Monday, June 29, 2009

All hail Dr. Ivo

No one's ever going to accuse me of choosing my sports allegiances wisely. Oh, sure, when you grow up in Cleveland, you root for Cleveland teams... unless you're a pathetic front-runner whose name rhymes with Smebron Smames and decide you like the Yankees, Bulls, and Cowboys instead! But I think this stubborn allegiance to teams that have a preternatural ability to build up your hopes only to crush them in the most painful way imaginable translates into bizarre preferences in other sports. How else to explain my ridiculous current infatuation with unlikely tennis "hero" Ivo Karlović?

Dr. Ivo (GREAT nickname!) is a gangly 6 ft. 10 inch Croatian giant with pretty limited mobility and an all-around game that's mediocre at best... but he's through to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon based on one thing: an absolutely blistering serve. It's not just the speed that kills opponents; the angles and bounce are obscene owing to his height and almost supernatural wingspan, and when his mechanics are on, as they've been over the past few weeks, his accuracy is surgical. I watched his match against Top 10-ranked French player (and uncanny Muhammad Ali lookalike) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Dr. Ivo was actually blasting aces past French Muhammad Ali (FMA) on his second serve. He's that confident in his serve. Playing against Dr. Ivo right now is like playing a game of service chicken: get ready for a tiebreaker and pray you can return a couple of his bombs for a mini-break, or else you're done. That's exactly what happened to poor FMA, who was reduced to guessing which side of the court to cover, like a soccer goalie facing a penalty kick.

What's not to like about Dr. Ivo? He's got a great nickname. His serve is the biggest weapon in all of tennis. He stutters (yes, you read that correctly: he stutters!). He looks even more drawn in and skeletal than Ivan Lendl, one of my all-time faves. And as if all that weren't enough, his post-victory celebration routine is delightful, especially when it's performed in front of thousands of shocked British matrons. Here's the final-set tiebreak against FMA, including Dr. Ivo's little Ron Jeremy victory dance, and with some patriotically biased, exuberant commentary courtesy of the Croatian Sports Network:

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