Pune: Top seed Kevin Anderson stood up when it mattered in the tallest ATP final in the Open era as he lifted the Maharashtra Open trophy with a thrilling three-set win over 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic on Saturday.
The 32-year-old was the better returner in a clash of big-servers, notching a 7-6(4), 6-7(2), 7-6(5) win in 2 hours and 45 minutes in front of a packed Balewadi Stadium.
The tall Croatian’s final appearance was already a record, as he became the oldest ATP finalist in four decades, and he gave a tough fight to last year’s runner-up, not losing his serve. However, the South African world number six was just that much better, not facing a single break point through the match.
Anderson led their head-to-head 3-1, however two of those wins were when Karlovic had to retire with injury, so essentially it was 1-1 and this close competition showed in the three tiebreaks. Anderson played smart tennis when his opponent tried to volley, with his many passing winners being the difference.
The two led the charts in tournament aces – 88 for Karlovic and 55 for Anderson before the final – and they continued raining down the big guns in the final, with the speeds touching 200 kmph on first serve. The Croatian fired 36 aces, taking his tournament tally over 100 while Anderson hit 21 of his own.
Anderson, who was covering the court better against the serve-and-volley stalwart, had his first shot at a break in the tenth game when he has two set points. But Karlovic escaped with two huge serves to take the first set to the tiebreaker.
The Croatian, however, made consecutive errors to give up four more set points, on his opponent’s serve. He saved the first two but committed a criminal double fault to go a set down after 50 minutes.
The top seed had several chances in the second set but failed to capitalise, but didn’t give any chances on his serve either. Meanwhile, the crowd got behind the senior player with chants if “Ivo, Ivo” and he repaid with a moment of magic, sprinting to return with a cross court flick that kissed the line and was received with thunderous applause.
In the ninth game, Karlovic clammed up on serve but managed dig himself out of a huge hole as he fought back from triple break points down, helped by a sizzling 207 kph ace, to hold in a crucial game.
The 39-year-old started the eleventh game with a double fault and opened up another break chance, which he saved with an ace, serving himself out of trouble once again. However, Anderson had another easy service game to take the second set to tiebreak, where a galvanised Karlovic raced away, converting the first of four set points.
The second set was perhaps the best he played all week, as he won all his first serve points in the and saved all four break points he faced.
The decider started with love holds from both players and there was very little separating the monster serves, with both their average first serve speed touching 200. But, a younger and more agile Anderson inched ahead, despite wasting two championship points, before clinching it in the Tiebreak.
Karlovic, though, can take heart from the fact that his fantastic run will propel the current world No 100 to the top 70. Not bad for someone who said he expected to win just a couple of matches in Pune.