Gilles Muller and Ivo Karlovic, veterans who adore playing on grass, gave us another classic on this surface in the s'Hertogenbosch final, with Muller prevailing by 7-6 7-6 in an hour and 33 minutes for his second ATP title.
Being 38 and 34 respectively, this was the oldest ATP final since Hong Kong 1977 when Ken Rosewall played against Tom Gorman. These two have met 3 times, all on the green surface, and all 7 sets went into a tie break. Muller won here as well 12 months ago in the semi-final, by the same result, and Ivo prevailed in a crazy Newport final a month later, saving 3 match points and taking the deciding tie break 14-12. This latest match they've played was no difference what so ever, with serve as the dominant element on both sides, and no break chances in the entire encounter. Nevertheless, Muller did just about everything better, dropping just 7 points on serve and prevailing in the crucial moments in both tie breaks to finish on the winning side.
We saw 76 service winners (53% of the total points), 41 from Muller and 35 from Karlovic. They had 10 volley winners each but Muller's groundstrokes worked much better, hitting 6 forehand and 5 backhand winners, which made a big difference in the final outcome. There were just 6 unforced errors in total, due to short rallies and the number of forced errors wasn't huge either, with Muller committing 12 and Karlovic 11. Only 14 points went beyond 4th stroke, and the longest rally had 8 shots, which is a perfect illustration how quick the points were. There were just 3 deuces, all on Karlovic's serve, and Gilles was really untouchable in his games, holding at love 9 times. Ivo was better in those "longer" points, taking 10 out of 14, but Gilles compensates that in the shortest points department, up to 4 strokes, where he had a clear 74-55 advantage.
Muller raced through his opening service game with 4 service winners, as an excellent indicator of what this match will be all about. Ivo responded with 2 service winners and 1 more from volley to level the score, but Gilles moved in front again with 3 unreturnable serves in game 3. Karlovic had small problems in the following game but he overcame 15-30 easily, hitting another 3 service winners. Muller was again untouchable on serve in game 5, he already had 11 service winners and it was clear that Ivo will have to produce something special if he wanted to create any kind of chance on return. In game 6, Muller was the one who forced the first deuce on return, with a backhand winner, but Ivo got out from the jail with two good serves, leveling the score at 3-3.
Gilles sailed through another service game to move 4-3 up, from the start of the match there were 17 points on his serve, he won 16 and 14 of them with the service winner, which is brutal! Ivo blasted 3 service winners for a 4-4, and a backhand lob winner gave him 15-30 on return in the following game. Nevertheless, Muller stayed calm and he brought the game home with 3 service winners to be 5-4 in front. Both served well in the remaining 3 games to set up a tie break (return winner gave Muller 30-30 on return in the last game but that was all he could do), a familiar outcome in matches of these two. They exchanged mini-breaks early on and then we saw 6 straight points for the servers before Muller made the crucial move when he scored a mini-break for a 6-5 with a precious backhand winner.
He sealed the set with a service winner and he deserved to grab the opener, playing more solid tennis in his games. There were 72 points in the first set and only 8 went beyond the 4th stroke, with the longest exchange of 8 shots. Service was the key element, with 43 winners in total, 25 for Muller and additional 18 for Karlovic. Gilles had 7 winners from the field (4 from the backhand wing, one of which brought him the set) while Ivo stayed on 6. There was simply no time for unforced errors, as we barely saw a proper rally, Muller hit 2 and Ivo none! Forced errors also couldn't make the difference, it was 6-5 for Gilles, but Ivo had 2 double faults, and in the end, it all came down to those final few points of the tie break. Although, it has to be said that Muller lost just 4 points on serve and he was more effective on return.
Ivo opened the second set with a good hold, placing 2 service winners and one from smash, and he won 2 points on return in the following game, which was a nice progress for him. Croat blasted 4 unreturnable serves in game 3 to gain a 2-1 lead but Muller was ready to respond with 2 service winners and two volleys for a 2-2. Ivo showed us some of his magic at the net, firing 3 volley winners for yet another easy hold, and Gilles followed that with his 6th hold at love since the start of the match to make the result even at 3-3. Karlovic was more solid than in the first set, opening a 4-3 gap with another comfortable hold, dropping just 2 points in 4 service games since the start of the set. In the 8th game, Muller failed to hit a service winner but his game from the field was perfect, he collected 4 winners right after the serve, mainly with his beautiful volley.
The 9th game developed into the longest of the match, with two deuces, but in the end, Ivo managed to hold and to send the pressure back on Muller's side. Still, a player from Luxembourg was just too good on his serve to feel any kind of burden on his shoulders, firing 4 service winners for a 5-5, and he had a chance to reach another deuce on return, sending an easy forehand into the net. Gilles settled the set into another tie break, clinching 5th love hold and winning 21 points in a row on serve. Return winner gave Gilles the first mini-break and a 3-2 lead before Ivo got it back in the 7th point to continue the drama. The 9th point will turn to be crucial, Muller got another mini-break with a forehand winner after a lucky net cord, and he punched two service winners to seal the deal and become a champion.
In set number 2 it was 17-16 for Ivo in service winners, though Muller had a clear 15-7 advantage in the winners from the field. Partly, this emerged from the fact that Ivo returned a little bit better than in the first set, but Muller's volleys were ready to end the point at the net. The unforced errors were again unfamiliar territory for both, hitting 2 each, and they were tied on 6 forced errors, so it was the winners from the field that made the difference, although it was another close set, just like the first one.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: