In one of the most unexpected Wimbledon finals in the Open era, Lleyton Hewitt had beaten David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 to lift the title in 2002. The Aussie stood as one of the favorites a year later, coming to the All England Club as the reigning champion and a three-time Queen's winner.
Nonetheless, his 2003 Wimbledon campaign proved to be the shortest possible one, as a qualifier Ivo Karlovic stunned him 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 24 minutes. Thus, Lleyton became the first defending champion who lost in the opening round of the world's biggest tennis event since 1967 and Manolo Santana!
Ranked 203rd, the 24-year-old Croat made his Major debut on the Wimbledon Centre Court that day. He produced stunning tennis to overcome a slow start and topple world no. 2 in four sets, writing one of the most astonishing Wimbledon stories ever.
Ivo had failed to qualify for the first ten Majors, and he had only two ATP wins under his belt before facing Lleyton. Still, no one could notice that against Hewitt, blasting 59 service winners and fending ten out of 13 break chances.
Hewitt did not know much about the tallest player that had ever stepped on Centre Court and was unprepared to face one booming serve after another. He never found the rhythm again after a strong opener, allowing Ivo to control the pace and gain momentum.
The Aussie was off to a perfect start. It seemed like an easy day at the office before Karlovic found his range and started to dominate in the crucial points. He gave his rival no rhythm and avoided any longer rallies after playing serve & volley in virtually every point.
Hewitt created a break chance in eight different return games, but that was not enough to carry him through. He scored three breaks in the opening set and none after that! The second set proved crucial, with Lleyton yet to face a break point and creating six chances on the other side, including a set point at 5-4.
World no. 203 Ivo Karlovic stunned Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon 2003,
Ivo repelled them and stole the tie break to level the score at 1-1 and gain a massive momentum that drove him in sets three and four. Ivo was broken in the encounter's first game after a double fault, unable to survive the pressure of the big stage and the rival on the other side of the net.
The Croat hit another double fault in game three to find himself 3-0 down in under ten minutes. Karlovic stood no chance on the return and suffered another break in game seven to send Lleyton 6-1 up following another double fault.
Ivo had to play against a couple of break points in the second set's second game, blasting four winners to get out of trouble and make a great hold that marked the end of his downfall. Hewitt had an even more significant opportunity to move in front in game four.
He led 40-0 before Karlovic erased break points with three service winners and brought the game home with a smash winner after a few deuces to level the score at 2-2. With a boost on his side, the Croat raised his level and served well.
The pressure was on Hewitt, and Karlovic finally reached some deuces on the return before facing a set point at 4-5 following Lleyton's forehand down the line winner. Ivo fired three service winners to get out of jail and stay in contention, setting up a tie break after a hold at love in game 12.
He hit two unreturned serves from 5-4 down and closed it with a crosscourt forehand winner, stealing the set and roaring toward his box. Facing a break point in the third set's third game, Ivo blasted another booming serve and delivered a pivotal hold to stay on the positive side.
Lleyton hit a double fault in game four to offer Ivo the first break point of the match, over 90 minutes since they started. The Aussie gave serve away following another double fault that sent the Croat 3-1 up. Karlovic cemented the advantage with an ace in the next one and produced more of those to find himself 5-2 in front.
Hewitt lost the ground in those moments, although he saved a set point in the next game to reduce the deficit and force Karlovic to serve for the set. That proved to be no problem for the giant server whatsoever, hitting four aces in game nine to wrap up the set and move a step away from a considerable surprise that had looked impossible before the second set tie break.
The Aussie had a chance to regain momentum in the fourth set's second game. Ivo found his mighty serve again to repel a break chance, and they both served well in the next couple of games to stay locked at 4-4. From 30-15 in the ninth game, Lleyton got broken when his backhand landed long, and a qualifier served for the triumph in the game that followed.
Ivo earned three match points with two smash winners and sealed the deal with the 59th service winner. The Croat performed one of the biggest upsets in tennis history, especially at Wimbledon, where a similar thing occurred only once before!