Ivo Karlovic was hoping to fete his 31st birthday this afternoon with a victory in the finals of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships. Lamentably, 21 year old Ernests Gulbis showed him no respect. Gulbis crushed Karlovic 6-2,6-3 for his inaugural ATP title.
Karlovic opened the match in his usual fashion, smoking serves by his opponent. Then up 2-1, Karlovic connected on a forehand winner to get his first break point. However, by coercing errors from the big guy, Gulbis salvaged the game. From the outset, Gulbis got some good stabs at Karlovic’s serves relaying the message that he would not be intimidated. After a good return set up a backhand crosscourt pass for deuce, Gulbis got a forehand error from Karlovic for his initial break point. By prevailing in a long rally, Karlovic sponged the deficit. However, with a return winner, Gulbis obtained a second break point and converted by clipping the line with a forehand. After readily consolidating for 4-2, with Karlovic slicing a backhand long, Gulbis had two more chances to break. By pulverizing another return, Gulbis stretched his lead to 5-2. The next game, with an ace, Gulbis put himself one set closer to his first ATP title.
Prior to this match, Karlovic had surrendered his serve only once all week. But, by using the first serve as target practice and annihilating the second, Gulbis was giving Karlovic all sorts of headache. After pressuring Karlovic in the opening game of the second set and himself holding at love, Gulbis earned double break point off a sensational return. When Karlovic failed to convert on a volley, Gulbis secured the break for 2-1. After having no trouble consolidating, Gulbis pressured his opponent into a double fault for break point. Karlovic bailed himself out with an ace. Karlovic then looked to the heavens and with the sign of the cross thanked the powers above for getting him out of trouble. A few points later, Karlovic secured the game to keep the deficit to one break. Still, the problem for Karlovic was the inability to dent his opponent’s serve. Serving at 3-5, with a backhand down the line pass and errors from Karlovic, Gulbis arrived at double match point. With two aces, Karlovic put Gulbis on ice. Once more, with a fiery forehand crosscourt return winner, Gulbis had break point. Yet again, Karlovic denied him with an ace. However, feeling the squeeze from Gulbis, Karlovic threw in two straight double faults to hand Gulbis the trophy.
Gulbis reflected that this triumph was particularly sweet in light of his horrendous record in 2009 where he “struggled a lot …with injury”. The next few days, Gulbis plans to practice and “hopes to get a wildcard [at the Sony Ericsson Open] in Miami”. From a ranking of 72, Gulbis will return to the top 50; his career high is 38 in April 2008.