NEW YORK (AP) — Size doesn’t matter in tennis. Neither does age. Andre Agassi stood 11 inches shorter than 6-foot-10 Croatian Ivo Karlovic, spun serves about 50 mph slower, and logged far fewer miles on court.
Andre Agassi pumps his fist after finishing off Ivo Karlovic in straight sets to advance to the third round.
By Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images
The ace count went to Karlovic, 30-5, as he clocked serves consistently in the 130-142 mph range, but the second-round victory at the U.S. Open on Thursday went to Agassi, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4).
At 35, nine years older than the gangling giant across the net, Agassi came up bigger on the big points to continue his run for one more Grand Slam title in his 20th visit to the Open. His wife, Steffi Graf, and 3-year-old son, Jaden, watched at courtside.
“Listen to that,” Agassi said as the standing crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium cheered his victory. “How does that get old? Thanks guys.”
Agassi, seeded No. 7, couldn’t equal Karlovic’s power and didn’t care. Rather, he settled for cleverness and steadiness, taking advantage of the Croatian’s weak backhand and awkward lateral movement. No one on the tour likes to play against the No. 56-ranked Karlovic, Agassi had said before playing him for the first time, because his serves come down from an unfamiliar trajectory, as if fired from the roof. Agassi felt the same way after winning.
“It’s an incredible serve,” said Agassi. “I’m trying to figure out where it is I would need to stand on the court to have the same trajectory. It’s not a function of how fast it is because a lot of guys can serve it 135-plus. The trajectory is the main issue because you’re lunging, but then it’s up. You’re sort of diving, but then you can’t reach it, even if you dive perfectly and on cue.”
Agassi swung and swished at some serves and stared helplessly as many others sped by. Each time he walked calmly to the other side, waiting for the ones he could get a racket on, trying to get Karlovic to play on different terms in rallies. There Agassi had the advantage.
“If I was coaching him, I’d fine him $100 every time he hit a groundstroke,” Agassi said. “In his most difficult moments, he was more awkward than I anticipated.”
The first-set tiebreak turned in just such a moment, when Agassi drilled a forehand that Karlovic volleyed wide to give Agassi a minibreak at 5-4. Agassi kept taking aim at Karlovic’s backhand and watched him hit two straight unforced errors off that side to lose the set.
Agassi had to go to five set-points in the second set before he won it with a deep forehand that Karlovic swatted long. In the third set, serving with a 5-4 lead in the tiebreak, Agassi hit six straight shots at Karlovic’s backhand, then ripped a winner to his open forehand side to set up match point. Again, Agassi picked on Karlovic’s backhand, hitting three shots to that side and watching Karlovic dump the last one into the net.
Agassi served mostly in the 80-90 mph range in the wind and played with extra caution in this match, not going for too much against Karlovic.
“Today required a lot of concentration because it only took a mental lapse for one or two shots and the set’s over with,” Agassi said. “On a calm day if I’m taking risks against a guy like that, all he needs is one game and then he’s going to win the set. I couldn’t afford to get too risky. Points happen too quickly out there.”