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Sunrise: Karlovic getting more comfortable
There were no upsets today at the BMWTC quarterfinals - as the tournament's No. 5 and No. 6 seeds advanced to the semi-finals, and higher-ranked players prevailed.

In the first quarter final, Italy's number one player Andreas Seppi had little trouble closing out Austrian Oliver Marach 6-3, 6-1. In the second singles match of the day, Ivo Karlovic took out Australian qualifier Chris Guccione 6-2, 7-6(2) in their first-ever ATP match-up.

Karlovic attributed his win mainly to ripping shots past his opponent from all over the court - a tactic he'll take into the semis. “Of course the key element is passing shots; and when you play like this it's really tough mentally, so a few points can decide the whole match. I mean honestly I was a little bit surprised also, but it's great for the confidence because I see that I can do it so hopefully tomorrow I'm going to continue at the same level.”

Karlovic said he is feeling more comfortable in the tournament as he progresses through the rounds. “It was better today than yesterday, for sure. Even though it was a little bit windy, I was serving well and the most important was my volleys and return of serve and the ground strokes, which I was really satisfied with today. I was concentrating really good and I was better in today's match, and that is why I won.”

The towering Croatian, known for his monster 140-mph serves, says he's working hard to improve his all-around game. 2006 was a shaky year for “Dr. Ivo,” as he struggled with a knee injury that took him out of the game for six months. “After the final in San Jose I hurt my knee again, so in Memphis I was not ready 100% and after, I decided not to play Las Vegas because I was repairing my knee. In Indian wells I was not ready also, but now I feel confident in my knee and that is why I can concentrate on my game.”

Karlovic says he is working regularly with a physical trainer to keep the knee healthy, but he's not traveling with a fulltime coach.

Looking forward to the BMW semis, Karlovic says about his opponent Gael Monfils, “He's a young star you know, he's fast player so for sure so it [will] be a difficult match. I was practicing with [Monfils] a few months ago, and he's extremely fast. But for sure he's going to be in the few years up, you know, so it would be also fun to play against him now, here, if he wins.”



Gael Monfils meanwhile struggled a bit in his win over wild card Nenad “Ziki” Zimonjic, who had taken out No. 1 seed Dmitry Tursunov on Thursday. In the first set, Monfils looked a bit bewildered at times, as doubles specialist Zimonjic played the same mixed-up shot strategy he had used to good effect against Tursunov. “I think he was playing good and serve a very good set,” Monfils said. “Nenad is a doubles player so we don't really know him, and he played so good in singles here, so it's tough to play against him but tonight I think he serve pretty good, and he return good, and first set was so close.”

Monfils lost the first set in a 9-7 tiebreak, then called for the trainer to tend to some blisters on his left foot. He later said the blisters were no problem - he was just having them treated and re-taped. In the second set, Zimonjic tried more trickery, but the speedy Monfils tracked down a few of those deft drop shots, zipping the ball by Zimonjic for dazzling winners. “I lost one break in the second set, then break back again and that make me feel comfortable to see I can break him, so I said I have nothing to lose, be yourself and try to make passing shot maybe as hard as you can. I think today was my lucky day.” Monfils won the second set in another tiebreak.

In the third set, Monfils put the pieces of the Zimonjic puzzle together. Monfils started getting more first serves in, a stat that wasn't going his way in the previous two sets. “I think I served slowly a little bit because I was a little tired, so I had to use my percentage to get my first serve, get my forehand, to make him run. So it was good, a good technique to win this match. I think in third set physically I was better than him, and that's why the score was 6-1.”

About Ivo Karlovich, his next opponent, Monfils said he expects to once again run down a lot of balls. “I think will be almost the same match. I think he's a great player, I think he's very comfortable here so it'll be a tough match and we'll see what happens tomorrow - I feel good, I hope to have a good match.”

Two days earlier Monfils had said he felt he wasn't playing his A-game in winning the first two rounds. “I just try to give my best and see what happens, and maybe you don't have to play your best tennis to feel comfortable and confident. So I hope maybe step by step I will have better sensation with my forehand, backhand and we'll see what happens.”

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No. 8 singles seed Stefan Koubek, in his third appearance at the BMWTC, went out early in singles to Ivo Karlovic - but is still alive in doubles with fellow Austrian Oliver Marach after defeating the Russians Jeff Coetzee and Rik de Voest this afternoon 3-6, 6-1, 10-6, following a two hour rain delay. 30-year-old Koubek started this year at No. 80 and has climbed to 64, after reaching his first ATP final since 2003 in Chennai, beating Carlos Moya along the way. Koubek has three singles titles - won in 1999, 2000 and 2003. His best grand slam result was at the Australian Open in 2002. But although his rankings have ticked down since then, he has always been a dangerous player in ATP draws.

Koubek is using this opportunity to play a few more doubles matches before Miami - to work on shots that will add variety and depth to his game. “It helps to improve the volleys, it helps you to maybe move into the net and everything,” Koubek said. “...and that's where I have the most problems in singles, to come to the net. In doubles you have to come in more often and you only have to cover half of the court so that makes it a little easier. It's very good preparation. I play doubles to practice some other shots I cannot practice in singles that well because I don't come to the net that often. In doubles you have to, sometimes - so it's great practice for the return serve, volley, and everything. Gabe [Norona] puts on a great tournament here, I always love to play here getting ready for key Biscayne.”

A consummate singles player - in doubles, Koubek and his partner Marach usually hang around the baseline, ripping passing shots at opponents as they rush the net.

“I feel more comfortable on the baseline than on the net,” Stefan said. “We tried to stay back, put the return in and then tee off on all the other shots and it worked out really well. In the beginning they surprised us with a lot of really good shots, playing really good doubles, and we just had to get into the match, playing our game which is a little bit different than the doubles game you usually see. We are playing a little bit more from the baseline but we started to return really good in the second set, hold the serves easy. We just stayed in there, kept fighting and played really well in the second set and of course the tiebreaker.”

Koubek, like many singles players, prefers the new ATP format of having a third set tiebreaker in doubles, instead of playing three or five sets. “I can only speak from a singles player perspective, and I love it, you can play doubles everywhere because it doesn't take that long anymore. It's kind of tiring if you play singles and then you have to play doubles and you don't know if it's going to be two or three sets. Like this, it's not going to take longer than one hour fifteen minutes, your arm is not going to get sore, so a lot of singles players are playing doubles now. I think it makes it more interesting. I'm not sure if the doubles players think that way but I enjoy playing doubles and I love it that way.”

“I think it's also fun to watch different doubles because singles players like me they play different doubles than the old fashioned way staying in front and playing serve and volley. I think it's nice to watch sometimes. I'm just having fun out there, and I hope the crowd enjoys it too.”

In addition to working on his singles game by playing doubles, Koubek is working with a new coach these days, Thomas Strengberger, who is here to coach him through Miami. “I'm a little bit tired because since I lost in singles here I'm practicing a lot. But still I'm looking forward to [the Sony Ericsson] next week and I'm going to be fitter and I hope I'm going to play better than in last few weeks.”

Results for March 16, 2007:

Andreas Seppi (ITA) d. Oliver Marach (AUT) 6-3, 6-1
Ivo Karlovic (CRO) d. Chris Guccione (AUS) 6-2, 7-6(2)
Stefan Koubek (AUT)/Oliver Marach (AUT) d. Jeff Coetzee (RUS)/Rik de Voest (RUS) 3-6, 6-1, 10-6
Gael Monfils (FRA) d. Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 6-7(7), 7-6(5), 6-1
Nicolas Massu (CHI) vs. Potito Starace (ITA) 6-4, 7-6 (10)
Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)/Sebastian Prieto (ARG) d. Simon Greul (GER)/Danai Udomchoke (THA) 6-4, 6-4
Night doubles match:
Daniele Bracciali (ITA)/Potito Starace (ITA) vs. Konstantinos Economidis (GRE)/Kristof Vliegen (BEL)