Ivo Karlovic Advances to first Citi Open Final 

By Jane Voigt

Washington, D. C., July 23, 2016 — Ivo Karlovic played a smart match. He served big, shortened his swing when returning serve, and sliced approach shots with great success. The combination threw just enough curves at Stevie Johnson, who fell 6-4, 6-4. It was Johnson’s second consecutive semifinal loss at Citi Open. 

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Ivo Karlovic wore sunglasses when he served from the north end of Stadium Court today. He said he would have double faulted otherwise. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

“Hopefully I’ll get another chance soon,” Johnson said. “I love this tournament. I’m sorry I didn’t make the final here.”

With the victory, Karlovic moved to his first-ever final at Citi Open in seven tournament appearances. The last time he got close to the title was in 2007, when he lost to Andy Roddick in the semifinals. Roddick went on to win the tournament that year and is the last American male to hold it. Yesterday hopes were high for another American win with four vying for semifinal spots. With Johnson’s exit those aspirations will have to wait. 

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“Hopefully I’ll get my name up there on the wall,” Johnson said, sounding disappointed but determined. "I’ll be back and take another crack at it soon."

Karlovic is the oldest singles’ player here this week at 37; Johnson is 25.

“When I began [playing tennis] everybody then was quitting at 28 or 29,” he said yesterday, after he defeated Jack Sock in the quarterfinal. “I thought it would be unbelievable if I could reach that age before I stop. Now it’s 9 years later and I’m still winning matches. That’s unbelievable.” 

He is also the tallest ever — 6’11” — to play on the ATP World Tour, which gives him a huge advantage on his serve. As some have said, it’s like he serves out of a tree. 

Today he hit 14 aces, the last one on match point. But the two break points he converted early in both sets assured that if he held serve, he’d win the match. And once an opponent gets down to a big server, the hole deepens while mind games come out like stars at night.

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Steve Johnson defends against yet another serve from Ivo Karlovic that clocked anywhere from 105-135 M.P.H.
Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

 “It’s definitely frustrating when you have chances and don’t take them, then lose your focus for a second, and lose serve,” Johnson began. “That’s the margin [when] you play like Ivo who only has a serve.”

But Karlovic’s game goes beyond serving. 

“It’s difficult for anybody to notice anything beside my serve because it’s that good,” Karlovic said. “So everything else is going to look worse, even though there are aspects of my game that are good, like my volleys, forehand and even my backhand slice.”

He hooked Johnson on many a classic backhand approach up the line. The American was then forced to hit up as Ivo stepped in for a pit-away volley.

“I tried to be aggressive and get close to the net. It paid off. It was the difference in the match,” he said.

On court temperatures were reportedly as high as 135 degrees before Karlovic and Johnson walked on court. The air was still and fans were scarce. 

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Only the brave sat on the sunny side of Stadium Court, during one women’s semifinal. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

“It was hot. Unbelievable,” Karlovic began. “There was a moment when I just wanted to lay down on the floor, but I just kept trying. At the end it was a little bit windy so that helped.” 

On Sunday, Karlovic will meet 19-year-old Alexander Zverev or the number two seed, Gael Monfils of France. 

“Yeah, I could be [his] daddy,” Karlovic said yesterday about facing players half his age. “And you knows … maybe I am,” he added, laughing. “Alex is already unbelievable. Definitely [will be] top 5 player … definitely.”

No matter who wins the second semifinal today, Karlovic, like all other pro players, will focus on what he does well. He’ll also carry with him the confidence he’s stored up throughout this tournament and his title run in Newport last Sunday.

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Stevie Johnson tries to lower his body temperature with an ‘ ice-scarf’ at a changeover during his semifinal against Ivo Karlovic. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

“Tomorrow is going to be a little bit different,” he observed. “They have different game styles. I have to focus on me, can’t let them dictate. I’m going to try to get as close to the net as quick as I can.”

If he can save all the break points that come against him, he’ll be in good shape. He was 100% today … five-for-five.

For a man who has generally defied the injury consequences of a 16-year career, Karlovic still aspires to a few goals. One is winning a 500-level ATP Tour title, which he has never done. Citi Open is the only 500-level tournament in the country.

“That was my goal this year,” he began. “And in my old age it’s good when you can reach your goals. That would be unbelievable if I could do it tomorrow. Either player is going to be real difficult. But it’s already a big success. If I win, though, it would be unbelievable."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013