Zorro From Zagreb: Karlovic Chases Aces Record
Ivo Karlovic badly wants the title of all-time Aces King
If you think Ivo Karlovic is lethal with a tennis racquet in his hand, look out if he ever picks up a foil, like fellow Zagreb native, Olympic fencer Bojan Jovanovic. “He’s a pretty long guy so he wouldn’t be an easy opponent,” says Jovanovic, before taking a friendly jab at his countryman. “But there’s no serving in fencing, so I’m not sure he’d have the skill. And financially I tell him it’s better to stick with tennis.”
Jovanovic, who is training in Boston, has joined Karlovic this week at the Hall Of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, where last year ‘Dr. Ivo’ reached the final. On Monday he plays his opening match against Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko.
For now, let’s be thankful that Karlovic’s immediate goal is not fencing but rather working back towards his best Emirates ATP Ranking of 14 and to becoming just the second man to serve 10,000 career aces. Despite battling golfers’ elbow since Roland Garros, Karlovic has gorged himself on an ace fest in recent times, opening the prospect of this year breaking Goran Ivanisevic’s world record of 10,183.
In Halle, he fired 45 aces to set a new record in a best-of-three-sets match. But that was just the warmup. At Wimbledon, he pummeled 165 aces in just four matches – including 53 in the second round against Alexandr Dolgopolov – to move to within 406 aces of catching Ivanisevic. And he’s not trying to hide that he wants the record!
“Yes, it is a goal,” Karlovic says of the record attempt. “It isn’t that far ahead of me. It would be nice to do it this year, hopefully. Almost every week Goran is counting how many more I am behind him and he’s always saying that if he has to lose the record he’s happy that it will be to me. I grew up watching him and I really like his motion. If I’m able to break his record that would be unbelievable for me.”
Ask a tennis fan to name the three players this year to beat newly minted three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic and many likely could name Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. But the third? It’s Karlovic, who didn’t give the Serb a look on his serve en route to a 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-4 win in Doha in the first week of the season.
“If I am feeling good, then I don't believe anybody can read it. In Doha, Novak didn't have a break point and he is the best returner in the game. I always try to go near the line. I don’t necessarily get up there and say I want to serve and ace, just put it in the right spot near the line. Usually when I do that it’s an ace. But if a guy is reading my serve a bit then I will start going at the body to mix it up.”
That victory over Djokovic was a harbinger of Karlovic’s revival this season that has seen him build a handy 21-13 record, which includes his sixth ATP title in Delray Beach, and move to within reach of reclaiming a spot in the Top 20.
At 36, it’s better that your biggest weapon is your serve rather than your movement… it won’t deteriorate as quickly. Indeed Karlovic’s serve, statistically at least, has never been better. Karlovic leads the ATP World Tour with 783 aces this year from 33 matches at an average of almost 24 aces a match. That’s significantly up on his career average of around 19 aces per match. If he maintains his 2015 pace, he would need just 17 more matches to overtake Ivaniservic.
Physically, he maintains that he is in career-best shape. In tests earlier this year Karlovic’s sprint times over 20 metres were marginally quicker than previous years and he was bench pressing 115 kg, equal to his best-ever lifts. “I don’t feel any less capable physically and I still enjoy traveling the tour. It’s all about injuries and rankings, but if I can keep getting into the bigger tournaments it’s not impossible that I may want to keep playing when I’m 40.”
If that happens, Karlovic could set an aces mark that may not be touched for decades.
Note: 1. ATP began keeping ace statistics in 1991. Ivanisevic turned pro three years earlier in 1988. Ivanisevic recorded 10,183 aces from 895 matches from 1991, at an average of 11.38 per match. 2. ATP aces include aces served at all ATP World Tour (not Challengers) and Grand Slam matches, but not at Davis Cup.