THIS was a strange match, though it ended satisfyingly enough for Andy Murray’s legion of supporters. If you are Ivo Karlovic, the outcome was decided on an admittedly large number of foot-faults called against him.
• Andy Murray through to third round after 7-5 6-7 6-2 7-6 win over Ivo Karlovic
• World number four satisfied with win over 6ft 10 in opponent
• Murray will take on Marcos Baghdatis in the next round
If you are Murray, it was a contest where he had largely dominated, whether there were some dubious line-judge decisions or not.
The statistics tended to back the Scot’s view that this was a contest he had deserved to win. He had rarely looked stretched against his lofty opponent. Murray won 142 of the 263 points on offer, while Karlovic had earned only 121 of them. Even had he not been penalised with 11 foot-faults, Karlovic would likely have fallen short against his opponent, who also made only eight unforced errors compared to the Croat’s total of 42.
Yet, although Murray had seemed in control for long stretches, there was never a moment when you could predict with confidence that he would come out on top. Those watching grew edgier and edgier as afternoon merged with evening, and the shadows grew longer.
The longest one was cast by Karlovic, of course. The 6ft 10in Croat was determined to strike at the heart of British tennis and in its cradle of Centre Court at Wimbledon. He left the grounds last night muttering darkly about the bias of officials and questioning the integrity of the All England Club itself.
Now 33, this could be the last time he appears in SW19, so it was surprising to note an initial lack of aggression on his part. He had been cast as the giant who was ready to knock Murray’s socks off. The startling turnaround in the opening game appeared to confirm this impression. Somehow Murray let slip a 40 to love lead in his own opening service game to gift the Croat an earliest possible break, one that even he could not have expected.
Karlovic then fired an ace which measured 130mph with his very first service and a ripple of impressed ‘ooohs’ broke out around the court. It conveyed the feeling that everyone was aware Murray had his work cut out here. And yet, by the end of the second game, everything had to be re-considered, including the view that Murray would be at the mercy of Karlovic’s booming serve. Murray’s reaction to being broken was to break back immediately, although he was grateful for a huge piece of fortune when his return hit the top of the net and wrong-footed his opponent, allowing him to square the first set at 1-1. But what an odd, unsettling beginning.
There was a wonderful story doing the rounds yesterday of Karlovic passing Murray’s court on Wednesday as he practised with Jamie Baker, who had delivered a fizzing serve which his fellow Scot barely saw whizz past his ear. “Get used to it!” called out Karlovic, whose normal good humour was severely tested by yesterday’s events.
Initially, Karlovic had seemed almost cowed by the setting, and the part he had been expected to play as slightly freakish irritant. Murray won his second service game to love and Karlovic looked as though he should be kicking cans on the way to his chair at the first change of ends.
But he shook himself down and came out looking a bit more determined. By the end, a series of foot-faults, including a critical one in the fourth set tie-break, had been enough to irk him. “You won’t like me when I am angry,” he might have said, and yes, the Centre Court did indeed prefer it when he was being a bit more compliant, as he was at the end of the first set, when he allowed Murray to break to win 7-5, the decisive point coming when the Scot challenged a call after his opponents’s second serve was called in. Hawk-Eye proved he was right to question the line judge’s decision. Rather improbably, it meant that Karlovic had double-faulted twice in such a vital game. His deadly weapon had hurt only himself, although his willingness to reduce only marginally the speed of his second serve drew gasps from the crowd, and saw even Murray tip his hat to his often fearsome opponent afterwards.
It wasn’t quite David and Goliath, since David had been expected to win on account of him being ranked 55 places above his more physically formidable adversary. Tennis is a sport which permits brain and poise to overcome brawn, although Karlovic also displayed a nice touch at times, sealing the tie-break at the end of the second set with a beautifully cushioned forehand volley. For the first time, it was possible to say that Centre Court had become subdued. However, Murray was quick to rectify matters in what was, perhaps, the defining game of the contest, breaking Karlovic at the start of the third set, and doing so with an audacious backhand lob which sailed over his opponent’s head, rather remarkably.
The Scot was rarely in trouble again, although Karlovic will argue long and hard about the injustice he felt was visited upon him in such a partisan environment. Murray, meanwhile, moves on to a third round meeting with his old foe Marcos Baghdatis, whose backroom team is now headed by Miles Maclagan. The presence of Murray’s former coach in his opponent’s box adds a bit of spice to a tie that can also be viewed as the chance for revenge for the Scot, who was beaten by Baghdatis in the fourth round here in 2006.