By Dave Gertler
(July 9, 2014) NEWPORT – ‘I’ve won a lot of matches here the last three, four years,” said John Isner after his 6-3, 7-6 first-round win. “I love this tournament. I hope I can keep moving on in the draw, and hope I can be here for the weekend.”
John Isner is the clear favorite and top-dog at this year’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport. After making it through a tighter-than-expected first round match against qualifier Wayne Odesnik, the tournament’s top seed and world No.12 Isner will need to get through Austin Krajicek, the 24-year-old American ranked 208, who managed his first ATP tour main draw win when he took out Tim Smyczek in the first round here in Newport.
A potentially more interesting matchup would occur in the third round of Isner’s all-American quarter of the draw, where he would potentially face the winner of Jack Sock and Rajeev Ram. 21-year-old Sock, the tournament’s 7th seed, has had a standout year having won 13 ATP-level main draw matches, as well as healthy performances in Challenger events and, perhaps most surprisingly, a Wimbledon Men’s Doubles title a week ago. But to reach the third round, Sock will have to get past grass-master Rajeev Ram, the evergreen 30-year-old from Denver, who won this very title in 2009, and successfully tested his all-court bag of tricks in his first round win against Australia’s Matt Ebden.
Should Isner make it to the semifinals, his opponent, one of Lleyton Hewitt, Ante Pavic, Tatsuma Ito or Steve Johnson, will have their work cut out for them against the 6’10” big-serving Isner.
Indeed, it’s difficult to observe the sheer speed of Newport’s grass courts, and not sense that the only player capable of stopping Inser from winning his third Hall of Fame title will be one of the other big servers, several of whom are placed in the bottom half of the draw.
Of these three contenders, Ivo Karlovic, at 6’11’ the tournament’s No. 2 seed, is the obvious favorite to face Isner in the final, but may face a challenge from an in-form Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has beaten Roger Federer on grass and may possess the craftiness to neutralise Karlovic’s strong serve-volleying. While this second-rounder will take place last on Center Court, second-billed on Court 2, France’s Adrian Mannarino and Israel’s Dudi Sela’s will decide who gets to play the winner in the third round. Both players born in the ‘80s, ranked in the 90s, and lefties with similar career grass records, this match should go three sets.
The biggest threat to Isner in the final, however, might be from the third quarter of the draw, where defending champion Nicolas Mahut is seeded to reach the semifinals, but will have to contend with some dark Australian horses who are enjoying feeding on the Hall of Fame’s grass. Mahut’s second-round encounter with Luke Saville, opening the bill on Center Court, presents a clear opportunity for the 20-year-old Australian, who qualified for, and then reached the second round of, Wimbledon’s main draw. After qualifying in Newport and winning his first round match, Saville now has an 8-3 record on grass in 2014. If Mahut is able to advance to the third round, he may face 26-year-old Australian Sam Groth, who clocked a 143mph serve in his first-round upset win over 5th seed Donald Young, and whose ability to clean up points with deft touch at the net stands him in good stead to make the later stages of a grass court ATP 250.
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 .