by Kevin Craig
Court 19 at the Australian Open typically wouldn’t be the site of the story of the day, but it was the center of attention on Tuesday as Ivo Karlovic and Horacio Zeballos battled for five sets and five hours. It was Karlovic, who hit an Australian Open record 75 aces in the match, who would come out on top, but not having to battle back from two sets to love down for the 6-7(8), 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 22-20 win.
“This match is what I will, after my career, remember,” Karlovic, 37 years old, said. “This one definitely I will remember forever.”
Zeballos is known for his clay-court style of play, defending the baseline well and getting a lot of balls back in play, so this was always going to be a difficult matchup for Karlovic. The No. 20 seed in this year’s Australian Open, Karlovic is known for his big serve, big forehand, and great volleys that all come as part of him being 6’11”.
Neither man saw a break point in the first set, and the returner only won more than one point in a game twice out of 12 games. So a tiebreak was needed to separate the two, and it was the Argentinian who struck first, racing out to a 3-0 lead before eventually taking it 8-6.
In the second set, it took seven games for a break point to come for either man, and once again it was Zeballos striking first. Up 4-3, Zeballos broke for a 5-3 lead before easily holding to take the set and give himself a two sets lead, appearing to be just one set away from what would be a routine win.
“It was difficult mentally because I was down 2-0. I had to also fight against him and against my own head. So it was definitely really difficult,” said Karlovic, who hit 141 winners in the match.
Zeballos applied some pressure early on Karlovic, as he won four points in the Croat’s first two service games, but couldn’t get the early break. That allowed some room for Karlovic to settle down and find his rhythm, and he would finally get his first break of the match at 6-5 in the third set to win it and take the match into a fourth set.
After having a look at two break points in the first game of the fourth set, Zeballos crumpled when he was unable to convert. It would be the easiest set of the match from that point as Karlovic would break twice to win the set 6-2, holding three of his four service games at love.
The fifth set was historic. It was the longest fifth set in the history of the Australian Open at two hours and 57 minutes, and the match was the longest when it comes to games since the inception of the tiebreak.
Karlovic had the advantage of serving first and saw break chances at 3-2, while Zeballos had a break point at 11-11. Those were the only two games that saw break points, though, until Karlovic was up 21-20 and opened up a 15-40 lead on the Zeballos serve. The first chance wasn’t converted, but the Croat didn’t miss out on the second one, as he placed a beautiful lob over Zeballos’ head who retreated for hit but shanked the return, giving Karlovic the win.
“Actually I was thinking about that other match, Isner versus Mahut. I was hoping, a little bit, it could go that long so I could also have that record,” said Karlovic, who now holds the record for aces at the Australian Open and the US Open.
Next up for Karlovic will be an Australian home crowd favorite, Andrew Whittington, who defeated Adam Pavlasek in four sets in the first round.