With two quarterfinal matches on tap today at The Tennis Hall of Fame tournament, expectations ran high for a promising afternoon. Unfortunately, the order of play didn’t work out as planned as an injury distracted fans and tournament officials.
The first match between the No. 2 seeded player, Ivo Karlovic, and the hot grass-court player, Dustin Brown went off smoothly — unless you had your hopes pinned on Dustin ‘Dreddy’ Brown. The German came up short, 7-6(3), 6-3, as Karlovic slammed 23 aces, four alone in the first set tiebreak. After the court crew reset for the second match between qualifier Jan Hernych of the Czech Republic and the fourth seed Jack Sock, fans settled in. The American was seeking his second consecutive semifinal in Newport and Hernych, at 36, was seeking his first ATP semifinal since Zagreb in 2009.
In the blink of an eye, Sock advanced to the final four, but certainly not the way he would’ve liked. In the second point of the second game of the match, Hernych twisted his knee and fe;l hard onto the court. The injury forced his retirement with the score 1-0 in favor Hernych.
“You don’t wish that on anybody. It looked like he slipped and landed pretty awkwardly,” Sock said. “Hopefully he’ll be back playing good tennis again. Very unfortunate for him.”
Sock planned to practice and prepare for tomorrow, but continued to appear stunned and mindful about Hernych.
“I’ve been through a few injuries, hips and pelvises, so you never want to see someone go down like that,” Sock said.
Sock is one of two Americans, along with Rajeev Ram, remaining in the singles draw. The Nebraska native Sock is 1-2 head-to-head with Karlovic, his opponent in tomorrow’s semifinal.
“I think he serves like that almost every day,” Sock said with a laugh about Karlovic’s legendary serve. “Yeah, I know what I’m going against. He’s pretty straight forward. Definitely going to have to guess well tomorrow and see if I can read it [Karlovic’s serve]. It’s a tough test out here. You never know how the ball is going to bounce.”
Brown felt the brunt of the Croat’s serve today, as well.
“You saw the match,” Brown began. “If the guys hitting 23 aces in two sets, you’re not getting any second serves and it’s virtually impossible to break.”
The loss hit Brown hard, as he sought his first ATP semifinal of his career. He turned pro in 2002, and is 30. He is now 11-4 on grass for the season.
“It’s tough when you lose a match like that,” Brown began. “Especially, in the first set, everything was totally even. I had a couple 30-alls, even though he was holding comfortably. Then the guy hit four aces and a couple return winners in the tiebreak. So, it’s simple maths that I can’t win that.”
With both men serving big and the first set ending in a tiebreak, Brown had every chance to pull even. However, Brown double faulted to hand Karlovic the break in the first game of the second set.
“He connects with three returns in a row. Two were chipped right at my feet. The other one was a slice on a flat, out-wide serve and returns it at an angle,” Brown said. “I’m not going to win those. Then he has no pressure. He can swing on all the other points.”
The error from Brown was the turning point. Karlovic had converted one of the two break points, and it was all he needed to run off the win. For the match, he won 88 percent of points from his first serve and 60 percent of points on his second.
“It feels good to win,” Karlovic began. “I was doing a good match, doing everything right tactically and physically. So, I’m happy about that. It will be difficult against Sock tomorrow, but if I continue to play like this I will have a chance to win.”
Karlovic considers Sock’s forehand dangerous on any surfact. “He’s really quick too,” Karlovic added. “And his serve is good, too. So it will be a difficult match.”
Tomorrow’s semifinal is Karlovic’s second consecutive at the Hall of Fame tournament. In the last game of the match, Karlovic placed one serve out wide at 104 MPH and the next one down the tee at 130 MPH. The change of pace wasn’t a tactic, as much as it might have seemed.
“I do that often, but it was also difficult because I was looking directly into the sun. So I was trying to toss the ball in different ways,” Karlovic said. “But usually, I always try to mix it up.”
Karlovic, at 6-foot-11, serves as if he’s in a tree. The trajectory of the tennis ball is launched from an optimal point that spells danger for the receiver. Brown, who is 6-foot-5, could do nothing when a 123 MPH out-wide serve zipped over the net. He just couldn’t get enough of his racquet on the ball.
When Karlovic held to 3-0, Brown’s frustration let loose. He slammed his racquet on the court. Instead of the usual boos, Brown heard ‘come on’ from fans, exposing their sentiment toward the German and hopes of their own for a third set.
To put in perspective Karlovic’s propensity for aces, this is his sixth season having hit 800 or more. Divide that by four — the number of points needed to win a game — and that’s 200 ‘free’ games. He passed the 800-mark for the season on Wednesday in his win over Malek Jaziri. Karlovic, who is 36, became the first player to hit 40 or more aces during three consecutive matches since the ATP began keeping records in 1991 at Wimbledon.
“They never know where I’m going to put it,” Karlovic said.
Appropriate to the occasion — he hit an ace to win the match.