DIMITROV DOMINATES, SMITH UPSETS KARLOVIC

DIMITROV DOMINATES, SMITH UPSETS KARLOVIC

 DIMITROV DOMINATES, SMITH UPSETS KARLOVIC

Grigor’s Debut A Success; Defending Champ Karlovic Upset

By STEVE DORSEY

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Delray Beach, Fla. – It didn’t take long for the first upset to occur at the Delray Beach Open.

The first day of the ATP World Tour tournament concluded when Aussie qualifier John-Patrick Smith stunned defending champion Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in Monday’s nightcap on the Stadium Court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.

“I felt from the start (of the match) I had a chance,” said Smith, who arrived here with an ATP World Tour ranking of No. 135. “Basically, from the get-go I played well.”

Smith’s win denied Karlovic, who is ranked No. 26 in the world, his 300th career win. It was Karlovic’s first match since retiring in the first round at the Australian Open because of a right knee injury, and there was evidence that the layoff affected the 36-year-old Croat.

Karlovic delivered 21 aces, but was successful on only 46 percent of his first serves (he has averaged 66 percent over his 17-year-career) and committed 11 double faults. Contrastingly, Smith had only four aces, but was good on 68 percent of his first serves and had only one double fault.

“I was hanging in there, but in the end, I was a little bit rusty,” Karlovic said. “It can only get better, but to perform like this, it was frustrating. All I have to do is keep practicing and hopefully I’ll get better.”

Karlovic, who was seeded No. 3 here, is the first defending Delray Beach Open champion to lose in the first round since Xavier Malisse in 2008.

Smith, who needed to win two qualifying matches over the weekend to earn a spot in the singles main draw, now hopes to use this win to jump-start what he hopes will be a memorable week in Delray Beach.

“I just tried to take away the offense from him, and I really did that well,” Smith said of his game plan against Karlovic. “(His) first serve I returned well. . . . It’s good to get this one under the belt and look forward to the next challenge.”

Tuesday’s lineup is a full card of the remaining first-round matches, including No. 1 seed and No. 14 world-ranked South African Kevin Anderson taking on American Austin Krajicek on the Stadium Court. That match is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., followed by No. 2 seed Aussie Bernard Tomic, who is ranked No. 20 in the world, against American Rajeev Ram.

The evening session will kick off with an intriguing matchup between Americans Taylor Fritz and wild card Tim Smyczek. Fritz is a special exempt entry who at 18 is the youngest player in the draw. He reached his first career ATP World Tour final two weekends ago at Memphis, losing to Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Fritz has climbed to No. 102 in the ATP World Tour rankings and could reach his original goal of breaking into the top 100 with a good showing in Delray Beach this week.

“I’m taking it one step at a time,” Fritz said. “I’m just going to focus on getting that done, and maybe in the next week or two if that happens I can come up with some new goals, but break that top 100 first.”

Tuesday’s busy schedule will conclude with the featured nightcap on the Stadium Court matching Argentine wild card Juan Martin del Potro against American Denis Kudla. Del Potro, a former World No. 4, won the Delray Beach Open five years ago and returns for his second appearance here but first in nearly a year after undergoing surgery on his left wrist.

Dimitrov, Mannarino advance in afternoon matches

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, the only two seeded players in action Monday afternoon, shrugged off a delayed start and blustery conditions to win their first-round matches.

Dimitrov, the No. 4 seed here this week, dispatched Dudi Sela of Israel in straight sets, advancing to the second round with a 6-4, 6-2 victory. Mannarino, the No. 8 seed, dropped the first set of his opening match against Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri but rallied to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Dimitrov, ranked No. 27 in the world, is making his debut at the Delray Beach Open and the 24-year-old is hoping that the year’s first American outdoor tournament will be the start of a successful 2016, with a goal of returning to the top 20 of the ATP World Tour rankings.

Dimitrov had somewhat of an up-and-down year in 2015 that included dropping out of the top 20 of the world rankings after starting the year ranked No. 11, a change of coaches and a breakup with girlfriend Maria Sharapova last summer.

“I’m happy with last year. I know nobody expected me to say that, but I learned a lot from last year,” Dimitrov said Monday following his first-round win. “It was a wakeup call, on and off the court.”

Dimitrov said he’s moved forward and is looking forward to having a positive first appearance at Delray Beach.

“I’m glad all of that is behind me,” Dimitrov said. “I’m happy to get out there on the practice court. I’m enjoying (tennis) again. I’m out here to perform, to do my best.”

Light rain early in the afternoon delayed the start of the Dimitrov-Sela match, and then they had to negotiate windy conditions once the courts dried.

“It was rough,” Dimitrov said. “I woke up this morning and the weather was great. Next thing you know, I came out to the courts and it’s blowing a lot. But it’s in the game. It’s something you can’t really control. That taxes you a little bit mentally, but I felt okay today, and I knew that I had to be really focused, because Dudi’s an experienced player and if I had shown him a little window, I’m sure he would have taken advantage. After the break in the first set, my serve was consistent. I just have to stay calm.”

The only other match that was played Monday afternoon was in the doubles draw, with Mikhail Kukushkin and Illya Marchenko rallying to defeat Americans Bjorn Fratangelo and Dennis Novikov 1-6, 6-4, 10-6 in a tiebreaker.

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