Karlovic smashes into second round
WIMBLEDON, England -- A year ago Ivo Karlovic, the impossibly long Croatian qualifier, stunned Lleyton Hewitt in the first round at the All England Club. It was Karlovic's first Grand Slam match and, impossibly, it was the first time a top-seeded, defending champion lost here.
On Monday, history predictably repeated itself.
In another David-and-Goliath conquest, Karlovic took out No. 13 seed Paradorn Srichaphan 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. It's just that this David stands 6-foot-10.
"It's kind of difficult to play this guy, especially on grass," Srichaphan noted. "He serves big -- not big-big like Andy Roddick -- just the direction is coming, it's just from very high. It's like you sitting and hitting from the service line.
"His game is not like other player[s']."
And Srichaphan was no easy mark. He won the Nottingham tournament Saturday, his first grass tournament victory. Thailand's best player was 22-14 in matches this year, a sporty 7-1 on grass. Success at Nottingham, Srichaphan said, hurt his chances at Wimbledon.
"Just winning the tournament and one day off, practicing a little bit, like half an hour, just loosening my body up and playing today's first round," Srichaphan said, "is kind of difficult."
Contrast this with Karlovic's mundane season. He lost seven of his first eight matches, beating only Mardy Fish in the first round at the Australian Open. He won two matches for the first time in a tournament at Rome in May and repeated the feat two weeks ago at Queen's Club.
As Srichaphan pointed out, Karlovic's height makes his serve difficult to see, much less return. He managed to break the Croatian's serve three times in the first set, but then went 0-for-3 sets.
Clearly, Karlovic was happy. It was hard to know, however, exactly what was on his racing mind. He has difficulty articulating his thoughts, suffering from a debilitating stammer. This does not prevent him from trying.
"It's the biggest tournament," he said. "If I don't play well here, I mean, I ain't going to play anywhere good."
Last year, he was ranked No. 203 in the world when he beat Hewitt. Currently, Karlovic is the No. 62-ranked player on the ATP Tour. That ranking has allowed him to escape the Challenger circuit and play in the big leagues.
"Every week, I've been playing with the best players in the world," Karlovic said. "So I learned a few things. I improve for sure."
Like his idol, Goran Ivanisevic, Karlovic is a big supporter of the Croatian soccer team, which was heading into action against England a few hours after his match.
Would he be watching?
"Yes," Karlovic said, flashing his first smile. "I'll be happy if Croatia wins -- even if it's one-love."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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