Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Karlovic wins thriller; Blake, Querrey, Sock advance

   At 6-foot-10, Ivo Karlovic is known mostly for his booming serve.
   Two years ago, the Croat set a Davis Cup record with 78 aces only to lose to Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 16-14 in the fifth set in a match lasting 5 hours, 59 minutes. In March, Karlovic hit a 156-mph serve in a Davis Cup match against Germany to break Andy Roddick's record by 1 mph.
   But there's more to Karlovic's game than his serve, as he showed Tuesday in the Rely Aid Natomas Racquet Club Challenger in Sacramento.
   The oldest player in the singles draw at 32 years, 7 months and the tallest ever in the top 100 on the ATP World Tour, the No. 2 seed used his poise under intense pressure, underrated groundstrokes and -- yes -- serve to pull out a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8) victory over dogged Martin Fischer of Austria in the first round of the $100,000 tournament.
   Karlovic overcame a 4-1 deficit (two minibreaks) in the tiebreaker and later saved two match points against the 5-11 Fischer, who displayed an outstanding return of serve in the first career meeting between the players.
   On the first match point, Fischer ripped what appeared to be a winning return of Karlovic's first serve to the corner. Karlovic not only reached the ball, he pounded a cross-court backhand. The 25-year-old Fischer -- who improved his year-end ranking every year from 2004 through 2010 but has fallen from No. 133 to No. 185 this year -- then netted an ill-advised backhand drop shot for 6-6.
   On the second match point, Karlovic followed a strong first serve with a forehand putaway volley for 8-8. A service winner gave him his second match point, and Fischer hit a backhand long to end the 2-hour, 7-minute match.
   Karlovic converted his last eight first serves in the tiebreaker, including three aces and one service winner, after missing his opening one. He finished with 22 aces to Fischer's three.
   Karlovic won't out-rally many players, but he has surprisingly good mobility for someone so tall and powerful, reliable groundstrokes.
   "If you look at my serve, of course my other strokes look worse," said Karlovic, a classic gentle giant off the court. "But they're not as bad as people think. That's mostly the perspective of people who aren't pro tennis players. Pro tennis players know it's not only the serve."
   The past, present and future of American men's tennis also advanced.
   Top-seeded James Blake, 31, defeated Amer Delic of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-4, 7-5. It was the second straight year that Delic, the 2003 NCAA singles champion from Illinois and 2006 doubles runner-up in Sacramento, faced the No. 1 seed in the first round of the tournament. He fell to Tobias Kamke of Germany 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 last year.
   Third-seeded Sam Querrey, who will turn 24 Friday, outlasted Laurynas Grigelis, a 20-year-old Lithuanian who won the $100,000 Aptos Challenger in July, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
   "I can see how he won Aptos," said Querrey, a San Francisco native who is playing in his second tournament since undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from his right (playing) elbow in June. "He has an unbelievable backhand."
   And Jack Sock, a 19-year-old wild card who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin last month, ousted No. 8 seed James Ward of Great Britain 6-3, 7-6 (3).
   The only other seed to lose Tuesday was No. 5 Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian who fell to the Netherlands' Thiemo de Bakker, the 2006 Wimbledon junior boys champion, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-3.
   Roman Borvanov of Moldova ended the winning streak of qualifier Steve Johnson, the reigning NCAA singles champion from USC, at 13 matches with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
   Karlovic was playing his first match since reaching the third round of the U.S. Open one month ago. His Jamaican wife, Alsi, gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Jada, on Sept. 15 in Miami, where the family lives.
   "I didn't practice a lot, and I knew (Fischer) can play good," Karlovic said. "I was struggling a lot, but in the end, I played good."
   Karlovic enjoyed considerable success before undergoing surgery in July 2010 to remove part of a bone impinging his left Achilles' tendon and missing the last half of the year.
   He helped Croatia win its only championship in Davis Cup history in 2005, reached the 2007 SAP Open final in San Jose before losing to Andy Murray 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (2), climbed to a career-high No. 14 in 2008 and advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2009.
  Oh, and he led all players in aces from 2007 through 2009.
  With Karlovic, who has fallen to No. 76, it always comes back to the serve.
   Natomas notes -- Give Querrey credit for looking on the bright side.
   Regarding his string of physical problems -- falling through a glass table two years ago at a tournament in Bangkok, his elbow surgery and his subsequent umbilical infection -- he said, "At least I'm meeting my insurance deductible." ...
   After the first round, Querrey is the only American left in the bottom half of the singles draw. Tim Smyczek, the only other one when the tournament started, lost to qualifier Pierre-Ludovic Duclos 6-2, 7-5. Four Americans remain in the top half: Blake, Sock, fourth-seeded Bobby Reynolds and Alex Kuznetsov. ...
    In a matchup of former Loomis Futures champions, Victor Estrella of the Dominican Republic beat qualifier Michael Venus of New Zealand 6-2, 6-4. Estrella, only 5-8, will meet his doubles partner, Karlovic, in the second round. ...
   Trivia question: Who was de Bakker's female counterpart as Wimbledon junior champion five years ago? Answer: Caroline Wozniacki, now the top-ranked woman in the world. De Bakker is No. 207. ...
   Izak Van der Merwe, the defending champion in doubles with fellow South African Rik de Voest, and Treat Conrad Huey of the Philippines lost to Australians Carsten Ball and Chris Guccione 2-6, 7-6 (6), 10-4 tiebreak Monday in the opening round. De Voest is playing on the ATP World tour in Beijing this week.   
  ATP World Tour -- Dmitry Tursunov, a Moscow native living in Folsom, upset sixth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-5 in the first round of the $1,214,500 Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo. Tipsarevic, who reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals last month, won his first ATP World Tour title last week in the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.
   Former Stanford All-Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, seeded first, beat Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic and Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of the $2.1 million China Open in Beijing. 
   WTA tour -- Raquel Kops-Jones, a former Cal All-American from Fresno, and Abigail Spears of San Diego reached the doubles quarterfinals in the China Open with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over sixth-seeded Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic.
   ITF Women's Circuit -- Yasmin Schnack of Elk Grove and Amanda Fink defeated Madison Brengle and Gail Brodsky 6-2, 6-3 in an All-American match in the first round of doubles at the $50,000 Women's Pro Tennis Classic in Kansas City, Mo.
   In another All-American match, Maria Sanchez of Modesto and Whitney Jones lost to fourth-seeded Alexandra Mueller and Asia Muhammed 6-2, 6-2.

At Natomas Racquet Club
First-round singles
   James Blake (1), United States, def. Amer Delic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6-4, 7-5. Ivo Karlovic (2), Croatia, def. Martin Fischer, Austria, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8). Sam Querrey (3), United States, def. Laurynas Grigelis, Lithuania,  6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2. Thiemo de Bakker, Netherlands, def. Vasek Pospisil (5), Canada, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-3. Izak Van der Merwe (6), South Africa, def. Blake Strode, United States, 6-3, 6-4. Bjorn Phau (7), Germany, def. Robert Farah, Colombia, 6-1, 6-4. Jack Sock, United States, def. James Ward (8), Great Britain,  6-3, 7-6 (3). Chris Guccione, Australia, def. Juan Sebastian Cabal, Colombia, 6-3, 6-4. Roman Borvanov, Moldova, def. Steve Johnson, United States, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Frederik Nielsen, Denmark, def. Nick Monroe, United States, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. Alex Kuznetsov, United States, def. Simon Greul, Germany, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Uladzimir Ignatik, Belarus, def. Fritz Wolmarans, South Africa, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Denis Gremelmayr, Germany, def. Jamie Baker, Great Britain, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, Canada, def. Tim Smyczek, United States, 6-2, 7-5. Victor Estrella, Dominican Republic, def. Michael Venus, New Zealand, 6-2, 6-4.
Final-round doubles qualifying
   Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, Canada, and Adam Hubble, Australia, def. Laurynas Grigelis, Lithuania, and Uladzimir Ignatik, Belarus, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 12-10 tiebreak.
Wednesday's schedule
Center Court
(Beginning at 10 a.m.)
   Reynolds (4) vs. Nielsen, Borvanov vs. Sock, Kuznetsov vs. Van der Merwe (6), Kerr and Martin (4) vs. Hossain and Martinez not before 3 p.m., Blake (1) vs. Guccione.
Court 1
(Beginning at 11 a.m.)
   Ratiwatana and Ratiwatana vs. Grigelis and Ignatik, Cabal and Farah (1) vs. Fruttero and Klaasen, Pospisil and Reynolds vs. Johnson and Querrey, Duclos and Hubble vs. Nielsen and Parrott, Estrella and Karlovic vs. Monroe and Sock.

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