Dr. Ivo... a doctorate in aces

"My serve is my biggest weapon. I have really put in a lot of hard work to develop my serve," says Ivo Karlovic.

Aceman Ivo Karlovic, a Team Hyderabad Aces player,addresses a press conference in connection with the Champions Tennis League in Hyderabad on November 27, 2015.   -  AP

Another ace coming up, courtesy Karlovic.   -  REUTERS

The year 2015 has been great for Ivo Karlovic. In August, he became only the second man to hit 10,000 career aces. In October, he broke countryman Goran Ivanisevic’s long-standing record of most aces. At the last count, the 36-year-old Croat had 10,442 aces. In a freewheeling chat with Sportstar, Karlovic, who is in India to take part in the Champions Tennis League, talks about the art of hitting those rocket-powered serves. He also takes questions on his giant frame, as well the difficulty in finding the right beds and shoes...

Question: Ivo, you are the undisputed ace king of tennis. How special was it to surpass your great countryman Goran Ivanisevic’s record?

Answer: My serve is my biggest weapon. I have really put in a lot of hard work to develop my serve. When I was young, I used to go to the court on my own and hit for hours. I liked to play tennis when I was young. The record means a lot to me.

Let’s talk about the early days…

When I was six, my father took me to play tennis. There was a huge wall and we would hit against the wall. I didn’t like the wall initially. But after a few weeks, I started to enjoy tennis. And I was playing more and more. I used to tell my dad ‘come on, let’s go and play tennis’. I heard the word ‘ace’ when I started watching Goran, (Boris) Becker and (Stefan) Edberg on TV. They used to hit a lot of aces.

You are so tall. Is it about your genes? Did you have trouble finding a girlfriend?

My dad is 191cm tall. My mother is 172. I am 211. I am the tallest player ever. My family is tall, but not like me. I don’t know how I got this (laughs). No, I had no difficulty in finding a girlfriend (laughs).

In tennis, height can also be a disadvantage…

In tennis, you have to be fast. With my height, it is difficult to move. Guys who are 180 cm or 190 cm can move faster than me. But you have to learn to use the other advantages. In my case, I have great reach, power and a good serve.

What’s the key to a great serve?

The first building block is the technique. If your technique is not good, it doesn’t matter how strong you are. Apart from that, you have to be explosive enough. Also, you must know to relax.

What about serving under pressure?

The idea is to block out your thoughts and focus on getting the ball in the right spot. If you look around during a match, who knows where you are going to hit it? Maybe, you’ll end up hitting in the stands! After all these years, we are used to cutting out the negativity. You must know how to stop all those thoughts from getting into your head.

There was this one time in Basel, Roger Federer’s hometown. Those people were horrible. They were making so much noise. They were trying to distract me as I prepared to serve. Not one or two people, but all of them. It was horrible, just horrible. So you must know how to focus.

Do you have trouble finding the right kind of beds?

Yeah, sometimes (laughs)! But, mostly, it is good. Sometimes, I have to sleep cross. In countries like France and Switzerland, the beds are so small. At home, I have a big bed. I can even roll in it. It is 2.4 metres long and 2.20 metres wide.

What about shoes?

(Karlovic’s shoe size is 16). I buy a lot of shoes online. I can easily find my size when it comes to running shoes and basketball shoes. As far as tennis shoes are concerned, I tell the company to make them. Stores don’t sell my size (laughs).

You were good at basketball too…

When I was 13, I used to play basketball. I was very tall already. I could also move well because of my tennis prowess. I was good at it and the coach asked me to continue. But I didn’t like to play basketball because the coach used to make me play with the older boys. They were 18 or 19. That’s what I didn’t like. I went for half a year. Then I decided to play only tennis.

Do you have trouble hugging people?

I don’t know if I have hugged anybody as tall as me. I haven’t hugged John Isner yet. He is very tall. Yeah, he is very tall (6’10” or 208 cm). Who knows I may hug him when I see him next time. I can hug people easily. I just have to bend down. I always get hugged. I am not denied hugs.

Who nicknamed you Dr. Ivo?

Jim Courier gave me that nickname. I think he did so because of my precise serves and tight volleys. I am not any real doctor like a gynaecologist or something.

You tend to bring the best out of Roger Federer. He knows he can’t break your serve easily. So he ends up serving very well himself. And most sets are settled via the tie-breaker…

Yes, they are intense. They are often decided in the tie-breakers. Yeah, I remember he lobbed me once at the Australian Open in Melbourne. People don’t usually play the lob against me because if the ball goes over me, then it could probably hit an aeroplane or something! But that day, Roger lobbed me. It was a weird point. I think I had set point. I like what I do. To me, playing Roger is not any different from playing anybody else. He is, maybe, the greatest of all time. But I don’t like losing to him.

Do you think some of the younger guys could go on and break your ace record? Raonic, perhaps…

He is far away still (Raonic has 4,490 aces in 291 matches). There is Isner (7,442 in 448) too. He has an unbelievable serve. He, too, needs a few more years.

When do you know it’s going to be a good day in the office?

I know it’s a good day in the office only after the match. That’s when I look at the stats. During the match, I don’t count my aces. I always look to win the next point.

But isn’t serving an ace your first priority?

No, no, no, not at all. I am not there, you know, thinking I want to hit an ace. I just try to hit the ball hard. If it’s an ace, it’s great. If not, I am there to play the next shot. There is no time to think about anything else out there but the next shot.

Tell us about your practice regime…

You have to hit a certain amount of serves to be able to get that confidence. Then, you try out some match situations. My coach would drop the ball and ask me to practise the volley. But what you get in the matches is awkward. It’s so tough out there. You are trying to win the next point. You clear the mind and go on.

What more do you want to achieve?

In the last two or three years, I have realised that I love this sport. I will play as long as possible. I would like to win an ATP Masters 1000 title. That would be unbelievable. It would be the icing on the cake. I believe it’s possible. But it’s also difficult.

Novak Djokovic seems to be on a different planet…

There are no weaknesses in his game. He is faster and fitter than anyone else. If you are going to play good against him, it’s not enough. You are not going to win. You must play something different. Maybe you have to play ugly. For the fans, it may be ugly. But, for you, it may be effective.