By Dave Gertler
(July, 10, 2014) NEWPORT – Lleyton Hewitt has made the final in Newport two years running, and is scheduled to play his quarterfinal match on Thursday, but the biggest story of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships on Wednesday was lesser-known Australian, Sam Groth. After defeating reigning champion Nicolas Mahut in straight sets in front of a packed Center Court stadium, Sam Groth has won through to his first ATP tournament semifinal, and will also break into the top 100 for the first time, achieving a lifelong career goal.
“I really had nothing to lose,” said the big serving 26-year-old, “I had a hell of a lot to gain. First time in a semifinal, first time probably in the top 100, first time direct entry into a grand slam. I went out there confident, and I really wanted to do all those things. I thought I played really well.”
Groth managed to break Mahut early in the first and second sets, using his remarkable serve – known as the fastest on tour – to hold his way through to a straight-sets upset victory over the former world No. 37, 6-3, 6-4.
“People have always thought of me as just a serve,” said Groth, who cracked a 146mph ace to seal the first set, “But I don’t think you get to top 100 being just a serve. My serve probably has gotten better, I’m hitting my spots better, and I think I’m volleying better than I ever have. I’m making it tough for guys to break me and I think that builds a lot of pressure.”
Closing out the match was hard, said Groth. Once gaining the break in the second set, “For the first time in the match,” said Groth, “Everything became a little bit real, and everything came to the front of my head, and I had a couple of shaky games there.”
Mahut admitted to being fatigued from a busy grass season, but gave full credit to Groth, saying, “I was not feeling great, but the thing is him, he played well. To win, I have to play my best tennis, and that’s not the case today, so I just have to congratulate him. He was just too good for me today.”
Groth will now face another big server, Ivo Karlovic, in the semifinal on Saturday, after Karlovic held off Israel’s Dudi Sela 7-6, 7-5 on Center Court. “It’s tough to play against Ivo on all surfaces,” said Sela, “If he hits a good percentage of the first serve, you have no chance, nobody (does). I held my serve pretty good, and I tried to play well in the tie break, but in the beginning, I had an easy mistake that I made and I let him run away.”
Karlovic agreed that his potent serve-volley strategy on grass is a tough to match, saying, “I feel like if I lose my game on my serve, it is always because I do it; because I do double faults, because I do easy volley. I don’t feel like it’s the other guy ever.” The semifinal match-up between Karlovic and Groth, both possessing potent serve-volleying games, is set to be a tight affair. Karlovic professed that, “He also is going to hit a lot of aces. So, there will be also a couple of tiebreaks, so it can always go either way.”
The 35-year-old Croatian, who will appear in his first semifinal in Newport, opened up to press after his match, talking about what it’s like being a professional tennis player as well as the father of a young daughter. “It isn’t easy always to go, to leave her at home. I would like to be a lot more home now, but this is what I do, this is where I earn my money, and I do it for her also. But after this, I will go a little bit home, and that’s it.”
The tournament’s biggest names, top seed John Isner and multiple grand slam winner Lleyton Hewitt, will both take the court tomorrow in their separate quarterfinals against up-and-coming American men, in what promises to be an equally exciting order of play. Hewitt, the spearhead of what has been a strong tournament for Australians in Newport, will take on American Steve Johnson, while Jack Sock will try to usurp his training partner, No. 1 seed John Isner, who is gunning for his third title on the Newport grass courts.
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 .