One year after finishing as runner-up to Gilles Simon, Kevin Anderson placed his hands on the Tata Open Maharashtra trophy on Saturday.
The 32-year-old South African clinched his sixth tour-level title after two hours and 44 minutes, recovering from 2/5 down in the final-set tie-break to beat Ivo Karlovic 7-6(4), 6-7(2), 7-6(5) in the tallest ATP Tour final in the Open Era. Breaking the record previously set by Anderson and John Isner at the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open, 6’8″ Anderson won 88 per cent of first-serve points (57/65) to overcome 6’11” Karlovic.
“I really wanted to go one step further than last year,” said Anderson at the trophy ceremony. “You don’t get to win tournaments every week, so when you do it is very special and it is something that definitely means a lot to me.”
Anderson stared down 36 aces from Karlovic and fired 21 himself.
Now 7-1 in Pune, Anderson notched his fourth victory in five FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against the 39-year-old to improve his record in tour-level finals to 6-13. Last year, Anderson reached a personal-best five championship matches on the ATP Tour, picking up titles in New York and Vienna en route to his maiden appearance at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London.
In a set with few opportunities on return for either man, Anderson earned the only break points of the set in the tenth game. The South African connected on multiple returns and fired passing shots past the World No. 100 to manufacture two set points. Despite being unable to take advantage of either opportunity, Anderson soon moved into a one-set lead.
The World No. 6 capitalised on a costly double fault from Karlovic to earn the first mini-break of the tie-break before immediately doubling his advantage for a 5/2 lead. A low return placed at the laces of his opponent opened up the three-point gap, with Anderson eventually taking the first set courtesy of another double fault from his opponent.
Once again, Anderson applied pressure to Karlovic’s serve in the second set. But, despite earning four break points, the South African was unable to avoid a second tie-break as Karlovic found success charging the net under pressure. From there, Karlovic levelled the match as Anderson leaked uncharacteristic errors on his serve and forehand.
After Karlovic saved two championship points at 5-6 (15/40) with back-to-back aces, a final-set tie-break was required to decide the champion. Karlovic opened up an early lead and showed his best form at the net to establish a 5/2 advantage. After holding both service points to narrow the gap to 5/4, Anderson faced two Karlovic serves with the championship in the balance. Anderson earned both points with back-to-back passing-shot winners before firing an ace out wide to claim the title.
“With him at 5/2 in the third-set [tie-break], anything could have happened,” Anderson said. “I’m very happy I played five very good points to finish today’s match.”
As the oldest player to reach a tour-level final since a 43-year-old Ken Rosewall defeated Tom Gorman to win 1977 Hong Kong, Karlovic was aiming to secure his first tour-level crown in two and half years. In August 2016, Karlovic beat Feliciano Lopez in straight sets to lift his eighth ATP Tour trophy in Los Cabos. And while Karlovic was on the brink of adding another trophy before Anderson’s two passing shots flipped the script, the Croat has no regrets.
“I was in that position because of my gamestyle, so in that moment I didn’t want to change anything,” Karlovic said. “It didn’t work out how I wanted it to, but that is life.”
Anderson earns 250 ATP Ranking points and gains $90,990 in prize money for lifting the trophy. Karlovic receives 150 ATP Ranking points and collects $49,205.
“It was difficult last year, I was down, but I was able to rise a little bit and I am here now, so all is good,” said Karlovic. “It was an excellent week. I hope to continue at this level.”
Did You Know?
In 2018, Anderson became the first South African to finish in the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings since No. 10 Wayne Ferreira in 1996. The two-time Grand Slam finalist finished the season at No. 6 with a 47-19 record.