NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) Ivo Karlovic charged the net, put his backhand shot over and knew he finally won the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships.
The second-seeded Karlovic, from Croatia, beat third-seeded Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (12) on Sunday in the longest deciding tiebreaker in the Open Era.
The 37-year-old Karlovic lost in the final on Newport’s grass courts the previous two years. It was his seventh career ATP title.
He’s the oldest to win an ATP event since Marty Riessen captured the title at Lafayette, Louisiana, at 37 years, 9 months in 1979. Karlovic turned 37 four months ago.
”I was able to put it over the net and there was a lot of joy after all these years I was losing in the finals,” he said. ”I was finally able to do it. I was down to match point. That makes it even nicer.”
Karlovic fought off three match points and won it on his fifth match point, ending the final after two hours, 56 minutes.
The 6-foot-11 Karlovic raised both arms in triumph, turned and blew kisses to the fans in his player’s box behind the baseline.
”It’s awesome because when you lose like this in the last two years, you are down to match point, thoughts come into your head,” Karlovic said. ”It was that much nicer.”
After losing the first set tiebreaker, he took a 6-5 edge in the second tiebreaker when Muller appeared to give up slightly on Karlovic’s overhead lob that feel inside the baseline.
Karlovic then won the second set with a forehand winner.
Muller smashed his racket in frustration during the changeover.
In the third tiebreaker, both players came up with big shots before Muller hit a forehand long from close to the net, setting up the final point.
”I don’t think I did that much wrong,” Muller said. ”I think Ivo played great on all the match points. He served great. I won a couple of matches in the last few weeks where I was the lucky one, I wasn’t the lucky one.”
Muller, 33, was looking for his first career ATP title.
”If I look back to the beginning of the week, I think, yeah, I would have been lucky with making the final,” he said. ”Right now, it’s just too close.”
The tourney is played on the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and is held in conjunction with induction ceremonies. Marat Safin and Justine Henin headed the 2016 class that was enshrined Saturday with the semifinals.
The Open Era began in 1968, when the Grand Slam events allowed professional players to compete with amateurs.