In a meeting between two of professional tennis’s giants of serve, Ivo Karlović, of Croatia, defeated the Australian Sam Groth 7-6(4), 6-3 in the first round of the Delray Beach Open.
It was the first encounter between the two men, who stand 6 ft. 10 and 6 ft. 4, respectively. And it was probably the most unique of the first-round matches in Las Vegas, not only for the serve-and-volley style that both players employed, but for the fact that Groth was the first man to surpass the Croatian’s record for biggest serve in a professional tournament in 2012.
Although the ATP doesn’t officially recognize serve speed records because of the diversity of radar equipment used on the tour, the Australian earned the unofficial honor at a Challenger event in Busan, South Korea, in 2012. In his second-round match against Uladzimir Ignatik, Groth blasted a 163.7 mph serve to break Karlović’s earlier record of 156 mph registered at the 2011 Davis Cup.
Since then, the Croat’s prior record has been equaled or bested by two others. But it was that first record-breaker from Groth that was the more interesting because of the discourse that ensued. Legendary former player and coach Paul Annacone jumped in, saying, “I can’t believe it. I’ve seen Groth play. I haven’t seen him play in a year, but I’ve seen him. It’s got to be the radar gun.” Fellow big server Milos Raonic added that readings do vary depending on the tournament and location, though in the end he believed players cared little about the actual figures.
Interestingly enough, the technology used at the Busan tournament, FlightScope, is the same implemented at many ATP World Tour events. A representative from the company verified that the reading was accurate.
In Grand Slam tournaments, IBM provides the radar guns used to measure serve speed. For those who doubted Groth’s big serve potential because of his status in the second-tier of pro tennis, he actually recorded the fastest serve in Australian Open history this year with a 145.4 shot against Vasek Pospisil. Across the Slams, only two serves have been faster: Andy Roddick, 2004 US Open, 152 mph; Taylor Dent, 2010 Wimbledon, 148 mph.
While it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, suffice it to say that both Karlović and Groth are some of the biggest servers in the game. To some extent, they are also breaths of fresh air with their willingness to come to the net and volley rather than hug the baseline like most modern-day pros.
The Australian is certainly the more athletic, though both are enjoying very good starts to the year. Groth reached as high as world No. 157 in January after years outside the Top 200. At 34 years old, Karlović reached the final in Memphis last week, however he did retire after only one game today, while playing fellow giant Kevin Anderson of South Africa.