Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 5: Dr. Ivo Aces Another Exam

55 Aces wasn't enough to get Ivo Karlovic over the hump at the French Open on clay.  

46 was just fine on grass today.   

Karlovic's 7-6 (5), 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) over a downtrodden Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was more like a serving clinic than a tennis match.  

Tsonga never gained a break point in the match, and although he served well himself, his almost juvenile approach to dealing with the 6'10" Croatians thundering serve was ineffectual at best. 

After the No. 9 seeded Frenchman fought back to take a second set tiebreaker, there was a glimmer of hope that he might make some very necessary adjustments against the Karlovic serve, which averaged 127 mph for the match.  

Instead, Tsonga chose to haphazardly try to guess the direction of Karlovic's serve while the toss was in the air.  It was a puzzling technique by Tsonga - on most of Karlovic's aces he never even moved in the direction of the ball - and he just ended up conceding most points to Karlovic without even getting his racquet near the ball.  

As the tiebreakers rolled around, Tsonga actually tried to return serve, and he looked much better during the three tiebreakers that were played, but in the end Dr. Ivo was just too amped up for the bewildered Tsonga to handle.  

46 Aces gives Karlovic the tournament lead with 102, and he has yet to be broken in his first three Wimbledon tilts.  His first round opponent, Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, is the only opponent to manage a break point against the Croat.  He had four of them in his straight set defeat.  

While there wasn't much that Tsonga could do against the big man today, it was still very disconcerting to see the lack of effort that he put forth on his return of serve.  For a player with so much athletic ability, and such quick hands, he could have at least tried to string a few good games together.  

It raises questions about the dedication of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  He is certainly one of the most dynamic and athletic players in the game today.  But his performance today was so devoid of those trademark characteristics that define champions - mental toughness, tenacity, and patience -  that it is very hard to imagine him ever recreating the form that led him to the finals of the Australian Open in 2008 if he doesn't steepen his commitment.  

As for Karlovic, he is dangerous on grass, and Fernando Verdasco will have his hands full when the two meet on Monday.  Hopefully, for the sake of the fans and for his own sake, Verdasco will approach the daunting task with more fervor than Tsonga showed.  

Karlovic had lost in the first round in each of the last four years at Wimbledon, and his previous best performance was a 4th round appearance in 2004, in which he was defeated by Roger Federer in straight sets.

The Croatian is 2-1 against Verdasco in his career, including a win on grass in the Nottingham finals last year.  


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