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Maple Syrup on Pizza? Tsitsipas Calls Double Fault!

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2020

Maple Syrup on Pizza? Tsitsipas Calls Double Fault!

Tsitsipas and Osaka answer some tough questions on Tennis United

On a recent episode of Tennis United, co-host Vasek Pospisil revealed that he enjoys maple syrup on his pizza crust. Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas was firm in his disagreement.

“That’s a double fault!” 

Tsitsipas and WTA star Naomi Osaka answered a series of questions during the segment, including: Does pineapple belong on pizza?

“No!” Osaka quickly said.

“I personally think it’s a no-no,” Tsitsipas added.

“I’m going to disagree. I’m going to say yes and the only reason I think yes is because people love it,” Pospisil said.

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Tsitsipas and Osaka answered various questions throughout the segment, including: If you’re bored, are you boring? If your food is bad at a restaurant, would you say something? What are you most likely to stay up all night thinking about?

“It’s all about tennis,” Tsitsipas said. “Just thinking about tennis. If I lose that day, I might stay up. I’ve had nights where I stayed up all night and I was just overthinking and processing what happened out there.”

Tsitsipas also explained why something Osaka tweeted in May — “I’m done being shy” — inspired him.

“I get it, and I saw a lot of realism and pragmatism to that. I thought to myself, ‘That’s really pure. That’s real,’” Tsitsipas said. “I would like to retweet it for the world to see because coming out of your shell and expressing yourself and just sharing your ideas and whatever you feel in that given moment, I found it quite inspiring, to be honest.”

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Marcus Willis: From Teaching Pro To Centre Court

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2020

Marcus Willis: From Teaching Pro To Centre Court

Unknown Brit earned the right to face Federer at 2016 Wimbledon

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks, will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam.

At the start of June 2016, Marcus Willis was giving tennis lessons at the Warwick Boat Club in Great Britain for £30 an hour. Four weeks later, he found himself facing Roger Federer in a second-round clash on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

”I’ve had to cancel a few lessons,” Willis joked. “Everyone’s been really understanding and just said, ‘Don’t be silly. Get on with it and good luck.’”

The 25-year-old was a former Top 15 player in the ITF junior rankings, but a lack of discipline prevented him from making inroads at the pro level. After Willis brought a candy bar and soda on court during one of his ATP Challenger Tour matches, commentator Mike Cation nicknamed him Cartman, a reference to the rotund character on “South Park”.

When Willis finally found the motivation to maximise his potential, a series of injuries limited him to one tournament in the first five months of 2016 as his FedEx ATP Ranking dropped to No. 772. He continued to train in the morning and taught clinics in the afternoon, but considered ending his playing career to take a coaching job in Philadelphia. 

But after a last-minute withdrawal allowed him to sneak into the pre-qualifying draw for Wimbledon, the Brit seized his opportunity and produced the best tennis of his career. He won three matches to earn a wild card into the qualifying draw, then earned another three victories to qualify for his maiden Grand Slam main draw.

Willis took an immediate liking to the attention and local support as his unlikely story generated headlines. In his debut tour-level match, he stunned World No. 54 Ricardas Berankis in straight-sets to set up an improbable clash with Federer, rushing into a courtside pile of eager friends and family.

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”I was overweight. I was [drinking] pints. I was just a loser. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought that I’m better than this,” Willis said after the win. “I’ve been behind the scenes working very hard… Ridiculous times in the morning. Ran myself into the ground, but it’s worth it now.”

Even Federer became a fan and called the unlikely run “one of the best stories in a long time in our sport.” Although the Swiss swiftly ended Willis’ Hollywood tale with a convincing straight-sets win, he made sure to make the moment about his opponent. Federer let Willis walk out ahead of him onto Centre Court and kept his post-match celebration brief, giving the Brit a chance to wave to the crowd and soak in their cheers.

”Not my standard Wednesday,” Willis said, smiling. “It was all just a blur. It was amazing. I did enjoy myself even though I was getting duffed up. I loved every bit of it… Just the whole experience was incredible.”

Although he wasn’t able to recapture his Wimbledon magic when he returned to the ATP Challenger Tour, Willis’ moment of magic remains one of the popular storylines in recent history at the All England Club.

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An Umpire’s View of Isner-Mahut: Baby News, Toilet Breaks Can Wait

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2020

An Umpire’s View of Isner-Mahut: Baby News, Toilet Breaks Can Wait

Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani exclusively speaks to about Isner and Mahut’s 2010 Wimbledon epic

Nobody will soon forget the first-round battle between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon. The epic, which remains the longest match in tennis history, lasted 11 hours and five minutes over three days, from 22-24 June. The chair umpire was Sweden’s Mohamed Lahyani.

“The first day when I started was nothing special. It was like a normal match. You had two sets all, that can happen. At Wimbledon you have many times a suspension because of darkness, because it’s late,” Lahyani said. “I was not thinking anything. The second day was when I started thinking in the middle of the match, ‘This is unbelievable.’”

The length of the match became increasingly stunning as the games ticked by on the second day, 23 June. What was perhaps a bigger surprise for Lahyani was the phone call he got from his wife, Mariam, who was in Tangier, Morocco, 15 minutes before he walked on court to begin the fifth set.

“My wife called me just before that day and she said I just wanted to let you know we have special news: ‘It’s a boy!’” Lahyani recalled of the moment he found out they were going to have a son. “I told her, ‘I will finish my match. It will be over in one hour and then we’ll talk.’ That was unbelievable, and she was waiting for more than seven hours!”

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Mariam did not watch the match, so she didn’t realise that her husband was presiding over something historic.

“I could not even sleep that night because it was too much,” Lahyani said. “Everybody was talking about the records and a lot of things. It was a special feeling.”

Lahyani didn’t realise what the match would become. But it also didn’t matter to him — he prides himself on treating every match equally.

“People always think about the final, final, final. But it doesn’t need to be a final to be the greatest match. This was a first-round match. I tell the young officials, ‘You have to treat every round the same.’ My best match was the first round. Don’t think the final should be your best,” Lahyani said. “You never know. The final could be the easiest. Most of the toughest matches are in the first round. You need to treat every match the same, even if it’s Court 18. It’s not just when you walk on Centre Court. Every match is important.”

Lahyani is most proud that over the course of the three days, there were no arguments from either player. For that, the Swede gave credit to everyone around him.

“It was teamwork. It was the line umpires, the ball kids, everyone around the court did something special. I was telling myself, as soon as a player was bouncing the ball, I told myself, ‘Mohamed, focus. You don’t want to finish the match after so many hours and do something stupid,’” Lahyani recalled. “I try to teach that to all my colleagues, the younger officials and everything, you need to focus the whole match. I think that match is a special example. If you lost concentration for a split second, you could destroy the whole match.”

Court 18, <a href=Wimbledon” />

The moment from the match that stands out most came late in the second day, after Mahut hit an ace down the T to level the fifth set at 50-50. The crowd gave the players a standing ovation, and Lahyani bellowed: “Game, Mahut. 50 Games All. Final Set.”

“When I said 50 games all, there was a standing ovation for what felt like minutes. The players had to tell the crowd to calm down and I had to say, Thank you, thank you.’ It was like a wave,” Lahyani said. “They were clapping for a while, it was unbelievable. It’s a special memory, 50 games all.”

After the match, Lahyani remembers Isner asking him a funny question: “Mohamed, you didn’t go to the bathroom? How come?”

“I was so concentrated on the match, so I didn’t even have time to think about food, drinks, anything,” said Lahyani, who didn’t take a single bathroom break. “I said, ‘Mohamed now it’s only the match. Don’t think of the people around you.’ You could see so many people standing around the court, everybody was there cheering. It was one of the best atmospheres and best feelings I’ve had in my career.”

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Locker Room Confessions: Inside the Isner-Mahut Epic

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2020

Locker Room Confessions: Inside the Isner-Mahut Epic

Insiders reveal what transpired behind the scenes as the American pushed beyond his physical limit in his 11-hour marathon with Mahut

When Craig Boynton walked into the seeded players’ locker room at the All England Club on 23 June 2010, his charge, John Isner, was beyond exhausted.

“For a brief period of time, a minute or two, he was talking and it didn’t make sense. It was gibberish. He was so depleted,” Boynton said. “It hit me then how far John dug and how much pain he was able to withstand and how he went far past any limit that I’d ever seen him push past.’”

Isner’s first-round Wimbledon match against Nicolas Mahut still wasn’t over. They had played for 10 hours across two days — obliterating the previous record for the longest match in tennis history — and somehow, both men had to summon the energy to return to Court 18 the next day.

“I walked through the door and Andy Roddick was flying out. Andy was unbelievable. He was so gracious. He says, ‘CB what do you need? Do you need [physio] Dougie Spreen for the night? Do you need the physio? What do you need? What do you need?’” Boynton said. “At that point I didn’t know. He goes, ‘You need food!’”

Roddick was familiar with long matches at Wimbledon, losing a heartbreaker in the previous year’s final 16-14 in the fifth set against Roger Federer. The former World No. 1 had won his second-round match on Centre Court earlier in the day, but in the moment he was concerned with helping Isner and his team. Roddick sent them “10 to 12 bags” of chicken parmigiana, pizza, pasta and more from San Lorenzo’s, an Italian restaurant about a mile away. 

Isner needed all the fuel he could get. But as much as his epic against Mahut was a three-day physical battle, it was even moreso a war of wills, in which neither player gave an inch.

“It’s just one of those things when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force,” Boynton said. “It was just one of those crazy matches. Both guys were locked in, both guys were unrelenting and both guys were determined not to be denied.”

* * * * *
When Boynton learned Isner would play Mahut, an aggressive net-storming Frenchman, he wasn’t thrilled. Mahut had made the 2007 Fever-Tree Championships final, narrowly losing against Roddick. Mahut dispatched Isner in straight sets at the same tournament the next year.

“I knew Nico was very dangerous,” Boynton said. “He was not a qualifier in my eyes. He was on a pretty short list of some of the best grass-court players playing.”

Boynton tracked down Roddick to see if the former World No. 1 had any thoughts on the Frenchman’s game. Isner is the rare player who could control his destiny with his booming serve and powerful forehand, but extra insight never hurts.

“The rundown was that you’ve got to watch for his one-hander down the line. If you can get the ball low on his forehand volley, that’s not I would say a weak spot, but it’s definitely not as strong as his backhand volley,” Boynton recalled. “He had a little bit of a reputation of getting tight, [so the message was for us] just to look for that and pick up on that. Boy was I wrong on that one. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

The match started innocently. Mahut hit three unreturned serves and a cross-court backhand passing shot winner. The Frenchman held at love.

The 23rd-seeded Isner broke once to take the opening set, and Mahut broke in the American’s first service game of the second set, using that to even the match. There would not be a service break for two more days. Isner and Mahut split tie-breaks in the third and fourth sets to force a decider.

When the men departed Court 18 that Tuesday, due to darkness, at two sets apiece after two hours and 54 minutes, it was still an ordinary match. It was an unremarkable day at SW19, with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray advancing to the second round without difficulty.

In his fourth main draw appearance at The Championships, Michael Russell earned his first win at the historic tournament that day. Part of his post-match routine was heading to the ice baths, where he saw Isner.

“I was thinking he must have finished his match, so I asked, ‘How did it go?’ He said, ‘We didn’t finish,’” Russell recalled. “We chatted a little bit and eventually I just said, ‘Good luck tomorrow, I’ll see you the next day.’ Sure enough, three days later he’s playing the longest match in the history of tennis.”

Boynton knew his charge needed to focus on holding serve on the match’s second day. Eventually, an opportunity would arise. At least that’s what he thought.

The match’s second day lasted longer than any other match in history. For the most part, the holds came quickly. Starting at 4-5, Mahut faced enormous pressure every time he served. If he held, the match continued. If he didn’t, he’d lose.

“Every time I was serving to stay in the match,” Mahut said. “I just tried to win the game, just to win the point I was playing. That’s it. Again and again, every time [it was] the same.”

Mahut saved his first match point at 9-10 with an ace down the T, then two more at 32-33 with a forehand volley and then a booming serve out wide. The score kept ticking until the scoreboard stopped properly functioning at 47-47.

“It was almost an out-of-body experience. It was going so fast, but it wasn’t going anywhere at all,” Boynton said. “It is really difficult for me to describe because it was almost like something you’d see in The Twilight Zone. I can vividly remember just going, ‘This is bizarre. This is really bizarre.’”

As the match went on, Russell returned to the site for practice. The American said that in the locker room, there is an electronic schedule that shows the order of play “like a bingo screen”.

“I remember being in the locker room and I remember all the matches to follow, they just kept getting moved off the schedule,” Russell said. “Under John’s match, it just kept popping up with a black square, black square, black square, with all the emptiness of matches that had to be moved. He was second on that day.”

Court 18, <a href=Wimbledon” />

It was clear that this was no longer an ordinary first-round match. Rodney Marshall, a USTA strength and conditioning coach working with Isner, was at Wimbledon for the first time. The scene was something he’ll never forget.

“It was a surreal feeling looking up and seeing the commentating tower above us packed with people everywhere. When the match first started there were just a few people on Court 18 and by the time it was done there was a sea of people,” Marshall said. “I had friends from middle school text me during that match. The whole world was watching.”

Boynton knew that by the time they got into the 30s, it was becoming increasingly unlikely his charge would break. The 6’10” Isner was beyond tired.

“I was really, really concerned for John’s mother. I can see the concern as the games started mounting up and seeing how depleted John was getting; it was getting to the point where he had no gas and he was still going,” Boynton said. “It was a mother’s love. I really felt for her at that moment, all the way through.”

Somehow, as darkness descended on the London grass, Isner earned a fourth match point at 59-58. Mahut’s response? His 95th ace. At 59-59, play was called for the evening after seven hours and six minutes of fifth-set action.

“We’re just fighting like we never did before,” Mahut said in an on-court interview before they left the court. “Someone has to win.”

<a href=John Isner, Nicolas Mahut” />

“A memory I have is just coming back into the seeded locker room and seeing all the players huddled around watching the match on the TV when we got back, including Roger. They were all like, ‘What is this?’” Marshall recalled. “It was a surreal moment. Everyone was just mesmerised by it thinking, ‘This is just unreal.’ Everyone was into it, from the locker room to the entire world.”

That was when Roddick got involved. The American knew recovery was vital to Isner’s chances the next day.

“He just said, ‘Make sure John eats. When he wakes up at 3 a.m., make sure he eats. Just have him eat, eat, eat,’” Boynton said. “That was a huge part of getting John up and running the next day, getting the nutrients in him. I’ll always be thankful to Andy for doing that.”

Marshall says they spent two to three hours on site after the match trying to get Isner ready for the next day. Marshall had friends ask if Isner needed an I.V., but he didn’t believe fluid replenishment was an issue. Isner spent most of his time in the ice baths or on the massage table.

“His toes were bad. They were taping them up and trying to do the best job they could, but he went through several pairs of shoes,” Marshall said. “He was bleeding. It was bad, just really blistered.”

“His toes were just torched,” Roddick said the day after the match ended. “They looked like deli meat. They’re disgusting.”

Isner’s team departed the grounds that night when the locker room attendants left. They got back to their flat near 1 a.m.

“We popped on our computers just to do what we do, check out ESPN, check things out, and just kind of wind down from the crazy day,” Boynton said. “You couldn’t hit a sports or even news website with this match being all over. I was like, ‘You guys are rockstars now. You’re everywhere!”

Russell played his second-round match — a five-setter against Fabio Fognini — on nearby Court 17. Although he was focussed on his match, it was impossible not to hear the commotion as Isner and Mahut played the third day of their match on Court 18.

“We knew that match was special, so there’s that little voice in the back of your mind when you hear a loud eruption: ‘I wonder if John broke serve, or I wonder if Mahut broke serve?’” Russell said. “You knew history was being made with a three-day match, which is just insane. It was crazy.”

Finally, after a record 11 hours and five minutes, the match came to an end. In the ad court, Isner returned the ball low, and Mahut floated the ball back, giving Isner time to set his feet in the perfect position. Isner took his time, forcing Mahut to guess, and the American laced a backhand passing shot down the line for a winner. He flopped onto his back in celebration before rising to hug Mahut at the net.

Isner clinched the longest match in history at 4:47 p.m. on 24 June, 67 minutes into that day’s play. He won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68. The tournament held a ceremony on court after the match.

“[I’m] a little bit tired,” Isner said in front of the crowd. “But when you come out and play a match like this in an atmosphere like this, you don’t feel tired.”

Isner, Mahut

“I got into the locker room and John and I have a pretty good relationship, so I tapped him on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, great job. But my God, we need to work on your celebration. That was the worst celebration,’” Boynton joked to add levity to the moment. “We were serious, but we were also real with each other. I gave him a pass. He got a mulligan.

“After that he was in the locker room talking to some guys about a fantasy mock draft he had coming up. He was talking about who he was going to draft in his fantasy leagues!”

Few remember that Mahut returned to the same court later that evening for a doubles match with countryman Arnaud Clement against Brits Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski. Skupski remembers seeing a light shining above the court — Isner was doing a television interview.

“I felt that must have been hard for Nico to see,” Skupksi said. “John wasn’t quiet, either.”

They only played one set, and Mahut had to return to Court 18 for a fourth day, losing that doubles match in four sets, regardless of how physically tired he was.

“Considering that and the mental stress of it, his ability to come back and play what seemed to be normal [tennis] was extremely impressive,” Skupski said. “Once the come down from a long match happens you don’t particularly want to go back on court, especially losing such an epic.”

Isner woke up the next morning and everything hurt. The worst pain came from a kink in his neck that didn’t allow him to look up at his service toss. His warm-up for the match was laying on the treatment table. Thiemo de Bakker dismissed Isner in 74 minutes.

“You can’t come back from that,” Marshall said. “I don’t care how good of shape you’re in.”

* * * * *
There was no trophy at stake in this legendary encounter. In reality, Isner and Mahut played for the right to lose in the second round. But it wasn’t about the 216 combined aces they hit or the 168 straight service games they held. It was proving that something that never had been done and never will be done again was possible.

“He went to a place, and I’d imagine Nico went to a place, where I’d think the military goes in training,” Boynton said. “They just kept on breaking through barriers inside their minds. It was amazing to see. It was like you watch the Rocky movies. These guys did that in multiple-fold.”

Countless people throughout the world were on the edge of their seats. As much as they wanted to know who would win, they really wanted to know how far Isner and Mahut could push the boundaries.

“You weren’t rooting for anybody to lose, you were rooting for tennis just to have such an incredible match,” Russell said. “It got a lot of people talking about our sport who weren’t interested in tennis before. I thought it was a huge stepping stone for the sport of tennis.”

Isner and Mahut will always be remembered for those three unforgettable days on Court 18. But they’ve both gone on to enjoy great success outside of the classic. Isner has won 15 ATP Tour titles and finished inside the year-end Top 20 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in each of the past 10 years. Mahut has reached doubles World No. 1 and won all four Grand Slams in doubles.

Isner has said that before the match, the extent of their interactions was a subtle head-nod in the hallway. Now, they are close friends.

“Obviously we have so much respect for each other after playing that,” Isner said. “I’m sure we’ll eventually sit down and laugh about it.”

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Flashback: Federer Lives To Fight Another Day At Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jun 29, 2020

Flashback: Federer Lives To Fight Another Day At Wimbledon

Swiss entered contest with 4-0 ATP Head2Head record against Falla

In his first match at The Championships since one of his greatest Wimbledon triumphs, Roger Federer narrowly avoided an opening day upset at Wimbledon in 2010.

Appearing at SW19 for the first time since beating Andy Roddick 16-14 in an extended fifth set to capture a record-breaking 15th Grand Slam title in 2009, Federer followed tournament tradition by opening Day One play on Centre Court against Alejandro Falla.

Meeting the Colombian for the third time in four weeks, Federer owned a perfect 11-0 set record against Falla, which included a 6-1, 6-2 victory en route to the NOVENTI OPEN final in Halle just two weeks earlier. All signs pointed to a comfortable opening match for Federer, but Falla started strongly to threaten Federer’s streak of 24 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final appearances.

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The World No. 60, who owned just three victories from five previous appearances at the All England Club, moved up the court in crucial moments to establish a two-set lead. After losing the third set, Falla secured an early break in the fourth set and maintained his advantage to serve for the match at 5-4. From this point, Federer raised his game to win nine of the next 10 games and earn a 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-0 victory after three hours and 18 minutes.

“It came as a bit of a shock and it’s not something I was that prepared for, but you have to draw from experience and physical strength. I live to fight another day,” said Federer.

Aiming to join Pete Sampras and William Renshaw as the only seven-time singles champions at the All England Club, Federer fell to eventual runner-up Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals. But the Swiss soon joined Sampras and Renshaw with his seventh trophy at SW19 in 2012, before surpassing the duo with a record-breaking eighth crown in 2017.

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“I am happy because I played a great match,” said Falla. “Today is a special day for me in tennis, even if I lost that match. I can say I was serving for the match against Federer. Many players would like to be in that situation.”

Two years later, Falla achieved his best Wimbledon result. The Colombian earned back-to-back five-set wins against John Isner and Nicolas Mahut to reach the third round. One month later, Falla returned to SW19 to face Federer in the first round of the 2012 London Olympics. The World No. 51 broke the eventual silver medallist on three occasions and forced a deciding set, before suffering a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 defeat.

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Flashback: Karlovic Aces Defending Champion Hewitt Out Of Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jun 29, 2020

Flashback: Karlovic Aces Defending Champion Hewitt Out Of Wimbledon

Qualifier shocks top seed in 2003 first-round clash

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks, will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam.

Grand Slam debuts don’t get much more memorable than this.

Ivo Karlovic, a 24-year-old qualifier ranked No. 203 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, strode out onto Centre Court at 1:00pm to face top seed and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt in their first-round 2003 Wimbledon match. Less than three hours later, Hewitt’s title reign ended as the Croatian scored a shocking 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-4 upset.

Hewitt’s exit marked the first time in the Open Era that a defending men’s singles champion lost in the opening round at the All England Club. It only happened once before in the tournament’s 126-year history (Charlie Pasarell d. Manuel Santana, 1967). But for Karlovic, the result was perfectly logical once he got used to his surroundings.

“I saw him play last week and he didn’t play anything special. I was pretty prepared to win,” Karlovic said after the match. “The first set, I was completely scared. After I saw that I can beat him, I started to play better.”

Karlovic had just four tour-level wins to his name and only one victory over a Top 100 player. He nearly didn’t even make it to the main draw and was two points from losing his second-round qualifying match against Juan Pablo Guzman. But what he lacked in experience, the 6’11” Croatian made up for with a booming serve that stunned those in attendance.

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He shook off a slow start, cut the double faults out of his game and started delivering rockets that the Aussie struggled to get a racquet on. When Hewitt managed to put his opponent’s serves back in play, it only took a few steps for the towering Karlovic to reach the net and knock off winning volleys.

Hewitt’s tactics were questionable as he frequently attempted to lob over Karlovic instead of hitting passing shots. Despite this, he reached set point with Karlovic serving at 4-5 in the second set, only to miss a playable return on his chance for a two-sets lead.

Once the Croatian survived that game, his slice approaches and surprising feel around the net added extra pressure to the Aussie’s service games as he comfortably took care of his own. Karlovic served out the match with ease and raised his arms in triumph.

”When I missed those opportunities early in the second set, his whole game sort of came together,” Hewitt said. ”He didn’t make as many easy mistakes.’’

Karlovic’s dream run ended in the third round to Max Mirnyi, but he made his Top 100 debut that September and has remained a perennial ATP Tour staple since then.

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