by Kevin Craig
Australian qualifier John-Patrick Smith was able to upset Ivo Karlovic on Monday in the first round of the Delray Beach Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win. After battling through two qualifying rounds to earn his spot in the main draw, Smith now has a great opportunity to have a great run in Delray.
The match started off in an unexpected manner as Smith was the one dominating his service games, allowing him to apply pressure in Karlovic’s. The Australian was able to break at love early and only lose three points on serve throughout the set to run out to a one set lead.
The second set was tight throughout as neither player was able to get a break chance until the Croat made an inroad in Smith’s final service game of the set at 3-4. Karlovic took advantage of the only break point of the set and won the second, appearing to end the possible upset bid.
Smith, though, kept his composure and was able to continue his fight into the third set holding his first two games with ease before earning three break points at 2-1. Smith was able to convert on the third and win the 16 point game, before going on to hold comfortably two more times. At 5-2 up in the third, Smith was able to seal the upset, getting another break to close out the match.
Smith’s impressive win over Karlovic was just his third Top 100 win and fourth win at the ATP level. The previous three wins, one of which came against countryman Bernard Tomic, all came in Newport in 2015 as Smith made a dream run to the semifinals before losing to eventual titlist Rajeev Ram.
Smith’s run through qualifying in Delray saw him win two tight three setters against two very different opponents. In the opening round, he fought off an inspired performance from the Russian youngster Andrey Rublev before wearing him down with his veteran experience for a 4-6 6-3 6-0. The final round saw Smith dispatch the Colombian veteran Alejandro Falla in a topsy turvy match. Falla dominated the second set, but Smith dominated the first and third sets, breaking four times and saving all five break points he faced, allowing him to earn a spot in the main draw.
Smith had the unfortunate luck of getting what appeared to be the worst draw for the qualifiers in Karlovic, as Radu Albot drew Benjamin Becker, and Tatsuma Ito and Dennis Novikov drew each other. The Australian proved that theory to be wrong, though, with his three set win over the Croat.
While John-Patrick Smith may be a relatively unknown name to the majority of tennis fans, he is a hero to those who spend most of their attention following matches at the lower levels of tennis. Smith’s old school style of play is a pleasure to watch as he keeps his opponent and the crowd guessing as to what shot he will hit next. His competitive yet composed style of play has propelled him to a great amount of success already in his career, but he continues to improve each year and looks for more success.
Smith first splashed onto the scene with four dominant years of tennis at the University of Tennessee. He accumulated numerous impressive records during his time playing college tennis, including being named the Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year across all sports in 2011, becoming the first Tennessee Volunteer to win the award since Peyton Manning in 1998.
Smith was also able to lead Tennessee to conference championships in 2010 and 2011, also making the NCAA finals in 2011. Individually, Smith was able to reach the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles during his time in college, while making the NCAA doubles final in 2010 and 2011. Once his time was done in Knoxville, Smith left as the career combined wins leader with 152 singles wins and 146 doubles wins, for a total of 298.
His success in college quickly transferred to the pro circuit as he was able to win his first futures title in April of 2012, before winning his first challenger title in July. 2012 was also a very successful year for him in doubles as he won five titles and made two finals, all with countryman John Peers.
2013 was more of the same for Smith as he managed to make six more doubles finals, winning three of them. He was also able to make his main draw debut at a major, losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Joao Sousa, before making five quarterfinal appearances on the challenger circuit and winning another futures title.
Smith’s career really began to take off starting in 2014, as he made it through the qualifying draw of an ATP event for the first time at Indian Wells, giving him the confidence and momentum that sent him into the Top 200 for the first time in his career. From there, he was able to make a challenger final and two more semifinals in 2014.
2015 was another big year for the Australian as he was able to qualify in Delray Beach, at Wimbledon, and at the US Open, while also winning a challenger, making a challenger final, and making his aforementioned semifinal run in Newport.
At only 27 years of age, Smith has possibly not even reached his prime yet. He certainly still has some goals to achieve as he is still searching his first win in a main draw of a major and is looking to crack the Top 100. His career high ranking is No. 108 in the world, and his win over Karlovic in Delray Beach will help propel him a little closer to the elite level of the Top 100.
While Smith continues to set new goals for himself with each new year of his career and aspires to keep getting better, he can look back at his previous accomplishments and be proud of where he has gotten in his career so far. The biggest testament of success that Smith may have in his career is that his year-end singles ranking has increased every year since he began playing on the tour full time. His 2015 year-end ranking of 129 is better than where he currently sits, but if Smith can continue to have more results like he is having right now in Delray Beach, he will have no problem increasing his year-end ranking again, possibly entering the Top 100 for the first time.