2016 U.S. Open: Ivo Karlovic vs Jared Donaldson

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It is a golden opportunity for both Ivo Karlovic and Jared Donaldson when they clash in the third round of the U.S. Open on Saturday. Both players will be looking for their first-ever spot in the fourth round of the tournament. Surprisingly, this is just the fourth time that the 37-year-old Karlovic has made the third round. Donaldson has already set a career mark by making it this far, his best Slam showing.

(21) Ivo Karlovic vs (Q) Jared Donaldson
Big serves and short rallies should be the point of order when Karlovic and Donaldson go at it on Saturday. The 21st seed wasn’t quite as locked in on serve in his second round match against Donald Young as he was in his opener. In round one, Karlovic won an astounding 105 of 116 points played on his first serve. Against Young, his first serve win rate dropped down to 78 percent. He also faced six break points, but saved them all. He again won right at 50 percent of his second serve points after taking 51 percent in his five set win over Yen-Hsun Lu in round one.

Karlovic did just enough against Young, breaking him two times in the 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-4 win. Karlovic had a boatload of unforced errors with 45 to offset 52 total winners. His forehand accounted for 27 of those UEs. The21st seed now has 85 aces through two rounds after smashing home 24 in the win over Young. He did have eight double faults, perhaps feeling a bit of fatigue after the nearly four hour match in round one against Lu.

Donaldson followed up his upset of 12th seeded David Goffin in the opening round with a straight sets win over Viktor Troicki on Thursday. Donaldson showed few signs of nerves in the 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 win. One thing he will want to improve on is his first serve percentage, which dipped below 50 percent again against Troicki. He would win just 47 percent of his second serve points. He had the same issue versus Goffin with just 46 percent of his first serves landing in pay, but he won 56 percent of his second serve points.

Donaldson did enough with his ground game, crafting 37 winners. That was narrowly better than his 36 unforced errors. That was a reduction from the Goffin match, where he had 56 unforced errors. So although high, it is a good sign of better ground play. Where the American was clinical was converting break chances, where he took half of the 12 chances he saw against the Serb. That followed a strong performance in that category against Goffin, where he converted on seven of 13 break chances.

This will be Donaldson’s first time to see the laser serve of Karlovic and that will make things difficult for the 19-year-old. Donaldson has not shown well against the big servers he has faced this season. The American has really only seen two who can bring something close to Karlovic’s speed and that was Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic. Donaldson lost in straight sets to both. He did break Kyrgios once on three chances, but crafted no chances against the Raonic serve. Looking back through 2015, Donaldson faced Gilles Muller and John Isner. Both definitely fitting the bill as big servers and again no breaks and just one break chance in two straight sets losses.

That isn’t a good track record and looks ominous heading into this third round clash. In the past, Donaldson certainly has not shown the ability to have his serve hold up against some of the biggest serves on tour. A key starting point for the American qualifier to compete against Karlovic will be upping that first serve percentage. That may also be very problematic as Donaldson only averages 52 percent on the season, so his U.S. Open numbers are down just slightly from his season numbers. Karlovic isn’t going to be mistaken for an elite returner, but he can attack those second serves more readily and make life difficult for Donaldson.

Strangely enough, having a patient mental approach on returning or watching the Karlovic serve whiz by you may also be a key to Donaldson’s serve. Even the best returners in the game will tell you that Karlovic is going to beat you a lot with his serve. He’s going to rack up aces and he’s going to send a ton of serves that put the returner into poor court position, which ultimately will wind up in an easy 1-2 punch for a Karlovic point. A key is staying in your return game mentally. You have to live with those facts and know that you aren’t going to get a lot of chances off Karlovic, but for Donaldson, he cannot let that frustrate him. Frustration often turns into impatience and in turn will lead to rushed serves from the American and rushed ground exchanges. All bad signs. All signs that will point to an exit for Donaldson.

Where Donaldson can do some damage is if Karlovic is having a bit of an off-day serving. Honestly, against Young, there were some chances for the lefty to get into that match. Donaldson will hope that he can get the racquet on enough balls to get Karlovic into some longer ground exchanges, where he can use his younger legs and solid groundies to pound on the 21st seed. Watching Donaldson through two rounds, I have been impressed with his backhand. That is usually a weakness for a lot of young players, but Donaldson shows good pop with his two hander and nice variety with a backhand slice. His forehand is powerful and also has some variety to it as we’ve see with some of the scoop action he has shown.

Those shots will give Donaldson the ability to win points in the ground exchange. That will be important on his own serve if he’s not getting cheap points. It will be a huge bonus if he is getting Karlovic into those exchanges off the Croat’s serve. As for Karlovic, he’ll be looking for business as usual on offense. Big serving and quick points when he’s not crushing aces. He does like to come in with some serve and volley action, so Donaldson will need to be prepared for that and has the athleticism to combat it. Whether he has the consistency in his volley game to make Karlovic pay is a different question.

If this match comes down to multiple tie breaks, it’s advantage Karlovic. Donaldson just has not played many. He is 2-3 this season and just 4-11 in his career. Karlovic is now 30-18 this season after going 3-1 through the first two rounds on breakers. Dating back to Wimbledon, the 21st seed has won an astounding 19 of his last 23 tie breaks.

Almost everything you see above points to a Karlovic win, but he’s not unbeatable. He’s got older legs and every set put on them can potentially dock a few MPHs off that serve and make a LARGE difference in his next match. Donaldson has had a nice run this week and has shown that he has some pretty good all-around game as he’s thrown his name into the mix now among who can carry the American mantle with Isner starting to slow some. In this spot though, I think it is a tough ask for him unless Karlovic has an off day.

Prediction
Karlovic wins in four sets

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