July 14, 2024

Open Court


He’ll be 40 in February. And he has been lugging 6-foot-11 and 230 pounds around a tennis court for 20 years.

But Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic is still all over the concept. 

Karlovic became the oldest man ever to win an event on the ATP Challenger Tour Sunday when he defeated No. 1 seed Jordan Thompson of Australia 7-6 (3) 6-3 to take the inaugural Calgary Challenger.

He obliterated the old record, which had stood for nearly a decade.

Current Antwerp ATP event tournament director (Tricky) Dick Norman, a 6-foot-8 lefty from Belgium, won the Mexico City Challenger a month past his 38th birthday in 2009.

Norman was a top-10 doubles player for many years during the latter part of his career, which ended in the fall of 2013 at age 42. But he played singles on a fairly regular basis until just after his 39th birthday.

Karlovic has been a singles player all along.

Looking for the top 100

Karlovic has been been grinding it out on the NAFTA (oops, the USMCA) Challenger circuit since he lost in the second round of US Open qualifying to young American Collin Altamirano two months ago.

That one probably hurt; it was only the second time in his long career Karlovic has even played in Grand Slam qualifying.

The only other occasion was at the 2013 US Open when the Croat was returning from a right foot injury, then viral meningitis.

Karlovic won the ATP Tour event in Bogóta, Colombia in mid-July. But his rise from No. 155 into the top 90 came a week after the US Open entry deadline. So he was out of luck.

Clearly his experience in New York this summer cured him of wanting to try the qualies again.

But with a ranking of No. 137, that’s where he was headed next January in Australia.

Here’s a vintage Ivo Karlovic shot from the Australian Open. All the way back in 2008, he formed the tallest (and perhaps the most chemistry-free) doubles team ever, with John Isner. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Dr. Ivo looking for Oz main draw

Back to basics. Karlovic reached the final of the $150,000 Monterrey Challenger, then took a quick loss in Fairfield, California before getting a second wind and serving his way to the Calgary title.

Karlovic played 13 sets in five matches. Nine of them were tiebreaks (he won eight of them). An he won two of his first three rounds in third-set tiebreaks. the Croat averaged 25 aces and six double faults a match, and won 86 per cent of his first-serve points overall.

It seems the altitude in Monterrey (1,770 feet) and Calgary (3,500 feet), along with the Plexipave courts at the new Alberta Tennis Centre (similar to those at the Australian Open) agreed with him.

His opponents, on average, were 15 years younger and 8 1/2 inches shorter.

“It was a very difficult match. He was serving very well. Not as hard, but a good placement. But at the end of the match, I was able to control it,” Karlovic said. “It has been an excellent week. I enjoyed it a lot here and had a great experience. This tennis centre is unbelievable.”

The first-year event drew nearly 1,000 Calgarians for the final and over 7,000 for the week, which is tremendous work.


Almost there

When the new rankings come out on Monday, Karlovic will  have jumped nearly 30 spots in basically two tournaments, to No. 108.

That’s on the edge of making the Australian Open main draw.

Karlovic didn’t enter the Las Vegas Challenger this week. He could have gotten in with a special exempt, but he opted to rest the big ol’ bod for a week.

He’s signed up for another Challenger in Charlottesville, Va. the week after that. 

Karlovic is amongst a thick cluster of players all trying to squeeze into the main draw in Melbourne. Most of them – including Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime and rising American Michael Mmoh – are half his age. But veterans Ernests Gulbis and Pablo Andujar, both north of 30, also are fighting for spots.

It’s like the Race to London – except not. 

But guaranteed first-round money at a major is no small inducement, with the opportunity fo more.

The deadline for Australian Open entry is Dec. 3.

Tommy Robredo also grinding

36-year-old Tommy Robredo qualified at the US Open this year. His efforts on the Challenger circuit should give him another shot at it in January in Melbourne.

Another former highly-ranked player, 36-year-old Tommy Robredo, has similar but more modest goals this fall.

The Spaniard’s objective is just to make the Australian Open qualifying.

Robredo, a former No. 5, played on clay in Europe from February straight through to the US Open qualifying. He made it through all three rounds, before losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round of the main draw.

Then he went right back to the European clay before arriving in Calgary.

Robredo lost in the first round to Canadian Brayden Schnur, and will play a qualifier in the first round of Las Vegas this week.

It will be Robredo’s 24th tournament of the season. But he’s not making much progress. He began the season at No. 163, dropped as low as No. 242 in July, and should be at No. 217 on Monday.

That likely will get him into Melbourne, though.

Robredo hasn’t played the Australian Open since he lost in the second round of the 2016 edition to Milos Raonic. He has made the quarterfinals there once, and the fourth round four times. (That he lost to Roger Federer – twice – Stan Wawrinka, Andy Roddick and David Nalbandian on those occasions tell you he likes the place).

(Feature photo: Calgary Challenger/Kyle Clapham)

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