Unleashing his all-round game at a crucial time, Kevin Anderson negated the serve and volley tactics of Ivo Karlovic in an excruciating three-set final to lift the Tata Open Maharashtra singles title here Saturday. In the battle between the big-serving tall players, the South African world number six tamed the 'gentle giant' 7-6(4) 6-7(2) 7-6 (5) to claim his sixth career title. Anderson had ended as runner-up in the final last year.
Expectedly, points were short and there were no exciting rallies as the match was largely restricted to thundering serves from the two players. Karlovic saved all eight breakpoints in the two-hour 44-minute match and led 5-2 in the deciding tie break but the South African reeled off five straight points to clinch the trophy. Anderson left a return from Karlovic after being called out by the linesman but the chair umpire overruled and also denied him the Challenge. It put the Croat ahead 5-2 but still could not take advantage as Anderson regrouped quickly to make solid returns and ended the match with his 21st ace. Karlovic, ranked 100, had won a title at the age of 37 to be the joint oldest champion with Roger Federer and was bidding to better not only this record but also get his first title in more than two years.
On Friday, the 39-year-old had become the oldest ATP Tour finalist in 42 years. It could not have been a better start for Anderson to the fresh season after a breakthrough 2018 in which he won two titles and reached final of the Wimbledon Championships. Anderson came out with some stunning passing winners in the 10th game, creating two set points but Karlovic managed to save both with his missile-like serves. Eventually, the set stayed on serve and in the tie-breaker, Karlovic served a double fault at 2-3 and then netted a half-volley to hand a 5-2 cushion to the South African. Anderson earned three set points by blasting a volley winner from near the net but served a double fault on the next point. Karlovic's big served cracked under pressure as a second double fault handed Anderson the opening set.
The second set was locked at 4-4 when Anderson attacked Karlovic' serve and hit a backhand passing winner to earn three breakpoints. The Croat saved the first with an ace, second with the help of net-chord and stood like a rock at the net to save the third as Anderson netted a backhand. The South African again created a break opportunity by hitting a forehand winner at 30-30 but Karlovic continued to deny him the break, coming up with his 20th ace of the match. In the tie-breaker, Anderson hit a forehand long and later served a double fault as the Croat pulled away to a 5-1 lead and made it one-set all. In the third set, after battling for 11 more games, which went on serve, Anderson had a chance to finish the match in the 12th when Karlovic faced two match points but the Croat saved both and another tie-breaker was required to decide the winner.
(With inputs from agencies.)