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Serving His Own Interests — Ivo Karlovic Enjoys The Ride

Matt Zemek

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Jerry Lai -- USA TODAY Sports

This first week of the year — also the first week of the tennis season — is a time when players are simply trying to get back into the swing of things. The tournaments are not prestigious and don’t carry large numbers of points. The Australian Open, like Wimbledon, lacks a Masters 1000 or Premier 5 tournament in the four weeks preceding it, so the attempt to identify the high-risers or the disappointments based on these preliminary matches is inherently risky.

If you thought, for instance, that Marin Cilic was going to do GREAT at Wimbledon last year based on his sterling Queen’s Club final against Novak Djokovic, you were exercising logic… but the conclusion nevertheless aged poorly. If you thought Petra Kvitova was finally going to once again make a big run based on her grass warm-up results? That didn’t end well, either, even thought it was an entirely sound and sensible prediction.

These are fragile weeks… and to be more specific, low-pressure weeks. They do not carry enormous importance within the framework of the tennis season.

What to focus on at a time like this? The stories which reveal or identify milestones in tennis.

Here is an example:

The texture of the Australian Open — based on results in Doha, Perth, Brisbane, Auckland, and elsewhere — can wait. For this week, Ivo Karlovic is pursuing an achievement with a degree of historical resonance. Whether or not he gets there, he has already come very close, and that in itself is worth noting.

Karlovic offers a very simple reminder at the start of 2019: Athletes are the captains of their own souls. It’s their life. It is their story to write. So what if Karlovic is not making major quarterfinals or Masters semifinals? So what if his ceiling is relatively low and his margins increasingly smaller?

The man seems to be having quite a lot of fun playing tennis, several weeks before his 40th birthday. Will athletes make different decisions based on their levels of skill and their expectations at tournaments? Of course they will… but that decision is entirely the athlete’s concern. We can all have our opinions and preferences, but an athlete’s decision on when to extend — or discontinue — a career is intensely personal. Making a choice might be “wrong” in many eyes, but it is not “wrong” in the sense of doing harm to a community or a specific subset of other people.

This is not morality or ethics. This is about the dignity of work and every human being’s right to determine how one chooses to work in the world. Not every person has such a right, or the situational freedom, to chart one’s own course.

Karlovic can still serve up a storm. He can still win main-draw matches on tour. Currently ranked 100, he is still — in a global context, compared to ALL other active male counterparts on this planet — a relatively decent professional tennis player.

Yes, when placed against his peers on the ATP Tour, Karlovic produced an entirely unremarkable 2018 season: 11 match wins against 16 defeats — not a lot of match play, not a lot of long stays at tour stops each week, not a tidal wave of income.

Yet, in those 27 matches, Karlovic — at age 39 — made almost half a million dollars, slightly less minus expenses.

Would most of us trade that income for what we make at our own jobs (if we even have jobs)?

Of course.

Dr. Ivo knows the prescription for his life. Given his performance this week in Pune, India, I’d say the physician knows how to heal himself.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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