Sunday, July 24, 2016


3 years Ivo Karlovic nearly died.  

He woke up one morning with numbness in his arm, that began to spread throughout his body.  A professional athlete, aged 34, he was accustomed to waking up with the creaky quality of a locomotive that takes a few strokes of the pistons to get up to speed.  But you just keep on moving and you get over it.  After all, there comes a time when, after years on tour, a player begins to wonder when is going to be the day that they wake up and the little engine just can't.  Agassi, in his excellent memoir Open, talked about the skittish assurance of moving one limb at a time, hoping the capacity to compete would come to him in stages, towards the end of his career.  The anxiety never goes away, but a player grows accustomed to the uncertainty, both of which are resolved despite the uncomfortable feeling of one's body working through its nightly torpor.

But this was different.  The numbness persisted.  And his speech was slurred.  

A house call from the paramedics brought relief that didn't last long, which is probably a good thing, because that would have sounded the alarm bells of doctors who didn't know if this professional athlete was having a stroke, or had an undetected brain tumor that wouldn't reveal itself.  Unlike the case of Leander Paes' diagnosis of neurocysticercosis (a parasitic infection that causes brain abscesses that can look like tumors) they would have hoped for a best case scenario - strange to contemplate under the conditions - of a bacterial infection that could be treated by ever increasingly powerful and specific antibiotics.  

But that too failed to resolve what had befallen Karlovic.  His wife Alisi and his (still to this day) coach Petar Popović by his side as he went in and out of consciousness, it wasn't at all clear that he would recover at all, or well enough to regain normal functions - to say nothing of the very real possibility that the least negative of all outcomes would be the end of his career.  Eventually the case was diagnosed as viral meningoencephalitis and after 10 days of treatment a few days of monitoring he was released from that hospital in Miami that nearly became the first stop the way to his final resting place.

But like that thunderbolt raining serve of his, Karlovic just keeps coming.  He's 37 years old, has wins over some of the best players in the history of the game (Federer, Hewitt), and one has the feeling that if his serve carries on like this he could play until he was 47.  He bristles at the notion, but Karlovic's game is not the equal of his contemporaries...not by a long shot.  We all know this, his opponents know this, we all try to avoid saying this and he himself will look you dead in the eye and deny this.

But that doesn't make it any less certain.  So how has he managed?

Well, over the course of his career, he has maintained a 92% 1st serve point win percentage, and if he keeps his 1st serve percentage above 55% (which he has, by a long shot) he is more or less guaranteed to at least take the set to a tie-break against the vast majority of his opponents.  In fact, Karlovic has played and won half of his sets this week with tie-breaks.  He hasn't dropped a set, and he hasn't been broken...not once.  I'm guessing he hasn't even experienced a mini-break in those tie-breaks.  So if he is to win his final over Gael Monfils today, it won't be because he's got great hands, or moves well, or even overwhelming power from the backcourt.  But that shouldn't diminish the admiration for the one quality that characterizes his personality, his serve, his career and his run at the 2016 Citi Open.

Like it or not, Ivo Karlovic...just...keeps...on...coming.

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