In one of the most unexpected Wimbledon finals of the Open era, Lleyton Hewitt had beaten David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 to lift the title in 2002. The Australian was one of the favorites a year later. , arriving at the All England Club as the reigning champion and three-time Queen’s winner.
However, his 2003 Wimbledon campaign turned out to be the shortest possible, 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 to lose in the first round of the world’s biggest tennis event since 1967 and Manolo Santana!
Ranked 203rd, the 24-year-old Croatian made his Major debut on Center Court at Wimbledon that day. He produced impressive tennis to overcome a slow start and topple world no. 2 in four sets, writing one of the most amazing Wimbledon stories in history.
Ivo had failed to qualify for the first ten Majors, and only had two ATP wins under his belt before meeting Lleyton. Still, no one could notice that against Hewitt, hitting 59 service winners and fending off ten of 13 break chances.
Hewitt didn’t know much about the tallest player to ever step on center court and wasn’t prepared to deal with serve after serve. He never found the rhythm again after a strong start, allowing Ivo to control the pace and gain momentum.
The Australian had a perfect start. It looked like an easy day at the office before Karlovic found his range and began to dominate at the crucial points. He gave his opponent no rhythm and prevented further rallies after serving and volleying on practically every point.
Hewitt created a break chance in eight different return games, but that wasn’t enough to pull it off. He scored three breaks in the first set and none after that! The second set proved crucial, with Lleyton still not facing 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 fended them off and stole the tiebreaker to level the score at 1-1 and gain a huge boost that propelled him through sets three and four. Ivo broke in the first game of the match after a double fault, unable to withstand the pressure of the big stage and the rival on the other side of the net.
The Croatian committed another double fault in the third game to find himself down 3-0 in less than ten minutes. Karlovic had no chance on the return and suffered another break in game seven to dispatch Lleyton 6-1 after another double fault.
Ivo had to play against a couple of break points in the second game of the second set, hitting four winners to get out of trouble and make a big play that marked the end of his slump. Hewitt had an even more significant opportunity to move in front in Game 4.
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 push from his side, the Croatian raised his level and served well.
The pressure was on Hewitt, and Karlovic finally hit some deuces on the return before facing set point at 4-5 after 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 draw in game 12.
He hit two unreturned serves from 5-4 down and closed with a forehand crosscourt winner, stealing the set and roaring into his box. Facing a break point in the third game of the third set, Ivo hit another booming serve and delivered a pivotal hold to stay on the positive side.
Lleyton double-faulted in game four to offer Ivo the first break point of the match, more than 90 minutes into the game. The Australian dropped serve after another double fault that put the Croatian up 3-1. Karlovic cemented the lead with an ace in the next one and produced more of those to find a 5-2 lead.
Hewitt lost ground in those moments, though he did save 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, hitting four aces in game nine to wrap up the set and move a step away from a sizable upset that seemed impossible before the second set tie-break.
The Australian had a chance to regain momentum in the second game of the fourth set. Ivo again found the powerful serve from him to repel a break chance, and they both served well in the next two games to stay tied at 4-4. Trailing 30-15 in game nine, Lleyton was broken when his backhand landed long, and a qualifier served up the win in the game that followed.
Ivo won three match points with two winners and sealed the deal with the 59th service winner. The Croatian pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tennis history, especially at Wimbledon, where something similar happened just once before!