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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Updated: October 23, 11:40 AM ET
Ivo's evolving game


Ivo Karlovic is the tallest player on tour at 6-foot-10, so it's no surprise that he's head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to serving. But by how much? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Last week, he became the fourth player to hit more than 1,000 aces in a season since the ATP began recording the stat 17 years ago.

That's no big surprise in itself. Dr. Ivo's monster serve is the stuff of tennis legend, well on par with the deliveries belonging to the rest of the 1,000 aces club -- Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, and the grand master of them all, fellow Croat Goran Ivanisevic.

But here's the remarkable part -- Karlovic posted those aces over the course of just 50 matches. Ivanisevic played 96 the year he set a tour record with 1,477.

To put that in perspective, if Karlovic had played as many matches this season as Ivanisevic did in 1996, he'd have 1,937 aces -- and we'd be talking about a potential 2,000 club!

1,000 Aces In A Season
Year Player Aces Avg. Per Match
2007 Ivo Karlovic 1,019* 20.4*
2004 Andy Roddick 1,019 12.5
1998 Goran Ivanisevic 1,065 15.0
1997 Goran Ivanisevic 1,048 14.8
1996 Goran Ivanisevic 1,477 15.4
1994 Goran Ivanisevic 1,169 13.8
1993 Pete Sampras 1,011 10.8

* Through Oct. 5
(Information courtesy ATPtennis.com)

The rest of his game and his achievements may pale in comparison with Sampras, Roddick and Ivanisevic, but the one-shot wonder is making a strong statistical case for himself as the owner of the sport's most fearsome first strike. His 20 aces per match runs well ahead of the 10-to-15 range posted by the other three during their landmark serving years. It's a record broken only by the 21.1 aces Karlovic averaged over 40 matches in 2004.

And what's more, Karlovic has also played nine matches in challengers this year. Because results from those minor league tournaments don't count in the official stats, that should probably be about 180 more aces right there (or perhaps more -- five of those challenger matches were on the slick grass of Surbiton).

He won't have to worry about challengers next year, having just broken into the top 25 after starting the year barely inside the top 100. It's a big milestone for a player who had been expected to play out his career largely as a freak sideshow at various tournament stops around the world.

But Karlovic kept plugging away, adding variety to his serve, turning his forehand into a respectable shot and volleying with impressive touch off his enormous wingspan. It paid off this year when he won his first career title at Houston -- on clay, of all places.

Add that to another title on grass in Nottingham, a final indoors in San Jose and three semifinals on hard courts, and he turns out to have one of the more balanced surface records on tour this year.

All these delightful numerical oddities mean he's been one of the season's more interesting players to follow.

Karlovic's first entrance on the world stage was as big as he is -- an upset of defending champ Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2003. Shy and hampered with a stutter, he struggled more during the post-match interviews than he had on court.

After that huge beginning, his results were fairly pedestrian. That was at least partly due to injuries, but some wondered if his desire for big wins was blunted by dread of the publicity that would follow. Was winning a tournament worth having to make the victor's speech afterwards?

We found out this year when the mike beckoned after the San Jose and Houston finals. Karlovic's solution? Get an official to make the speech for him.

He's also become more comfortable dealing with the media attention attracted by his combination of height and success. Needless to say, oddball queries come with the territory.

Everyone gets struck by a sudden burning question now and again, and his press conference after reaching the San Jose final was one of those moments. "Ivo," I said, "what's your second-best shot?"

He paused, then cocked an eyebrow and replied, "I don't know. Because after my serve I don't need anything."

The room erupted, and Karlovic beamed. He may never be the Goran Ivanisevic of press conferences, but it's a start.

The two compatriots are closer in their serving abilities, but Karlovic may never quite match Ivanisevic in raw aces either -- he turns 29 next year and dodgy knees will make it tough to replicate the results he achieved this season. But when it comes to racking up unreturnables at a record pace, he's already raised the bar significantly.

And a challenger could already be on the horizon. 6-foot-9 rookie John Isner is averaging 19.6 aces a match in the dozen or so he's played since turning pro this summer.