Ivo Karlovic and Gilles Muller went the distance at the home of the tiebreak in 2016.
After reaching six finals on all surfaces between 2014 and ’15, Karlovic was playing some of the best tennis of his career. His 2016 campaign, though, got off to a rocky start as he lost his first six matches and missed the U.S. hard court Masters tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami.
The Croat would only reach two semifinals before Wimbledon: on clay in Istanbul and on grass at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where he fell in straight sets to Muller.
Those two set up a rematch on the grass in Newport, RI, at the International Hall of Fame Championships. Karlovic had shown his familiarity with the courts there as he was playing in his third final in a row at the tournament, while Muller—vying for his first career title—reached the second grass-court championship match of his career.
Over the course of the week, Karlovic demonstrated why he’s one of the biggest servers in the history of the sport as he was only broken once. However, his hot streak was tested early as Muller broke him in his opening service game, then consolidated to take a 3-0 lead. Karlovic managed to break back, and the first set eventually went to a tiebreak. There, it was Muller who seized the momentum and he rolled through it, 7-2.
With both players settling into a groove on their serves, the second set went to a tiebreak as well. Muller, still playing solidly, got within two points of winning his first career title. At 5-5, Karlovic hit a lob, which Muller let go, thinking it would sail out. It was a costly decision as the ball landed in to give Karlovic a set point on his serve, which he quickly capitalized on to even up the match.
It was only fitting that the first two sets were decided by a tiebreak: After all, the scoring system was developed by Jimmy Van Alen, one of the co-founders of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and made its debut there. The third set continued along the same path as the first two, with another tiebreak in store. In this decider, Muller did earn a match point at 5-6, but Karlovic fought it off. Muller did some battling of his own, staving off four match points, but at 12-12, he gave Karlovic a fifth opportunity by hitting a volley out. The Croat converted to finally win the tournament at the Newport Casino, the seventh title of his career.
For the second time in his career, Karlovic won a final in a third-set tiebreak. That’s against four losses by the same margin in the last round of a tournament.
This was Karlovic’s eighth career singles final on U.S. soil. His Croatian compatriots Goran Ivanisevic, Mario Ancic, Ivan Ljubicic and Marin Cilic contested 12 championship matches in the U.S. between them.
Muller’s run to the final brought his win total in 2016 on grass to 13. The only tournament he didn’t reach the quarterfinals or better was Wimbledon, where he fell in the second round.
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