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Friday, June 26, 2009

Match analysis: Karlovic v Tsonga

Photo Titled Ivo Karlovic
Ivo Karlovic in the third round battle of the big hitters with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Two of the most ferocious servers on the ATP World Tour faced each other in the third round, meeting in a Grand Slam for the first time on a packed No.1 Court.

This battle royale between the tallest man on the tour, Ivo Karlovic, and the player nicknamed “The Muhammed Ali of Tennis,” Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, intrigued the crowd watching two players with the best, and third best, first serves in the world.

Just four weeks ago at Roland Garros, Karlovic smashed his way into the record books with the most aces in one match. He hit an incredible 55 aces, breaking his 2005 record set at Wimbledon of 51.

Both players' first serves leave their rackets at speeds in excess of 135mph. The reaction times to return these serves is 0.6 seconds, which is why you have to accept that when the serves go in, they will not come back. On average, Karlovic will win the point 84% of the time and Tsonga 78%.

So, for most of the match, the crowd watched the ball fly by the returner or clip the racket and spray anywhere but in the court. If the ball happened to be returned, Karlovic or Tsonga would be there to clean up the mess as the return would probably land in their court slow and short. In this situation, Karlovic likes to use his reach and pops up at the net to finish the point. Tsonga, on the other hand, prefers to use his forehand.

What makes Karlovic unique is that his serve flies off his racket from a height no one else can match and he can hit the most ridiculous angles harder and faster than any player on the tour. This means the returner has to be very patient and work hard to avoid going the distance to a tiebreak.

In the close-fought battle for first serve supremacy, Karlovic triumphed, winning 89% of the points

The second serves are where both men are at their most vulnerable and have to use ”Plan B”. Karlovic uses his backhand slice to stay in the point and wait to approach the net with his forehand. Tsonga is more versatile, hence his higher ranking, and is capable of hitting winners from anywhere in the court. He tends to play a high risk game that sometimes can lead to the sort of errors that can cost him the match. But, more often than not, it leads to him controlling the points with his raw power, making him one of the top entertainers on the men’s circuit.

In the battle for first serve supremacy, Karlovic triumphed, winning 89% of the points, while Tsonga was just behind the Croatian with 85%. The man from Le Mans was performing well on his second serve, but hesitation cost him in the tiebreak and the opening set belonged to Karlovic.

The first break of the match almost came early in the second set, but it was not converted, so the match entered another “coin-flip” tiebreak, and Tsonga held on to level the match.

In a match where it is nearly impossible to break serve, each player must get the first ones in, especially at the key moments. Sometimes Karlovic can stutter but today Tsonga collapsed under the pressure at the end of the third set, handing Karlovic the 12th game as he achieved the only break of serve in the match in the 38th game of the match.

This put too much pressure on the ninth seed, who capitulated in the fourth set tiebreak, again missing his first serves when they were most needed, to lose the match 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6.

The whole match was a flawless Karlovic master class, with 90% first serve points won and 46 aces. He was also triumphant 73% of the time on his second serve, so it was no surprise that Tsonga had no break points.

During the rallies, the Croat ventured to the net in 71 of the 140 points he won throughout the match, and, of the 29 points he won off Tsonga’s serve, his reward was one break point out of two break point chances. It is hard to find anything wrong with the Frenchman’s performance, other then bad timing with a few of his 44 missed first serves.

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