DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Ivo Karlovic wasn't sure he could or should try to defend his title at the Delray Beach Open. An old knee injury had flared up during the Australian Open last month, forcing the 36-year-old Croatian to retire from his first-round match and sidelining him from the practice courts ever since.
Though Karlovic gamely tried to serve his way past 27-year-old qualifier John-Patrick Smith of Australia, his rust was evident and the third seed was ousted 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the opening round on Monday night.
The win was just the fourth main draw match victory of Smith's career and his second-best win. A four-time All-American at the University of Tennessee, Smith upset No. 25 Bernard Tomic en route to the semifinals at Newport last year.
Playing with a fierce nighttime wind whipping through his shirt and his strokes, the 6-foot-11-inch Karlovic served 21 aces but also hit 11 double faults, including four in the crucial fourth game of the third set. He saved two match points but Smith closed out the win with a precision forehand passing shot.
Earlier in the day, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov persevered through a four-hour rain delay and wind gusts greater than 30 mph to defeat Israeli Dudi Sela 6-4, 6-2. Also advancing was eighth-seeded Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, a semifinalist last year, who dispatched Tunisian Malek Jaziri 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.
So difficult were the conditions that Dimitrov and Sela continually found themselves catching errant ball tosses and chasing looping shots that started as forehands but blew to the backhand side.
"It was rough, very hard to control the ball," said Dimitrov. "Things were flying all over the court. You just have to prepare mentally and keep moving your feet."
Dimitrov, was playing in his first ATP tournament since a third-round loss to Roger Federer at the Australian Open. Two of his three losses this year have come at the hands of Federer, the man to whom he is most often compared. The seeming ease with which Dimitrov strokes the ball earned him the nickname Baby Fed when he first turned pro in 2008.
After beating Andy Murray to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2014, Dimitrov climbed to a career-high No. 8. But he faltered last year, split with his coach and his girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, and ended the year at No. 28.
"I'm happy with last year," said Dimitrov. "I know people don't expect me to say that but I learned a lot. It was a wake-up call."