PARIS — Lleyton Hewitt must have felt like one of those ducks in a carnival shooting gallery. Bang…bang…bang! — it went on for about four hours as a carnival called the French Open set up shop again in the sunny Bois de Boulogne neighborhood of Paris.
It will go on, as always, for two weeks, but the biggest shooter in tennis is gone. Ivo Karlovic’s pursuit of an Australian duck named Hewitt was spectacular. Ivo was a one-man firing squad as he targeted Hewitt and nailed him with a tournament record 55 aces. Nevertheless, Hewitt got away with the victory even though he lost the first two sets, 6-7 (1-7), 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-3.
An old pro, 29, headed for the Hall of Fame, Lleyton didn’t let the constant bang-bang-bang! get to him. “You know it’s going to happen. Ivo is so big (the biggest at 6-10) that he gets an angle on the serve like no one else (Hewitt is a foot shorter). But I guess my return of serve, when I could reach it, was better than his serve today. His strength against my strength. I’d never beaten him (0-3) so I guess it’s revenge.”
Revenge, indeed. When he looked at the draw, Hewitt “couldn’t help but look back.” Back six years to Wimbledon where he was No. 1 and the defending champ. And there, first round, this lofty, unheard of Croat qualifier, ranked No. 203, gave Lleyton the bang-bang-bang! treatment. An all-time sabotage job. Never had the number one seed and defending champ lost in the first round.
The win was also as good as a Peking duck dinner, because Hewitt’s career, threatened by hip surgery, got an encouraging lift.
U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, who witnessed the match, is still shuddering because Croatia and Karlovic are blocking the way of his gang, in a quarter-final at Croatia, just after Wimbledon. The strategy is to take him to 5-set matches, in which Ivo, the Leaning Tower of Zagreb, is 0-11.
At Roland Garros today there was more talk of aces than around a casino, and the gamble it was trying to fight through the bang-bang-bang!
In one game Karlovic fired four aces in four shots. No one can or will improve on that. The record he broke here belonged to, let’s see. Oh yes, familiar — 39 by none other than Ivo Karlovic, losing to Colombian Alejandro Falla, in 2008, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Didn’t let his own record stand long, did he?
Well, on this bang-bang-bang! day, if you don’t mind my quoting “The Bud Collins History of Tennis,” the ace race in the majors goes like this: Page 376, Australian 2005, Joachim Nystrom of Sweden with 51, lost to Andre Agassi, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4; Page 441, Wimbledon 2005, good old Ivo again with 51, lost to Italian Daniele Bracciali, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (10-8), 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 12-10; Page 482, U.S., 1955, Ed Kauder with 59, lost to Hamilton Richardson, both Americans, 6-2, 3-6, 9-11, 10-8, 6-0.
Isn’t it curious that all four major record-holders lost their big bang-bang-bang! matches? Seemed too early for Ivo to leave. But bang-bang-bang! bye bye bye.
Lleyton had the last quack.