Sammel: Ivo Karlovic under the spotlight
tennishead coaching editor Dave Sammel assesses the gigantic serve and game of Ivo Karlovic...
Browsing the current ATP World Tour player stats, its not surprising to see Ivo Karlovic top the leaderboard for the most number of aces served and first serve points won.
The 6ft 10 Croat has boomed down an almighty 643 aces in his 31 matches this year, while Andy Roddick is in second place with 614 aces, albeit from 46 matches.
Karlovic has won a staggering 85% of his first serve points. Roger Federer takes the silver medal in this list, with a more human 79%.
There are another two lists that Karlovic tops hes won 92% of his service games during 2009 and has saved 71% of break points.
Currently ranked No.25 in the world, with a career-high ranking of 14 in 2008, Karlovic is a player who commands respect just ask Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco, both victims as the giant bombarded his way to the last eight at Wimbledon.
We asked coaching editor Dave Sammel to explain how dependent the big mans game is on his serve and in todays game when pretty much all the top players serve big if just a massive serve is enough to make you a great player
tennishead: What makes Karlovics serve so good? Is it simply his height or is his technique good?
Dave Sammel: Ivo has a great serve. There are other very tall players who do not get the same consistency or accuracy. Technically it is a good serve and his height makes it a great serve.
th: What areas could he improve to become a more complete player and do you think he is able to do this?
DS: Ivo took a long time to come through. Mentally he struggled for confidence. After beating Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2003 he really kicked on but his backhand, especially the backhand return, is a massive Achilles heel. If he was able to improve this area and get over the ball rather than mostly chipping returns he could pressure players more on their serves.
th: How do players have to approach him to win?
DS: Focus on their own serves, serving his backhand mostly with a fair amount of serve and volley and be relaxed about playing a tie-break in every set! Take calculated guesses on his first serve and really work hard if he has a game where he misses a few first serves. Never get frustrated if he serves his way out of trouble because this will happen.
th: How important is mentality how much of his game is down to mental pressure? It must be very easy to get downbeat against him
DS: Ivo has a big forehand and volleys well. He knows that he will hold so he almost has a free pass when returning. The pressure is huge if you get in trouble on your own serve because a break is almost a certain loss of the set. It also wears on players to keep going to 6-6, which is a shootout, and if you lose the set you have to stay calm about doing it all again, because the likelihood is you won’t break.
th: How much does his game prove or disprove the notion that serving in the men’s game is key to success?
DS: Ivo is unique in that he is so tall, has good service technique and volleys well. However, it would be difficult to see Ivo in the top 100 with a serve equal to a Tomas Berdych, for example. The mens game is still dominated by serve. It is impossible to be highly ranked and have a poor first serve. Without checking the stats, I would be pretty confident that there is no male in the top 200 with an average first serve speed of below 115mph.