Wednesday, October 3, 2012

World's fastest server downplays his feat

Samuel Groth of Australia blasts a serve Tuesday
in the $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Challenger
in Sacramento. He set the record with a 163.4-mph
(263-kph) serve in May. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ivo Karlovic might want to work on that cream-puff serve of his.
   Sure, the 6-foot-10 Croat set the record with a 156-mph (251-kph) effort in a Davis Cup match 18 months ago. But Samuel Groth of Australia shattered it with a 163.4-mph (263-kph) missile in a Challenger tournament in Busan, South Korea, in May.
   Groth also pounded serves clocked at 158.9 mph (255.7 kph) and 157.5 mph (253.5 kph) in the second-round match but lost 6-4, 6-3 to Belarus' Uladzimir Ignatik.
   Karlovic is not playing in this week's $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Challenger after winning last year's title. Nor is Ignatik, a 2011 quarterfinalist. But Groth is, for the first time.  
   Groth's feat has made him something of a celebrity in tennis circles. He was featured in a New York Times story in June during Wimbledon, although he was not ranked high enough to play there, on the questionable accuracy of serve speeds because different systems are used around the world. The article noted, however, that the company used in Busan, FlightScope, is one of the most prominent in the field.  
   Groth stands by the record but downplays it.
   "I guess people write a lot about it," he said Tuesday after losing to fifth-seeded Matteo Viola of Italy 6-2, 6-3 in the first round at the Natomas Racquet Club. "For me, the focus is still on trying to get my ranking up and playing tennis. One serve doesn't make a career or get you inside the top 100. It draws attention, and it's good for promoting yourself, I guess, but in terms of getting where I want to be, I've got to play a lot better tennis than I did today, that's for sure."
   Groth remains alive in doubles, though, with countryman Chris Guccione. They reached the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-4 victory Wednesday over fourth-seeded Andrei Daescu of Romania and Adam Hubble of Australia.
   Guccione, a 6-foot-7 (2.0-meter) left-hander with a formidable serve of his own, won last year's title with American-born Aussie Carsten Ball. The longtime partners split up at the end of last year, though, and Ball did not return to Sacramento.
   Hubble said Groth's serve is the toughest he has faced "in terms of pure pace coming at you. ... Sometimes you can get lucky and hit it back for a winner. Some of the other guys who spin it are equally tricky because the ball isn't in the hitting zone."
   Hubble, 26, and Groth, who will turn 25 on Oct. 19, are both from Melbourne. They have known each other for 10 years. Groth and Andrew Kennaugh of Great Britain reached the Wimbledon boys doubles final in 2005.
   "(Groth) has always had a big serve," Hubble said. "It was always in the cards that he was going to set the fastest serve in the world eventually. It was a just a matter of time until he got on a court that had a radar gun clocking him."
   At 6-foot-4 (1.94 meters) and 210 pounds (95.3 kilograms), Groth looks more like a linebacker or rugby competitor than tennis player. In fact, he played Australian rules football last year after recovering from shoulder surgery. He has blond, spiked hair and wears an elaborate tattoo on his upper left arm.
   Groth said he is separated from women's pro Jarmila Gajdosova but would not confirm numerous reports that they are divorced. Gajdosova has tumbled from a career-high No. 25 in the world in May 2011 to No. 149. 
   Groth's service motion is similar to that of another powerful server, recently retired Andy Roddick. Groth has a low ball toss and whips his right arm in a seemingly effortless motion as the ball explodes off his racket.
   "I'm a big guy," reasoned Groth, who has improved his singles ranking from No. 786 at the beginning of the year to No. 237. "I've got a loose arm. I think you'll find a lot of the big servers can throw a ball far. I think it's quite a natural sort of thing. I've tampered with my legs on my serve, but I've never really touched my throwing motion."
   Groth trailed 3-5, 30-0 in the first set when he hammered his record-setting serve down the middle with the aid of a light wind. Ignatik barely moved, and a display registered the eye-popping speed.
   "I knew when I turned around," Groth recalled. "I hit an ace. I was down a break and a bit frustrated and had new balls. I hit it and heard a few people murmuring. My first reaction was 'Wow.' My second reaction was, What am I going to do on the next point?
   "At the time, I didn't know how accurate the radar was, as well. When I came off the court and spoke to the guy from the company, that was my first question. He said he was going to have to go through all the data.
   "I hit that serve great, but I'm down a break. I have to win the next point. I'm not stepping up to the line every point going, Let's try to break a record. It's, How am I going to win this point?"  
   Hubble played doubles with Groth that week — they lost in the first round to Rik de Voest and soon-to-be Wimbledon men's doubles champion Frederik Nielsen — and watched some of his partner's match against Ignatik but missed the record-setting serve.
   "He was definitely hitting big serves throughout the match," Hubble said. "A few people questioned whether it was actually that speed. I think, sitting there, it definitely was, judging by the rest of the match."
   Groth topped out at a mere 140 mph (225.3 kph) against Viola in the Natomas Challenger. 
   "I made (39) percent of first serves today," Groth lamented. "Just by that stat alone, you can tell my serve wasn't on at all. When you're making one in five serves in the first set, I don't think it's a day when you're going to come out and (hit) your best serves.
   "This is the worst I've served this year by far. I think I was around 50 percent in the second set (actually 57 percent). I tried to take a little off it to make some."
   That was fine with Viola.
   "Maybe he wasn't so confident with his serve, so better for me," he said with a chuckle.
   Wednesday's singles — Luca Vanni of Italy defeated American Alex Kuznetsov, who reached the semifinals of the Sacramento Challenger in 2006 and last year, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.
   Americans Bobby Reynolds, 30, and Tennys Sandgren, 21, joined Vanni in the quarterfinals with straight-set victories. Reynolds also was a quarterfinalist last year at Natomas.

SEPT. 29 - OCT. 7, 2012


Second-round singles
T Sandgren (USA) d M Reid (AUS) 64 63
M Zverev (GER) d I Van der Merwe (RSA) 76 (5) 63
B Reynolds (USA) d A El Mihdawy (USA) 63 61
L Vanni (ITA) d A Kuznetsov (USA) 64 64
First-round doubles
D Courtney  (USA) / P Raja (IND) d D Kudla  (USA) / T Smyczek (USA) 61 67(5) 13-11
B Reynolds (USA) / I Van der Merwe (RSA) d [Q] J Dadamo (USA) / B Klahn (USA) 63 26 10-8 
Doubles quarterfinals
S Groth (AUS) / C Guccione (AUS) d [4] A Daescu (ROM) / A Hubble (AUS) 61 64
STADIUM start 11:00 am
[1] J Kerr (AUS) / A Siljestrom (SWE) vs W Odesnik (USA) / L Vanni (ITA)
R Farah (COL) vs [5] M Viola (ITA)
[3] B Reynolds (USA) / I Van der Merwe (RSA) or [Q] J Dadamo (USA) / B Klahn (USA) vs A Kuznetsov (USA) / M Zverev (GER)

Not Before 4:00 PM
R De Voest (RSA) vs [2] [WC] J Blake (USA)

COURT 1 start 11:00 am
[Q] G Jones (AUS) vs [WC] B Klahn (USA)
[WC] D Kosakowski (USA) vs M McClune (USA)
A Courtney (USA) / P Raja (IND) vs D Britton (USA) / A Krajicek (USA)

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