Indian Wells 2019: Karlovic, Thiem, Kohlschreiber fly single-handed banner; Raonic wins, but Zverev out
Ivo Karlovic and Dominic Thiem will face off in the last 16 of the Indian Wells tournament on Wednesday
Roger Federer may have one of the most admired single-handed backhands in tennis, and it has certainly served him well in the 20 or so years that the 37-year-old Swiss has piled up his 100 titles, but he had no hesitation in recommending the double-handed version for his children.
The reason was straightforward:
“Because it’s easier. It’s that simple. If they want to change later on, I will teach them that. But I can’t teach them a double-hander—I can’t hit that one. That’s somebody else’s job.”
For small bodies, the mechanics of hitting a backhand with a full-size racket certainly make two arms a sensible prospect. But plenty have followed Federer’s lead in adopting the one-hander, and not just his contemporaries.
In the top 10, Federer is joined by Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas. At No16 is Marco Cecchinato, while Denis Shapovalov, Richard Gasquet and Grigor Dimitrov sit in the 20s—and represent more than a decade age-span.
And another handful of the breed was already into the third round in Indian Wells, not least the former world No3 and three-time Major champion Stan Wawrinka, ranked 40 but returning to his old form and fitness, post double knee surgery, at a rate of knots.
He was ranked at 68 before he made his final run in Rotterdam, and his one-handed sledge-hammer of a shot produced the goods in his three-set marathon against No29 seed Marton Fucsovics—a barn-stormer of well over three hours. The win, it so happened, earned him a showdown with his fellow Swiss one-hander, Federer.
But before that, the 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic was having more than a few fine moments with this right-handed, serve-and-volley tennis.
Already the oldest man in the draw, he became the oldest match winner at a Masters event when he won his first-round contest against Matthew Ebden. He then broke his own record two days later with an upset of his countryman, No11 seed Borna Coric, and broke that record to reach the fourth round via victory over qualifier Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who was playing in his first-ever Masters main draw.
Earlier this year in Pune, Karlovic became the oldest ATP finalist since 1977, but then as he said after his Coric win, “Every week I am the oldest at something.”
A year ago, the former No14 in the world almost fell outside the top 100, and considered retirement. It got worse: He dropped to 138 in the autumn, but was back inside 100 by the end of the year after some strong Challenger results. Then came Pune, and a three tie-break loss to Kevin Anderson in the final, followed by a second-round loss to No9 seed Kei Nishikori in Australia after almost four hours and five sets.
But one more win in Indian Wells, and he will be up in the 60s, though he will have to beat either fellow one-hander Thiem or No27 seed Gilles Simon—both men who can run the fittest and fastest opposition into the ground.
Yet the towering Karlovic admitted last summer, in an interview for the ATP website:
“The No1 thing that I always regret is not having a two-handed backhand. Because I think in today’s game it would be a lot easier to return the ball.”
A man who has no regrets about choosing to play one-handed is Philipp Kohlschreiber, the stylish 35-year-old German who, unseeded, beat the in-form Pierre-Hugues Herbert for the loss of just four games, and then caused an upset in the second round with a sweeping victory over No31 seed and Rio champion, Nick Kyrgios.
His reward? A third-round contest against five-time champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic. The Serb has won eight of their nine previous matches, with three of those wins coming at Indian Wells.
So it is not a good match-up, on many levels, but Kohlschreiber has never considered his single hander as a weakness. He told me ahead of Wimbledon a couple of years back:
“I never played with two hands… it was the way to play when I was young. I don’t know why I didn’t change, but I don’t regret it. I think I have a very good backhand, I’m very happy with it. I would change a little bit on my forehand side, the grip maybe, if I had the chance to come back, but I think my backhand is a good shot.”
However, there is no getting away from the fact that, good as it may be, and as well as the German has been moving so far in Indian Wells, he will be ruthlessly tested by Djokovic. And the winner, whoever that may be, will also be ruthlessly tested by the in-form Gael Monfils, who cannot stop winning this season.
The No18 seed has seldom looked more fit or more focused as he stacked up his 14th win of 2019 over Albert Ramos-Vinolas to reach the fourth round in Indian Wells, having won in Rotterdam and made the semis in Dubai. He made 23 winners in the 71 minutes it took him to beat the Spaniard, 6-0, 6-3.
More results: Raonic through but Zverev out
No13 seed Milos Raonic has reached the quarter-finals or better in Indian Wells in his past four visits, making the final in 2016. He took on qualifier Marcos Giron, ranked 217, who had only one Tour-level match-win before this event, but beat Jeremy Chardy and No 23 seed Alex de Minaur to set the Raonic meeting. And the American very nearly caused another upset.
Raonic faced 1-4 in the deciding set before a run of five straight games sealed the win, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, after almost two hours.
However, Raonic will not face the expected opponent in the fourth round, for No3 seed Alexander Zverev, carrying a flu virus, was well below par against fellow German, Jan-Lennard Struff.
Stuff certainly came out with all guns blazing, and broke in the sixth game to ensure the first set, 6-3, after fighting off break points in that ninth game. He then broke in the opening game of the second set, with a huge forehand winner down the line, and went on to break twice more for the match, 6-1, after just 70 minutes.
It is the first time that Struff has won three matches in the main draw of a Masters event, and he will face Raonic in the knowledge that he beat the Canadian in Dubai less than a fortnight ago.