HOUSTON (Reuters) - Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic powered his way to his first career ATP title on Sunday, using his big serve to capture the U.S. Clay Court Championship with a 6-4 6-1 victory over Argentine Mariano Zabaleta.
Karlovic, who stands 6ft 10ins, routinely hit serves 135 mph (216 kph) and faster and finished with 10 aces. His fastest clocked in at 149 mph (238 kph).
When an overwhelmed Zabaleta managed to return, Karlovic was often waiting at the net to slam away an easy point.
Karlovic, 28, entered the match ranked 108th in the world. He was appearing in the third final of his career, but had never won a tournament.
“It’s my first title and it’s on clay, which is really unbelievable,” Karlovic said. “I was lucky.”
Zabaleta, 29, who suffered a knee injury in November 2005 and missed eight months, was playing his first tournament final since 2004. He has won three ATP tournaments and is ranked 156th.
The Argentine said Karlovic’s serve was simply too difficult to handle. “It that ball hits you, it will kill you,” said Zabaleta, a qualifier who upset number two seed American James Blake on Saturday to reach the final.
This is the last time the championship will be played in Houston, host for six years but suffering declining attendances. A new location has not yet been determined.
The tournament went out with a bit of a bang when retired tennis greats Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf led a courtside auction to raise money for a troubled local school.
While playing a few doubles points for the crowd, they began holding hands and Agassi inadvertently whacked his wife in the mouth with his racket.
Graf needed a couple of stitches from a doctor attending the tournament. “It was an unfortunate accident, but it was not serious,” Agassi said.
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