One of the biggest upsets in the Open Era. For the first time in that era, a Grand Slam defending champion lost his first round match. Hewitt not only was the defending champion, but the best player in the world too, while his 24-year-old opponent, No. 203, debuted in a major, as a qualifier (failed to get the GS main draw in his eight previous attempts). What seemed like a surprisingly easy first round win (Karlovic was announced as the tallest player in Wimbledon history <211 cm; then listed as 208 cm>, so everyone expected he’d be tough to break) turned into Hewitt’s disaster. After breaking the Croatian giant thrice in the opening set, Hewitt had plenty of opportunities to win the 2nd set (including six break points in three different games):
1:0 (40/15); 2:1 (40/0); 5:4 (40/30) – Karlovic saved the set point with a service winner on 2nd serve; 5:4* in the tie-break
Trailing 1:2 (30-all) in the 3rd set, Hewitt committed two double faults in a row – prior to that moment Karlovic hadn’t even had a break point! The decisive break came at 4-all in the 4th set when Hewitt sent his backhand wide trying to save mini-MP.
It was a pivotal moment in careers of both players. The 22-year-old Hewitt lost his status of the best player in the world soon, and never won a big tournament afterwards; Karlovic in turn, after years of drifting between Futures & Challenger levels, became a regular ATP player, and he’s still dangerous facing the best guys twelve years later when I write these words (this week he played a competitive match in Wimbledon’s fourth round against No. 3 Andy Murray).
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