London: Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt became the first defending men’s champion at Wimbledon since 1967 to lose in the opening round, beaten by the tallest player in tournament history — 6-foot-10 (2.08 metre) qualifier Ivo Karlovic.
Karlovic, a 24-year-old Croat playing his first Grand Slam match, won 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-4 on the opening day on Monday.
Since the first Wimbledon in 1877, the only other defending men’s champion to lose in the opening round was Spain’s Manuel Santana, who fell to Charlie Pasarell 36 years ago. That was one year before the Open era.
Santana is also the only previous top-seeded man to lose in the opening round.
Karlovic, playing just his seventh tour-level match, achieved the upset on the sport’s grandest stage. In keeping with tradition, the defending champion played the first match of the tournament on Centre Court, so that’s where Karlovic made his Wimbledon debut.
The Croat looked nervous at the start but poised at the finish. He served out the final game at love, hitting a 190.4 kph second serve for a winner on match point.
Hewitt’s loss was in sharp contrast to his girlfriend’s first-round result. French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters followed him onto Centre Court and beat Paraguayan Rossana Neffa-De Los Rios 6-0, 6-0 in 31 minutes.
While a reigning champion went out, two former champions cruised through.
Venus Williams, the 2000-2001 women’s champion seeded fourth, needed only 50 minutes to beat Slovakia’s Stanislava Hrozenska 6-2, 6-2 and 1999 champ Lindsay Davenport, seeded fifth, defeated Australia’s Samantha Stosur 7-6 (7-3) 7-5.
Roddick, seeded fifth, hit 14 aces and 21 service winners to beat Italy’s Davide Sanguinetti 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. No. 9 Rainer Schuettler, No. 12 Paradorn Srichaphan and No. 16 Mikhail Youzhny also advanced. Among those eliminated were No. 31 Vince Spadea and No. 33 Nikolay Davydenko.
On a sunny, mild afternoon, Hewitt and Karlovic walked onto the immaculate Centre Court lawn side by side but hardly shoulder to shoulder, since the Croat is 11 inches (28 centimetres) taller. There were no bows to the Royal Box, a tradition eliminated this year.
The match began and went as expected. A shaky Karlovic double-faulted twice to lose the first game, then double-faulted twice more in his next service game to fall behind 0-3. He dropped the first set in 19 minutes.
The momentum turned when Karlovic hit two big serves and a forehand winner to take the final three points of the second-set tiebreaker. When he reached break point for the first time, Hewitt double-faulted to fall behind 1-3 in the third set, and soon the fiery Australian was on the ropes.
Karlovic served well and smothered the net with his enormous wingspan, making it difficult for Hewitt to pass. The Australian cracked under the constant pressure, misfiring on two groundstrokes to lose his serve and give Karlovic a 5-4 lead in the final set.
One point in the final game underscored the mismatch in size. Hewitt hit a topspin lob, a shot that frequently bails him out of trouble, but Karlovic reached up and slammed it for a winner.
Two points later, Karlovic had his stunning victory. He finished with 18 aces and 41 service winners, and won despite breaking serve just twice.
It was the biggest victory by a Croat at Wimbledon since Goran Ivanisevic won the 2001 title.
“Goran, he was always my idol,” Karlovic said in broken English. “I speak to him just now. He gave me congratulations.”
Hewitt’s loss opens up that quarter of the draw for Roddick, who never lost serve and needed only 80 minutes to beat Sanguinetti.
Schuettler beat Michel Kratochvil 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5. Srichaphan defeated Dominik Hrbaty 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3. Youzhny swept Karol Beck 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
In women’s play, American Samantha Reeves beat No. 25 Anna Pistolesi 6-4, 6-4. No. 22 Nathalie Dechy, No. 27 Silvia Farina Elia and No. 30 Denisa Chladkova also advanced.
Meanwhile, play got under way against a background of tightened security, two days after a bomb scare delayed the final of a warm-up tournament at Eastbourne for two-and-a-half hours.
Though officials stressed that no intelligence had been received about a specific terrorist threat, fans were subject to the most extensive security measures ever seen at the All England Club. (AP)