By Dave Gertler
(July 7, 2014) NEWPORT – The first day of main-draw action has drawn to a close at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Day One featured near-perfect playing conditions, huge serving, and a schedule packed with Americans and Australians.
Opening proceedings on Center Court was an all-American stand-off between Steve Johnson and wildcard Clay Thompson, playing his first ATP main-draw match. The more experienced Johnson held off his former UCLA college rival with solid serving and ground strokes for a 6-1, 6-2 dominant win in under an hour. “It’s always good to get a win,” Newport’s 6th seed, “Get in, get out and get on with the rest of the tournament. I hope that I can clean out a few things and really get out there the next round and give it my best.” Registering his first Hall of Fame Tennis Championships main draw win, after falling short in qualifying two years ago, the 24-year-old said, “I’ve grown a lot, maturity-wise, and I’ve really learnt how to live on the tour, live on the road, and really just become more of a professional.” In the round of 16, Johnson will face Japan’s Tatsuma Ito, who took out American wildcard Mitchell Krueger in their first round match.
Steve Johnson, who is ranked No. 69 in the world, fared better than his No. 70th ranked compatriot, Donald Young, who fought bravely against an onslaught of powerful serving from Australian Sam Groth. Young managed to hold serve, but after conceding a hard-fought first-set tie-break with an ill-timed double fault, was unable to withstand Groth’s all-court prowess in the second set, conceding two breaks, and unable to make a dent on Groth’s serve. “I felt good. I’ve had a pretty good grass court season already,” said Groth, post-match, “In the first set, I wasn’t making a lot of returns, and it took me a little while to get into it, but I played a really good tie-break, and then in the second set, I started to make a lot more balls, get my chip returns down, make him volley up, and I actually thought I played a really good second set, but a pretty good match all round.”
Groth’s fastest serve on the day clocked in at 143mph – spectators close to the court were definitely kept on their toes lest they be caught unawares by one of the 6’4” Aussie’s 11 aces, but Groth required his full skill set to upset the American ranked 53 spots above him. “Obviously, it’s great to have a big serve, but it’s coming back a lot more, the game’s slowed down a lot and you can’t just get away with having one shot in your arsenal. So if I’m going to serve-volley, which I’m going to do – especially on this surface – probably close to 100% of the time, you’ve gotta be able to play that volley.”
The biggest name in action on Day One was the Croatian world No. 32 Ivo Karlovic, one of several big-serving grass court specialists playing in Newport. His first round opponent, 31-year-old American Robby Ginepri managed to force a first set tie-break, but after losing it 7-2, was unable to recover from an early break in the second set, eventually losing the match in just over an hour. “I’ve played really well this year. I was healthy and feeling well so I’m happy about that,” said 35-year-old Karlovic, who a year ago was ranked outside the top 150. “I remember last year when I was here, I was really happy that I was here, that I was able to play again. I’m just, overall, more grateful that I’m still here, that I’m healthy now and that my tennis isn’t over because of illness. If I’m healthy and if my ranking is good, I don’t see a reason why I should stop competing.”
Despite the great tennis on display on Day One, Day Two action will be a highlight of the tournament, with three former Newport champions making appearances on Center Court. Defending champion Frenchman Nicolas Mahut will open up his campaign against the draw’s sole Argentine Facundo Arguello, followed by tournament No.1 seed John Isner taking on Wayne Odesnik, who took out Aussie John-Patrick Smith in the final round of qualifying today. Continuing the theme of USA versus Australia, dual grand slam winner Lleyton Hewitt, will begin his campaign to add the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships to his CV after making the final the last two years, but will have to get past a dangerous Ryan Harrison to book his spot in the round of 16.
Also impressive on Newport grass today was Rajeev Ram, who has performed impressively at the Hall of Fame since winning it in 2009. He displayed deft touch at the net to out-play Aussie Matthew Ebden 6-2, 7-5, and will now face the winner of the match between Americans Jack Sock and Alex Kuznetsov, who will wrap up Day Two action on Center Court.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Newport for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .