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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Barrage of aces not enough for Dr. Ivo

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

PARIS -- As matchups go, Ivo Karlovic is a nightmare for Lleyton Hewitt.

At 6-foot-10, the Croatian stands more than a foot taller that the gritty Australian, which makes returning serve problematic. If the first serve -- whizzing in from a towering height above the court, sometimes at better than 215 kilometers per hour (133-plus mph) -- doesn't get Hewitt, the kicker that comes next often bounces higher than his head.

On a toasty opening day at Roland Garros on Sunday, Doctor Ivo's serve was on fire from the very beginning. In the 10th game of the first set, for example, he hit the minimum of four balls -- ace, 201 kilos, outside; ace, 211, down the middle; ace, 217, outside; and ace, 207, down the middle. A perfect game. This is tough stuff, but Hewitt didn't reach No. 1 in the world and win two major titles by shrinking from adversity.

Despite what is thought to be a Grand Slam Open-era record of 55 aces, Karlovic lost to Hewitt 6-7 (1), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3 in a match that required 3 hours, 56 minutes.

The overall record belongs to American Ed Kauder, who fired 59 aces in a first-round loss at the U.S. Championships in Forest Hills, N.Y., in 1955.

The previous Grand Slam record (the ATP began keeping such records in 1991) was 51 aces, by Karlovic at Wimbledon in 2005 and Joachim Johansson at the 2005 Australian Open. Karlovic destroyed the record for the French Open, where the pliable clay makes it harder to hit through the court; Andy Roddick hit 37 aces when he defeated Michael Chang here in a 2001 second-round match.

But even as Karlovic was hitting bomb after bomb, he began to wilt during the fourth set. Hewitt, who hit 19 aces himself, broke through in the third-set tiebreaker and seemed to get stronger. Karlovic's lack of stamina at the Grand Slam level remains absolute; he is 0-11 in five-set matches, the worst for any player in the past 40 years who has played more than 10.

"He gets up higher, obviously, because he's hitting so short in the boxes," Hewitt explained. "The angle he gets, you can't touch a lot of his serves. It's physically impossible.

"Only sets he won today were in tiebreakers, so, yeah, that sort of says I was able to stand out there and take a lot of these best shots, but sort of threw a few back at him as well."

Curiously, no player hitting more than 46 aces in a match has ever won. Maybe it's the fatigue factor. Karlovic called for the trainer after the fourth set and complained of arm pain. Small wonder. After serving 41 aces through three sets, he had only seven in each of the final two frames.

Six years ago, this matchup made history. Hewitt was the reigning Wimbledon champion but lost a first-round shocker to the Croatian, becoming the first defending champion in the Open era to lose in the first round at Wimbledon.

On Sunday, Hewitt -- who had lost all three of his matches against Karlovic -- finally got even.

"I had some revenge out there," Hewitt said, "and I'm just going to enjoy it now and get ready for the next round of play."

Which delivers Kazakhstan's Andrey Golubev, who defeated Denis Gremelmayr. The winner most likely will play No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal in the third round.

U.S. 1-for-5

Wayne Odesnik
Wayne Odesnik fought hard, but it wasn't enough to upset Gilles Simon.

While the leading lights of the men's tour were thrashing away at one another in Madrid, Wayne Odesnik's modest French Open warm-up unspooled very quietly down the coast from here in Bordeaux. There, he split with two forgettable Frenchmen named Renavand and Recouderc.

A week later, he scared the daylights out of No. 7 seed Gilles Simon. Odesnik, who reached the third round here a year ago -- going further than any other American man -- took the Frenchman to the limit on the biggest clay court in the world, losing 6-3, 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. The 3-hour, 43-minute match ended with a gorgeous, leaning forehand winner.

It was only the second victory here at Roland Garros for Simon (against four losses), and it sent him into a second-round match against Robert Kendrick, the only American winner of the five who played on Sunday. The 29-year-old Californian took out Germany's Daniel Brands 6-7 (7), 7-5, 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-3 in a match that went 3 hours, 47 minutes.

"Any win on clay is a great win," Kendrick said. "I know the Americans don't do too well over here, so it's good to get one on the board.

"I don't like to hear [about America's lack of success] too much. I kind of hate it. Two years ago, we didn't win a first-round match."

U.S. men went 0-for-9 in first-round matches in 2007. So far, they're 1-for-3, with Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish yet to play.

Kendrick had won only four matches coming into the tournament, yet had risen to a career-high ranking of No. 76 last month.

Meanwhile, Sam Querrey, whose big game doesn't translate on clay, was a 6-7 (1), 1-6, 6-3, 1-6 loser to Ernests Gulbis of Latvia. Varvara Lepchenko, who defected to the United States from Uzbekistan at age 15, was a 6-3, 6-3 loser to Alla Kudryavtseva.

Lauren Embree, the 17-year-old winner of the USTA's wild-card shootout, was broken in her first service game and got rolled by No. 11-seeded Nadia Petrova 6-1, 6-2 in 65 minutes.

Eight is not enough

So you think you had a bad day?

Consider the case of Mathilde Johansson, a 23-year-old from Boulogne-Billancourt, France: After blowing out Russia's Vitalia Diatchenko in the first set on Court Suzanne Lenglen, she suffered a catastrophic meltdown, losing the second set 6-2 and then the third in overtime, 10-8.

In the third set, Johansson held eight match points -- and lost them all. She hit 12 double faults in that final set and hit a staggering 33 unforced errors. On the brink of tears for the last eight games, Johansson talked about her serve afterward.

"This is what suffers most when I'm stressed," she said. "And the more double faults I make, the more stressed I am, and the more I lose my points. It's kind of a vicious circle."

That description works for many of the French players at the French Open. It's been nine years since Mary Pierce won the title for France and 26 years since Yannick Noah won on the men's side.

Coming into the tournament, Amelie Mauresmo was arguably in the best form of all the French armada. She, however, lost to Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-4, 6-3.

Monfils mans up

A day after No. 6 seed Vera Zvonareva withdrew from the tournament (to be replaced by lucky loser Katie O'Brien of Great Britain), Gael Monfils held a news conference to announce … that he was staying in the draw.

"I don't want to pull out," said Monfils, who is seeded 11th. "My knee is hurting, but I wanted to share this decision with you. I'm ready. I'm ready for Tuesday."

American Bobby Reynolds will be his opponent.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.