No. 3 seed Ivo Karlovic defeated sixth-seeded Australian Christopher O’Connell 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the final at the Oracle Challenger Series Houston on Sunday, where he will meet No. 4 seeded American Marcos Giron, a winner over compatriot Mitchell Krueger 7-6(4), 6-2. The two have met twice before, with Karlovic winning both match-ups.
The tough-fought Karlovic vs. O’Connell match left very little room for error, but the veteran Karlovic tapped into his wealth of experience on Tour to win a match in which he wasn’t feeling at his physical best.
“Today was difficult because yesterday was such a long day,” Karlovic said following the match. “I was a little bit tired and sore in the knees and shoulder, but I just kept fighting and hoping for the best. In the end it paid off.”
After losing a tight first-set tiebreaker that saw no breaks of serve, Karlovic kept his focus and refused to let the momentum shift to O’Connell. The ATP Tour all-time ace leader delivered 19 aces in the match, and didn’t face a single break point.
“I just had to use every opportunity that I had,” he said. “I was fighting, and I was able to keep cool even after I lost the tiebreak. That was the key.”
The 40-year-old Croatian – who boasts eight career ATP singles titles and reached a career-best ranking of No. 14 in 2007 – had more than 15 years on his opponent, but experience prevailed over youth this time around. Karlovic will look to continue his youthful renaissance in Sunday’s final against 26-year-old Giron, who is playing in his second consecutive Oracle Challenger Series final, having lost in New Haven to friend Tommy Paul.
Giron’s victory over Krueger was his first straight-sets win of the tournament, having gone the distance in all three of his previous matches, including both the third round and quarterfinals on Friday.
“I’m pumped to get through that match, straight sets or not,” Giron said. “The last couple of times we played, Mitch got the best of me. The first set really could have gone either way with it being a tiebreaker, and the second set I was down love-40 in my first service game and was able to dig out of that. So it might have been straights, but there were a lot of pivotal points that I was able to win and hopefully I can keep on going.”
The most recent meeting between Giron and Karlovic came last year in the first round here in Houston, a cold and lopsided affair in which Giron never quite gained any traction.
“I’m going to have to take care of my serve,” Giron said of his strategy this time around. “His serve is insane, so hopefully I will get an opportunity, and I’ll be able to succeed on that. There will be a few important points over the course of the match and I’ll need to take advantage.”
Giron is searching for his second ATP Challenger title on the season, having won in Orlando earlier this year.
“Playing tournaments, you’re always hoping to be in the finals and you’re always hoping to win,” he said. “After so many three setters, playing two matches yesterday for a total of six sets, and getting through today, I’m pumped to be in the final and hopefully I can get it done.”
The men’s final will be held Sunday at the George R. Brown Tennis Center at Rice University following the completion of the women’s final.