INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — It was 2011. Ivo Karlovic was already an ATP Tour veteran with graying temples, and his shut pal and former coach Tarik Benhabiles was speaking about Karlovic’s serve, and his future.
“He has an enormous weapon,” Benhabiles instructed me. “He can play till he’s 40 years outdated, no drawback.”
Kudos to Benhabiles, who as soon as helped Andy Roddick turn out to be a power, for realizing his tennis. However, above all, kudos to Karlovic, the 6-foot-11 Croatian, for locating a approach to battle and serve via every thing life has thrown at him.
It has hardly been “no drawback,” however Karlovic turned 40 on Feb. 28, and he’s undoubtedly nonetheless taking part in.
He has gained three rounds on the BNP Paribas Open this 12 months and is now the oldest man to win a singles match at a Masters 1000 occasion. On Wednesday, with loads of grey in his beard now in addition to in his temples, Karlovic will deploy his fearsome weapon in opposition to Dominic Thiem, the No. 7 seed, for a spot within the quarterfinals.
At 25, Thiem is 15 years youthful than Karlovic — however then nearly everyone on tour is youthful than Karlovic, together with a few of his former rivals who at the moment are coaches.
“He’s older than me!” mentioned Ivan Ljubicic, the 39-year-old co-coach of Roger Federer, who stays probably the most outstanding graybeard in males’s tennis however remains to be Karlovic’s junior at 37.
Karlovic has remained an element by overcoming a serious Achilles’ tendon harm in 2010 and encephalitis in 2013, which prompted debilitating complications and left him quickly with out feeling in his proper arm.
He has remained a power by specializing in health and dropping weight to take the strain off his knees and different joints. He’s all the way down to 225 kilos, from 245 in 2011.
On courtroom, Karlovic has realized to maximise his strengths and settle for his weaknesses. He won’t ever have a drive backhand, however his one-handed slice is crisp sufficient. And although his lateral mobility stays restricted in comparison with his opponents, his forehand is big and his serve-and-volley type is much more uncommon and disorienting on this baseline-focused period.
In fact, his type is usually serve-and-no-volley. He has slammed an ATP document 13,235 aces. Alongside the best way, he has definitively confirmed, prefer it or not, that there’s a place in a movement-based sport for gamers of towering peak just like the 6-10 John Isner, the 33-year-old American star, and the 6-11 Reilly Opelka, a 21-year-old from the U.S. who’s hitting aces at a fast clip of his personal.
“Should you take a look at any sport, all over the place there are taller guys, so I do know that’s the future in tennis,” Karlovic mentioned, as he has mentioned for years.
Ljubicic, who had an enormous serve of his personal and can flip 40 this month, grew up taking part in junior tournaments with Karlovic in Croatia and elsewhere. It was a time of struggle within the former Yugoslavia, and tennis was usually the least of the children’ issues.
Fearing for his or her lives, Ljubicic’s household fled Bosnia and ended up briefly in a refugee camp in Croatia. Ljubicic ultimately ended up honing his sport in an Italian tennis membership and reaching No. three on the earth in 2006 earlier than retiring in 2012.
Karlovic stayed in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. He was the son of well-educated professionals: his father a meteorologist; his mom an agronomist.
“In Zagreb, there weren’t plenty of airstrikes, however I spent plenty of time within the bomb shelters,” Karlovic mentioned of his early teenagers. “It was at all times airstrike warnings.”
Funds had been brief, and so was high quality teaching and courtroom time. Karlovic had already determined he most well-liked tennis to basketball regardless of makes an attempt to recruit him. He would wait till the night when the tennis courts in Zagreb had been empty after which use the balls he may discover and hit serves on his personal, typically after darkish.
“It was the one method I may observe,” he mentioned. “I would really like folks to know that my serve is just not solely that good due to my peak. I labored on it lots.”
He didn’t discover a common coach till his early 20s, and regardless of his imposing presence he managed to fly far under the radar till the primary spherical of Wimbledon in 2003, the place, as an all-but-unknown qualifier in an age earlier than social media, he upset the defending champion Lleyton Hewitt in 4 units on Centre Courtroom.
“It was not simple: I used to be wanting round in any respect these big courts I by no means had an opportunity to play on earlier than,” Karlovic mentioned. “I misplaced the primary set 6-1, however after that I simply type of calmed down and began taking part in my sport, after which after the match, it was not simple as a result of everyone needed to know, who am I?”
What made it tougher was the pronounced stammer that Karlovic has had since boyhood, which made public talking excruciating.
“I used to be simply pondering to myself, that is what it’s important to do if you wish to turn out to be a superb participant,” he mentioned of post-match information conferences. “You’re going to should do it.”
Practically 16 years later, the stammer is far much less pronounced, and Karlovic has turn out to be not solely a superb participant however a permanent one. He peaked within the rankings at No. 14 in 2008 however was nonetheless within the prime 20 final 12 months earlier than accidents contributed to him dropping to No. 138 in September.
As a substitute of calling it a profession, Karlovic selected to move again to tennis’s minor leagues with the purpose of creating the principle draw of the Australian Open. If he didn’t obtain that purpose, he would retire. He performed in a sequence of ATP Challenger occasions within the last months of 2018, successful one in Calgary.
Australia beckoned. However Karlovic, now primarily based in Plantation, Fla., mentioned one of many largest challenges has been leaving his household behind. He and his spouse, Alsi, have two kids: a 7-year-old daughter, Jada, and an 18-month-old son, Noah.
“I needed to go away on Christmas Day to get to a match in India,” he mentioned. “So everyone was house. We had mates over, household, after which after lunch I used to be on the best way to the airport. It was actually tough. My children had been crying and stuff, so it wasn’t simple, however however, I’m doing this additionally due to them, you recognize? In order that they don’t have it as exhausting as I had it. So perhaps that evens out the ache for me.”
He needed Jada to have a reminiscence of him as an expert tennis participant.
“However now I even have just a little one who’s one-and-a-half years outdated,” mentioned Karlovic, now ranked No. 89. “So I assume for him to recollect me I’m going to should play a minimum of one other eight extra years.”
Presumably not even Benhabiles is able to predict that.