Isner and Hewitt Reach Newport Final

By Jack Cunniff

NEWPORT, Rhode Island – The 2012 Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island had one of the strongest fields in tournament history, and that carried through to the semifinal matches on Saturday.  Former world number one, and a two-time Grand Slam event champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia battled the 2009 Newport titlist Rajeev Ram of United States in the first semifinal. That was followed by an all-American match-up of 2012 Olympic teammates John Isner and Ryan Harrison.

While Hewitt has played sparsely recently, thanks in part to four surgeries over the past five years, he showed he still has his competitive spirit intact. He fell behind early in the match 1-4, but swept the final five games to take the opening set, 6-4.  The second set again found Ram jumping to an early lead. A third set seemed certain as Ram held two set points when serving at 5-3, 40-15. But back-to-back double faults by the Carmel, Indiana resident gave Hewitt the opening he needed to level the second set. Ram, who is ranked No. 118 in the world, showed why he has a winning record on grass courts in his career, and continued to pressure Hewitt with aggressive play.  He reached three more set points as Hewitt served at 5-6, and finally captured the set 7-5 when he forced the Australian into a backhand error.

Hewitt’s ranking of No.233 is a steep drop from the top ranking he held in 2001 and 2002, but he still shows glimpses of the game that took him to the top. Hitting dipping service returns and pinpoint passing shots, he again swept five consecutive games from Ram to build a 5-1 lead in the third set.  As Hewitt served for the match, Ram continued to battle and earned a break point. Hewitt’s accurate groundstrokes forced errors from Ram, and Hewitt battled his way into his first tour final since his 2010 Halle victory, advancing 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

The second semifinal saw the crowd split between rooting for Isner, the top-ranked U.S. player, and Harrison, his fast-rising countryman who turned 20 just two months ago. After early-round losses at the French Open and Wimbledon, Isner is trying to recapture the form that brought him to a career-high No. 9 ranking in April of this year. He was up to the task in the opening set, scoring five aces, and winning 91% of the points when getting his first serve into play. Harrison, now ranked No. 48 in the world, revealed some weapons as well, and neither player could reach a break point in the opening twelve games, reaching a tiebreaker to settle the first set. The top-seeded Isner had the edge throughout the tiebreaker, and a Harrison double fault on set point gave Isner the opening set 7-6, while Harrison could only kick a tennis ball out of the stadium in frustration.

Isner, the defending Newport champion, elevated his game in the second set, and the tenor of the match changed. Harrison grew increasingly irritated by his play, and his inability to make a dent in Isner’s service games. Isner, on the other hand, reached deuce in four out of five Harrison service games. An early break gave Isner the 3-1 lead in the second set, and he broke Harrison’s serve again to end the match, 7-6(4), 6-3.

Notes… Isner and Hewitt have met twice before, and Hewitt leads the head-to-head 2-0, with wins on hard court (Shanghai 2009) and clay (Dusseldorf 2010)…  Isner is looking to become the fourth player to defend his Newport title (Bryan Shelton, 1991-‘92; Greg Rusedski, 2004-’05, and Fabrice Santoro 2007-’08)… Hewitt is playing in Newport for the first time since 1998, but with 80 weeks at No. 1 in his career (9th most of all-time), it’s likely he could return to Newport as a Hall of Fame inductee… Ram’s semifinal result will raise his ranking to No. 104, just outside the Top 100 and his highest rank in two years… Harrison is the second youngest player in the Top 100; only Hewitt’s countryman Bernard Tomic is five months younger…


Capriati and Kuerten Highlight Emotional Hall of Fame Inductions

Gustavo Kuerten photo by Ben Solomon

By Jack Cunniff

NEWPORT, Rhode Island – The skies in Newport were dry, but the eyes were not, as Jennifer Capriati and Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten headlined the 2012 class of inductees into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The ceremony was held Saturday, July 14th on Center Court at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.  Capriati and Kuerten, former top-ranked players elected to the Hall of Fame under the Recent Player category, gave stirring speeches that touched the tennis fans in attendance.  Other inductees this afternoon were Randy Snow, the late wheelchair tennis champion and advocate; Mike Davies, in the Contributor category; and Manuel Orantes, in the Master Player category.

Monica Seles, a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, was selected by Capriati to introduce her at the ceremony. It was a fitting selection as both players burst on the tennis scene just months apart as teenagers, and set multiple “youngest ever” records for women’s tennis.  Capriati, a three-time champion at Grand Slam events and Olympic gold medal winner, was emotional throughout her acceptance speech.  While honored by the Hall of Fame recognition, it closes a chapter in her life that Capriati was not quite ready to close. It signifies that there are no more comebacks in store, and her career would end as the result of wrist and shoulder injuries. But as she did throughout her career, Capriati persevered today. She expressed the joy and pain that tennis has brought to her life, and noted that tennis taught her what hard work and commitment mean. She thanked her friends and family for their love and support over the years, and also recognized the fan support she received throughout her career, a comment that was punctuated by someone in the crowd shouting “We love you!”

Alice Kuerten, Gustavo’s mother, had the honor of introducing her son to the crowd. She spoke not of Guga’s French Open titles or number one ranking, but of his intangible qualities, his role as son and brother, and his philanthropy. Guga charmed the crowd with an unscripted speech, sharing his appreciation for all that tennis has provided him. His father introduced Kuerten to the sport, but passed away when Guga was a teenager. It was tennis, Kuerten noted, that provided him two new fathers in the form of his former coach Larri Passos, and older brother and manager Raphael. Kuerten was very close to his late younger brother Guillaime, who suffered from cerebral  palsy and passed away in 2007, and thus found it fitting to be inducted on the same day as Randy Snow. Kuerten also thanked Mariana, his wife and mother to their five-month-old daughter.

Randy Snow passed away in from a heart attack in 2009, so his father Tom accepted the award on his behalf. A successful junior tennis player when he was paralyzed at age 16, Snow found his success as a wheelchair tennis champion and gold medal winning Paralympian.  Tom thanked Brad Parks, a fellow Hall of Fame member who created the concept of wheelchair tennis, and the various federations who have supported wheelchair tennis.

Mike Davies was awarded for his leadership behind the scenes with tennis. He was the driving force behind several changes in tennis targeted at making it more television friendly. Thanks to Davies, we have yellow tennis balls, blue courts, colored clothing, and chairs on changeovers. Each of these advances made tennis more marketable, and contributed to increased popularity of the sport in the 1970s. Davis thanked his fellow pros and co-workers for today’s honor.

The Hall of Fame president Stan Smith introduced Manual Orantes, and noted Orantes was not only a great champion, but a great sportsman.  Orantes looked back on his 1975 U.S. Open title over Jimmy Connors, and semifinal comeback over Guillermo Vilas earlier in that event, as the greatest matches in his career. He expressed appreciation for his Barcelona tennis club for making him into a champion.

While many tears were shed during the ceremony, the newest Hall of Fame members were all smiles when they took a final march around Center Court.

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ATP Newport – Jack Sock Talks About his First Time Playing on Grass




NEWPORT, Rhode Island – American Jack Sock, who received a wild card into Newport, defeated  Russia’s Igor Kunitsyn 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 to win his first ever match on a grass court, second career win on the ATP tour level. Sock spoke to the media after his victory on Monday. Video by Jennifer Knapp

Jennifer Knapp is covering the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport this week, follow her updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.