September 18, 2009

Croatia's Ivo Karlovic shattered the record for aces in a tour-level match with 78 in a Davis Cup semifinal loss Friday that lasted nearly six hours.

In one of the more bizarre matches in tennis history, Karlovic surpassed the previous record of 55 in a 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-7(6), 7-6(2), 16-14 defeat to Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic before a raucous partisan crowd at the Zatika Sport Centre in Porec, Croatia.

Stepanek's marathon victory in the first singles match gives the Czech Republic a 1-0 lead in its Davis Cup semifinal tie.

After exchanging service breaks early in the first set, Karlovic and Stepanek combined to hold serve for 78 consecutive games on the indoor clay surface.

"We were not able to break each other," Stepanek said. "The match was going crazy."

Since fifth-set tiebreaks are not used to decide Davis Cup rubbers unless the best-of-five tie has already been clinched, the players continued until someone could win by two games -- though for a while it seemed as if neither player would crack.

The end finally came in the 29th game of the fifth set, when Karlovic missed badly on an overhead volley. Stepanek held serve to close out the victory, but not before first squandering a pair of break points.

"It was a kind of lottery in the fifth set but I stayed mentally strong and it paid off in the end," Stepanek said.

Karlovic, the tallest player on the pro circuit at 6-foot-10, is one of the sport's more curious entities. He matched the tour record for aces in a single match with 51 at Wimbledon in 2005 and broke it with 55 at this year's French Open -- but lost in both matches.

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