Karlovic beats Berdych in Qatar opener
Tomas Berdych, the former Wimbledon finalist who hopes that 2014 will bring the Grand Slam title that has so far eluded him, began the new season with an immediate shock on Monday.
The world No 7 from the Czech Republic was edged out in two tie-break sets by Croatia's Ivo Karlovic in a first round clash at the Qatar Open which often seemed more like a Russian roulette shoot-out than anything else.
Berdych, who had been seeded to reach the semifinals, knew very well what might happen even before his staccato 7-6(9-7), 7-6(7-4) loss to the former world number 14.
Karlovic hit a record 156mph serve two years ago, delivered a record 78 aces in one match in 2009, and served 961 aces and played 61 tie-breaks the year before that.
Berdych had become even more acutely aware of the problems his six-foot ten-inch opponent's steep-serving style regularly presents since he had lost to him only two months previously in Basle.
"I have played four tie-break sets in a row with him now, and it's hard to play against someone who serves that well," Berdych said.
"He's not an ideal opponent at the start of the season, but tennis is not about ideal opponents. This is a match you don't appreciate because you don't have your destiny in your own hands – but he does it well."
It was similar this time, with Karlovic delivering 25 aces. The rhythm-less contest became all the more frustrating for Berdych when he was unable to convert a set point at 6-5 in the first set tie-break.
Karlovic saved that with a strident serve-volley and made the vital mini-break of serve three points later when he found a ferocious forehand return of serve to go 8-7 up. He closed out the set with an ace.
After that he grew visibly in confidence, kept his unbreakable sequence going well, and finished the second tie-break with two aces.
"I was really focussed," said Karlovic, who is somehow languishing at 74 in the world rankings. "I was just trying to hold serve as much as I could so that hopefully he would make a couple of mistakes in the tie-breaks – and he did.
"I feel healthy and good now, and feel that I can do well," added Karlovic, who may have a second round with his compatriot Ivan Dodig, who has to get past a qualifier.
The winner may have a quarterfinal with Philipp Kohlschreiber, the sixth-seeded German, and whoever progresses from there should face Rafael Nadal, the world No 1 from Spain.
However, Nadal will start the new season with an intriguing match Tuesday against Lukas Rosol, the hard-hitting Czech who upset him in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012.
At least the top-seeded popular favourite gained a little boost for his revenge attempt today. Nadal and his alternate coach Francisco Roig, aged 45, won a first round doubles match against Rosol and his Spanish partner Pablo Andujar 6-3, 2-6, 10-4.
Whether the defending champion Richard Gasquet will start his title defence tomorrow as scheduled is open to doubt.
The fifth-seeded Frenchman has an opening encounter with Karim Hossam, an Egyptian wild card entry, but is struggling with a back injury sustained in training here three days ago. He will make a decision whether or not to play in the morning.