Indian Wells: Prajnesh Gunneswaran goes down fighting to Ivo Karlovic

Prajnesh Gunneswaran had no response for the big serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic in the third round of Indian Wells. Karlovic fired 16 aces in the straight sets win while conceding just two break points.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s run at Indian Wells was stopped by Ivo Karlovic in the third round on Monday. The big-serving Croatian won 6-3, 7-6 in a match that lasted an hour and 13 minutes. Karlovic next faces Dominic Thiem in the Round of 16 of the ATP Masters 1000 event in the Californian desert.

Despite the defeat, Gunneswaran exits the tournament knowing he will likely jump to 82nd in the world – a new career high – following wins over Benoit Paire and Nikoloz Basilashvili – in the first two rounds.

Gunneswaran set multiple milestones of qualifying for maiden ATP Masters 1000 event, winning first match at the level and win over a top-20 player and became the first player since Somdev Devvarman in 2011 to reach the Round of 32 at Indian Wells.

It wasn’t just Prajnesh who was setting milestones in Indian Wells. Ivo Karlovic, at 40, became the oldest man to win an ATP Masters 1000 match when he beat Matthew Ebden. “Every week I am the oldest at something,” he had said prior to the match. In January he had become the oldest man in more than four decades to reach an ATP final when he finished runner-up in Pune. “Next week it will be the oldest ever to walk without implants in his hip,” he quipped.

Coming into the match, Prajnesh knew he needed to return well and do so on a consistent basis to have any chance of progressing. Facing someone who has a record of serving the most aces in Open Era history of the ATP Tour, Prajnesh was well aware that he would get a few chances on the Karlovic serve and would have to make them count.

Surprisingly, the opportunity arrived in the first game of the match itself. But Karlovic held firm to save two break points and not trail immediately. The set stayed on serve thereafter with Karlovic conceding just one point on his serve.

Prajnesh was broken at 3-4 in the first set. Bold and powerful returns on the forehand by Karlovic pegged Gunneswaran back. On the first point of the game, Karlovic pushed Gunneswaran into the corner to force an error. This was followed by an outright winner. It didn’t help Gunneswaran when he sent a short ball long. The break of serve was handed over when Karlovic’s sliding backhand slice was sent long by Prajnesh on his backhand.

Karlovic needed two set points to get the job done and take the opening set 6-3 in 28 minutes.

The second set was more competitive than the first with just one break point between the two players. It came in the third game of the second set on Prajnesh’s serve but the leftie saved it with an ace on the second serve down the centre to catch Karlovic off guard.

With neither players able to make inroads on the other’s serve, the second set moved to the tiebreak. Twin errors by Prajnesh on the forehand gave Karlovic back-to-back mini-breaks and a comfortable 4-1 lead. On the fourth point, Prajnesh tried to go deep on his forehand but sent the ball long and on the next point he smacked the shot right into the net with the tall Croatian charging to the net.

Karlovic crossed the third round hurdle with his 16th ace of the match and 54th of the tournament. He thus improved his record against Indian players to 5-1 with the only defeat coming against Devvarman in Chennai in 2009.

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