6-foot-10 qualifier scores upset of No. 1 seed Hewitt

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003

WIMBLEDON, England It was tough to catch a glimpse of Lleyton Hewitt when he left Centre Court after one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history.

His 6-foot-10 opponent, Ivo Karlovic, blocked the view.

Hewitt's stunning 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4 exit Monday against Karlovic, a qualifier, made him the only defending champion to lose in the first round at the All England Club in the Open era and the second since Wimbledon began in 1877.

And it's not just that Hewitt lost. It's who beat him. Karlovic is ranked 203rd, entered with a 2-4 career mark in tour-level tournaments, and failed in 10 previous attempts to qualify for Grand Slams.

''I'd never seen him play,'' said Hewitt, also the only No. 1-seeded player to lose so early at Wimbledon in the Open era (since 1968). ''I'd seen him walk around a bit.''

After a wobbly start, Wimbledon's tallest player ever used each inch to his advantage. The Croat pounded serves up to 135 mph, gathering 18 aces plus 41 service winners, and unfurled his lanky right arm to guide volleys with surprising delicacy.

Hewitt, who's a foot shorter, is a gifted returner, but he looked like a baseball batter who couldn't handle Randy Johnson's fastballs coming down at him.

''Anyone's going to have a problem trying to get back those serves all the time,'' Hewitt said. ''There wasn't a whole heap I could do out there.''

Another of Hewitt's skills, the defensive lob, was of little use. Karlovic barely had to leave the ground to get to one and slam it off the turf into the stands while serving out the match at love.

This was a case of Goliath getting the better of David.

''The guy looked like he was serving out of a tree,'' said Andy Roddick, who must be pleased not to have to face Hewitt in the quarterfinals.

The fifth-seeded Roddick powered 14 aces, including one at 141 mph, to beat Davide Sanguinetti 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. That set up a servers' duel in the second round between Roddick and Britain's Greg Rusedski, who share the record for fastest serve (149 mph). Rusedski eliminated Roddick last year.

Mardy Fish of the United States beat No. 29 Gaston Gaudio; other seeded losers were No. 31 Vince Spadea and No. 33 Nikolay Davydenko. Two seeded women lost: No. 25 Anna Pistolesi, defeated by Samantha Reeves of the United States, and No. 20 Patty Schnyder.

Past champions Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport won in straight sets, as did No. 2 Kim Clijsters, No. 7 Chanda Rubin and No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova.

Williams' sister, defending champion Serena, opens Centre Court on Tuesday.

Tradition dictates that the reigning men's champion starts things off in the main stadium on Day 1. So Hewitt and Karlovic stepped out on the green grass mowed to the prescribed height of 8 millimeters at 1 p.m. Neither bowed to the Royal Box, though; that tradition was scrapped.

This was Karlovic's first match at any major, which probably accounts for his dismal start: He double-faulted five times and lost his serve three times while ceding the first set in 19 minutes.

''I was scared,'' Karlovic said.

That soon changed.

Down 5-4 in the second set, he erased a set point, then coupled a service winner with an ace to make it 5-5. Then, trailing 5-4 in the tiebreaker, Karlovic hit a service winner at 133 mph, an ace at 128 mph, and laced a crosscourt forehand winner to make it a set apiece.

Surprisingly, Hewitt appeared to be more easily unnerved, complaining to the chair umpire after an announcement for ''persons requiring disabled parking'' accidentally aired over loudspeakers during a point.

The Australian handed over the third set's lone break with consecutive double-faults. After Karlovic broke for a 5-4 lead in the final set, hundreds of fans eager to support an underdog rose to cheer.

''I was overwhelmed,'' said Karlovic, who after the match had to duck through the doorway leading to locker rooms. He received a congratulatory call from countryman Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion sidelined with a knee injury.

''He was always my idol,'' Karlovic said, ''and I always hold him as a god.''

Hewitt is slowly chipping away at his own status. His ranking will drop to No. 4, and perhaps lower, after a third straight disappointing Slam showing. He lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open, the third at the French.

''I'll be disappointed for a while. This one's not going to go away by the end of the week,'' said the 2001 U.S. Open winner, who joined Manuel Santana (1967) as the only defending Wimbledon champions to fall in the first round.

Hewitt has had distractions, including a coaching switch and a lawsuit against the ATP Tour over a fine for refusing a TV interview. Asked if those things bothered him, he snapped: ''No. Not at all.''

Extra attention can come suddenly. British bookmaker William Hill put Karlovic's odds of winning Wimbledon at 500-1 before play began. Within 20 minutes of the match's end, that dropped to 100-1.

Karlovic stutters and said he doesn't like to speak in front of cameras something he hadn't had much occasion to do before Monday.

''It's not easy for him, because he has some problems with speech,'' said Goran Oresic, a childhood friend and former player who became Karlovic's coach six months ago despite no experience. ''You have to believe you can try and speak and you can get rid of this.''

As a kid, Karlovic wasn't always thrilled to tower over others, but he got used to it. His parents are of average height.

''I don't know who was tall,'' Karlovic said, cracking a smile. ''The postman, maybe.''



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