Halle 2015: Roger Federer scores No50 over Karlovic to reach 10th final

Roger Federer beats Ivo Karlovic in straight sets to reach the final of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle for the 10th time

The stars were all aligned, it seemed, for Halle’s favourite son, Roger Federer, to make more history on the grass of this newly-promoted 500 tournament.

The love affair between this green and pleasant corner of Westphalian Germany is a long one, as long as that between the mighty Swiss and that mighty Major at Wimbledon. He won his first at both tournaments in 2003, has gone on to win both seven times, and reached the final at both nine times. Little wonder that he holds the record for most grass titles in the Open era and the most grass match-wins—134—among active players on the tour.

And if all that was not enough to get the fans at Halle very excited, the fact that, should Federer reach his 10th final he would also reach his 50th match-win at the tournament should get the Gerry Weber Stadion on its feet.

But there was one rather large barrier to this ambition, this milestone: The 6ft 11in 36-year-old Ivo Karlovic.

The huge veteran Croat is famed for one shot above all, his serve—though that is to underplay his volley follow-up and his big forehand.

Karlovic already led the tournament with 94 aces this week, including a best-of-three-sets record 45 in his quarter-final win over Tomas Berdych. Nine times he had hit over 100 aces in tournaments, his best score in a non-Grand Slam being at San Jose, with 113. And he would overtake that number during this semi-final against Federer.

Federer had been in good form this year, with three titles and a final run in Indian Wells and Rome, but Karlovic had also won a title this year and, more impressively, he was one of only three men to beat the world No1 Novak Djokovic, in Doha. By happy coincidence, Federer was one of the others, in Dubai.

Karlovic also joined Federer in having notched up over 50 grass-court wins in his career. And if another sign of the quality of the Karlovic serve was required, it was written in their 13 previous meetings, with no fewer than 16 tie-break sets, the last one going to Karlovic in a three-set battle in Basel last October.

Federer addressed how he would try to solve the Karlovic problem after beating the very different style of all-court, varied tennis offered up by the likes of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer.

“It starts with focusing on your own game and own serve. Then you take it from there. Clearly I’m going to try and have an impact on his second serve, try to pressure his first serve, and when it gets important, maybe he gets a bit nervous, maybe you can play your best tennis when it really matters. I’m not going to get frustrated, I know I won’t be. It’s just normal that it’s going to be raining down aces, but I’ve played even the toughest places—Wimbledon, indoors, altitude in Gstaad, Cincinnati which is one of the fastest courts out there—there are no real secrets.”

Federer was true to his word, even though, as he expected, it was soon raining aces. Karlovic opened with two love holds, and seemed to be picking up Federer’s serve very well, too. The defending champion looked calm in holding, but after seven games, he had dropped six points on serve, Karlovic just one.

Levelling at 4-4, the Croat hit tournament aces 100, 101, and 102 to hold from 15-15, and had Federer at 30-30 in the next game with a blistering forehand down-the-line winner. But Federer held from deuce and they headed to a tie-breaker.

But what was interesting about that scenario was that, despite Karlovic’s near impenetrable serve, Federer had won 13 of their previous tie-breaks, Karlovic only three.

It appeared that Federer’s hope, in the past and again now, that Karlovic might get a bit nervous was spot on—though in truth it was as much about Federer lifting his game to take advantage of a couple of second serves. The Swiss blocked a backhand return-of-serve winner to pick up the first mini-break, 4-3, held his own two serves and then clenched his fist as Karlovic made his only double fault of the match.

Federer led 7-6(4), had hit 14 winners to Karlovic’s 20 (13 of which were aces). But it was all in the timing—and the self-belief.

This time, Karlovic served first, and he continued to play at a remarkably high level, and not just on serve. He held the third game with a great touch volley retrieval, suggesting that at 36, he is as fit now as he has ever been and could, with a few more decent runs, equal or better his career-high ranking of 14 back in 2008.

But that ambition would have to go on hold for now. Federer struggled with Karlovic’s fine sliced return of serve in the fourth game, and the only break point of the match that followed it, but he held firm with a big serve of his own.

After an hour of play, they remained locked at 2-2, with both now putting in a sequence of love holds. Come the 11th game, Karlovic did indeed reach that record 114th ace, his 20th of the match, and Federer then found a couple of perfect cross-court backhands to take it to yet another tie-break.

Karlovic, this time, stayed more focused, more resilient, and Federer recognized that with a ‘C’mon’ on each point he won. The Swiss got the first mini-break, Karlovic returned the favour, and he almost got the advantage when a Federer ball was called out, only to be overturned on review.

And that was enough to condemn the Croat, as Federer took the point he needed on Karlovic’s serve with another great backhand. Two fine serves, and the match went to the Swiss, 7-6(4), and sure enough, the arena rose to its feet in celebration.

Federer afterwards explained how tough it was to get used to the Karlovic serve, though his own superior first-serve serving average confirmed that he had done just that: He almost matched Karlovic’s winners, 30-33, even though the Croat’s tally included 20 aces. He added:
“The way he’s still performing, I’m glad Ivo isn’t 22 any more.”

So Federer reaches his 50th win in Halle to reach his 10th final, and will look to win his third in a row against either No2 seed Kei Nishikori, who he beat in the Halle semis last year, or unseeded Andreas Seppi, who scored his only win over Federer at this year’s Australian Open.

Whoever earns the honour of that final place, they will know they have to take on not just Federer but probably 12,000 spectators as well. It’s a big ask.

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