By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Ivo Karlovic fired down 75 aces in a record Australian Open marathon against Argentina's Horacio Zeballos which lasted five hours, 15 minutes and finished in a 6-7(6) 3-6 7-5 6-2 22-20 first-round victory for the Croatian on Tuesday.
The 37-year-old 20th seed threw his hands in the air in delight after Zeballos ballooned an attempted lob high into the night sky to finally bring an end to the grueling 157-minute fifth set.
Karlovic embraced his exhausted opponent then exchanged high fives with a large part of the crowd which had stuck with the contest from its start in the afternoon sun to the finish under the low wattage lights on the tiny Court 19.
With all the other matches on the outer courts long finished, a carnival atmosphere had developed as the two players tried and failed to break each other's serve in the final set.
Organizers sent ballboys running off to get more energy drinks as the marathon continued with the gloom punctuated occasionally by fireworks being set off at a match at the neighboring Melbourne Cricket Ground.
"I was just trying to hang in there, just point by point," said Karlovic.
"(I had energy drink) gatorades and water, I don't know. I mean, I began really bad. As the match was going on, it was little bit less hot also. So that kind of also gave me opportunity to be more, how you say, not tired."
Karlovic's ace total was an Australian Open record for a match and he flung down 38 in the final set alone.
Zeballos chipped in with 33 in the match and 15 in the last stanza.
The break point Karlovic converted was only the fourth in the 42 games in the deciding set, with long rallies at a premium as the serves continued to thwack into the back fence at both ends.
Despite its length, the contest was still 38 minutes shy of the record for the longest match at the Australian Open - the 2012 final between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal having gone five hours and 53 minutes.
However, it was a record for the highest number of games in Melbourne in the tiebreak era, beating by one the 83 American Andy Roddick played to beat Younes El Aynaoui 4-6 7-6 4-6 6-4 21-19 at Melbourne Park in 2003.
The longest match in the record books is American John Isner's 6–4 3–6 6–7(7) 7–6(3) 70–68 victory over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut after 11 hours, five minutes of play over three days at Wimbledon in 2010.
In that duel Isner served a world record 113 aces, closely followed by Mahut's 103. Karlovic's 75 was not his highest total in a match, falling just shy of the 78 he served against Radek Stepanek in a Davis Cup tie in 2009.
"I was thinking about that other match Isner against Mahut, I was hoping little bit it could go this long so I could also have a record," said Karlovic.
Karlovic will have two days to rest his legs before his second round contest against local wildcard Andrew Whittingham, a serve volleyer who earlier beat Czech Adam Pavlasek 6-4 4-6 6-2 6-3 in a relatively modest 145 minutes.
"Arm is good, but my knee, my back, little bit not so good. Elbow," he said.
"I don't know how I will recover. Tomorrow off. I will not even hit. I'm just going to do the ice bath, try to hit good, go to sleep early. Hopefully that will be enough."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar)