By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic became the oldest man to win a match at the French Open for 46 years on Tuesday as he beat Spain’s fellow veteran Feliciano Lopez in a first-round duel.
Karlovic, who turned 40 in February, won 7-6(4) 7-5 6-7(7) 7-5 in a match featuring players with a combined age of 77 — the oldest in a Grand Slam in the professional era.
Karlovic became the oldest man to win at Roland Garros since Torben Ulrich in 1973 at the age of 44. He is also the oldest male player to win a Grand Slam match since Ken Rosewall, also 44, did so at the 1978 Australian Open.
The last player to contest a Grand Slam singles match having turned 40 was American Jimmy Connors at the U.S. Open in 1992.
Croatian giant Karlovic fired down 35 aces on his way to a second-round clash against Australian youngster Jordan Thompson.
The evergreen Croat made light of his age to outlast left-hander Lopez.
“It means a lot. Even though it’s in the record books as the oldest one, at least it’s in the record books, so I like it,” Karlovic said of playing his fellow long-survivor.
“I was out for almost two months, so I am really happy that I was able to win today.”
Karlovic, ranked 94, had decided against playing any claycourt tournaments in the build-up to Roland Garros where he has never gone past the third round.
But there was nothing rusty about his serve, not giving Lopez a sniff of a break in the opening two sets.
He took the first set on a tiebreak but did not engineer a break point on the Lopez serve until pouncing with his opponent 5-6 down in the second set.
Almost inevitably the third set went to another tiebreak and when Lopez missed a routine volley at 5-5 it handed Karlovic a match point, only for him to be denied by a lucky backhand return that left him floundering at the net.
A fifth set loomed when Lopez led 5-2 in the fourth set but Karlovic rattled off five straight games to move through.
In a performance of old-school skills he won 65 points at the net.
“Right now I’m just happy with any match that I win,” Karlovic said. “Even if it’s against older guys or kids, whatever. I just like to win.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis)