Maharashtra Open: Karlovic sent packing, Sugita through

The opening day of the Tata Open Maharashtra saw last year's runner-up Ivo Karlovic suffer an early exit, while fifth seed Yuichi Sugita advanced.

Ivo Karlovic

Ivo Karlovic, coming off a second round loss at the Australian Open, fell at the first hurdle at the Tata Maharashtra Open on Monday.   -  R Ragu

Only a couple of weeks ago, Ivo Karlovic became the oldest player in 42 years to win a Grand Slam match when he defeated Vasek Pospisil in straight sets. The 40-year-old then gave a tough fight to 10th seed Gael Monfils before bowing out of the Australian Open. 

Coming in as last year's runner-up and taking on a little known opponent, Karlovic was expected to give a perfect start to the 2020 edition of Tata Open Maharashtra at the Mhalunge Balewadi Stadium in Pune. He even had a triple break-point opportunity at love in the first game against Germany’s Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.

But once he failed to convert it, things went downhill for the veteran. He kept missing the volleys and his attempted winners missed the lines as he slipped to a 6-3, 6-4 loss to crash out in the first round.

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“It was a little bit unlucky. First set, I think I was better, but it didn’t happen. When you have all those opportunities and don’t use them, it becomes a bit difficult to stay positive. I had a lot of opportunities. Had I taken the first set, it would have been different. In tennis, it can go either way,” Karlovic said, reflecting on the lost opportunities at the end of the 64-minute battle.

But he gave credit to the German for the win: “I knew him before, he is really fast..unbelievable hands. He can do anything on the court. I knew it was going to be extremely difficult. I didn’t use my opportunities. And that is it.”

He had eight opportunities to break, but couldn’t convert any. The Croat, who will turn 41 at the end of the month, still went for the volleys, mixed up his shots and went for his widely feared big serves. It was in the finishing of the points where he erred.

Talking about his fitness, he said: “I train harder, work hard. I am not training any less than when I was 35. I am not any weaker or not as fit. It is all about day to day motivation, which, given my age, is a bit harder. But I try.”

He added: “I love this game, this life, this incredible life I live. I hope I can be healthy and do it for the next 2-3 years, or one year, I don’t know how long. I like it, that’s what keeps me going.” 

Talking about the evolving style of play into baseline hitting, the serve-and-volley specialist said: “In the last 20 years everybody is playing from baseline. So it’s nothing new, I am used to it. My execution has to be better than it was today. This is how I am, it’s a little bit old school, but I am old school.

“I am a unique player because of my height. I cannot think about others. I have to do it my way. When I hit well nobody can return my serves. I don’t really have to adjust anything.” 

India will play Croatia in the Davis Cup qualifiers in March and the Croat expects a tough fight. “It will be difficult because India has some good players. Davis Cup tie is always difficult. I don’t know who will be in our team but also we will have a strong team. It will be an interesting match,” he said.

In the second match of the day, Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, seeded fifth, overpowered Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano to earn a straight sets 6-3, 6-0 win. 

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