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San Jose Continues To Be Kind To Murray
February 18, 2007

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ivo Karlovic presents a challenge unlike any other on the ATP Tour. Standing at 6-foot-10, the ball comes off his racket at odd angles and with such pace that it's nearly possible to return.

 

For one set, Andy Murray had as much trouble as everyone else did this week returning Karlovic's serve. Then, Murray finally found a way to neutralize the big weapon and defend his title at the SAP Open.

 

Murray fought back after falling behind a set and a break Sunday to win his second career title, beating Karlovic 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (2) in a thrilling final.

 

"He has the best serve in tennis. There's no question," Murray said. "Guys can serve harder or more accurately but you just don't see a serve coming from that angle. He can hit spots in the court that guys can't even see. It's physically impossible for other guys to hit those spots."

 

After winning the first set, Karlovic had lost his serve only once in 57 games this week, had a tournament-record 99 aces, and had won more than three-quarters of his points on serve.

 

But the more Murray saw Karlovic's serve that better he got at returning it. After winning only one point on a first serve in the opening set, Murray won 11 over the final two sets, including one on break point to tie the second set, and another that gave him the first minibreak in the third-set tiebreaker.

 

Murray was able to capitalize on the few chances he got and held serve in 10 straight games to end the match.

 

"I've never played anybody like him. There's nobody else as big as him on the tour or anywhere near ... ," Murray said. "You just have to hang in. He's probably the best server in the game but he's not the best returner. So you have to focus on your service games and try and keep it tight. Once it gets close in a set anything can happen."

 

Murray withstood Karlovic's 26 aces and managed to come up with some key passing shots off big first serves. He also forced Karlovic to hit many more difficult volleys than he needed in previous matches, winning nearly 40 percent of the points on Karlovic's serve in the final two sets.

 

The key game came after Murray's serve was broken to open the second set. Karlovic had found his rhythm on his serve, winning 11 straight points.

 

But Murray forced Karlovic into two errors at the net with strong returns off second serves and then converted on break point with a backhand passing shot off a 134 mph first serve.

 

"I felt relieved honestly," Karlovic said of his outlook heading into the game. "I thought I'm going to win. Maybe it was a little bit too early in my head. I started focusing on things that aren't important."

 

Both players held after that until Murray hit three straight forehand passing shots off second serves from Karlovic to close out the set.

 

Murray had to save three break points in the third set, including two in the opening game. But the Scot came up with two of his eight aces on break points and was never broken in the set. Karlovic saved one match point with a 144 mph service winner at 5-6, but faltered in the tiebreaker.

 

Murray got a minibreak when he followed a near-perfect lob -- a shot Murray called "near impossible" because of Karlovic's size -- with an easy putaway volley to go up 2-1. Karlovic then had his first double fault of the match at 4-2 and Murray closed out the match on his serve.

 

Both of Murray's career titles have come in San Jose, where he also beat Lleyton Hewitt in a third-set tiebreaker a year ago. He also won a challenger event in nearby Aptos in 2005.

 

Murray became the fourth player to defend his first career title, joining Mario Ancic (Hertogenbosch), Richard Gasquet (Nottingham) and Paradorn Srichaphan (Long Island).

 

"I don't think it's anything in particular," Murray said. "Maybe I've just been more lucky than in other tournaments."

 

Murray, ranked 13th in the world, is off to a fast start in 2007, finishing as runner-up in Doha and making the fourth round of the Australian Open before losing to Rafael Nadal.

 

Karlovic, ranked 103rd in the world, failed in his attempt to win his first career title but served notice that he is recovered from a knee injury that shut him down for much of the second half of last year.

 

This proved to be a big day in the Murray family. Andy's older brother, Jamie, teamed with American Eric Butorac to beat Chris Haggard and Rainer Schuettler 7-5, 7-6 (8) in the doubles final. The Murrays became the first brothers to win the singles and doubles titles at the same event since Emilio and Javier Sanchez at Kitzbuhel in 1989.

 

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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