers, is also through to the third round after beating Stan Wawrinka, a former champion here, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6. The 28-year-old Canadian repeatedly served his way out of trouble. Wawrinka won the first tie-break 7-4 and had chances in the next three before Raonic won them 8-6, 13-11 and 7-5.

Fabio Fognini, the No 12 seed, beat Leonardo Mayer 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 to earn a third-round meeting with Pablo Carreno-Busta, who Ilya Ivashka, Belarus 6-2, 6-3, 7-6.

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