2014/08/21

Djokovic Upset by Robredo, Murray Survives Isner in Cincinnati

 

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

By Dave Gertler

(August 14, 2014) MASON, OHIO – Two of the three Big Four players competing at this year’s Cincinnati Masters played their third-round matches during Thursday’s day sessions. One survived, one didn’t.

 

“The focus is winning right now,” said a composed Andy Murray after his 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(2) win over John Isner, “Not so much how I’m hitting the ball or moving or anything like that. Just trying to win. That’s all that’s important just now.”

 

Since winning Wimbledon last year, Murray has seen his rank plunge from No. 2 to No. 9. First struggling with back surgery rehab, and then adjusting to a new coaching situation. He has regained peak physical condition, but collated a mixture of results that has not seen him advance past the semi-finals of any tournament in the last 14 months.

 

“I want to get back to winning events and being in the finals of the big tournaments,” said Murray, “And winning matches like today is a big step for me.” He and his opponent John Isner, last year’s Western & Southern Open runner-up, played for 2 hours and 23 minutes in front of a Grandstand Court that was packed to the rafters.

 

“Sort of like standing room only,” said Isner, who served 21 aces to Murray’s 14, “You could see people on Center Court at the top looking over and watching. It was great. The fans were unbelievable. I thought they were on my side the whole way, and they were.”

 

After losing the first set tiebreak, Murray then broke Isner for the only break of the match, holding on to win the second set. Then, with the sun in his eyes, serving to stay in the match, Murray served two double faults, allowing Isner his first of two match points. “When it’s 6‑5 in the third set,” said Murray, “Ideally you want to try and get some free points when you can. Maybe made a slight mistake trying to do that. Yeah, but I just managed to find a way to get through that game.”

 

While Murray cited “instinct” as what guided him to a third-set tiebreak, which he would ultimately win to advance to the quarterfinals, fellow Big Four member Novak Djokovic has faltered at the round-of-16 stage of his second consecutive hard court Masters 1000 event. The world No.1, who last bowed out in the third round in Toronto, today lost in straight sets to 16th seed Tommy Robredo.

 

“Just many, many, many things are not clicking these two weeks on hard courts,” said Djokovic, who fought back from being a break down to Robredo in the first set, before losing it in a tiebreak. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s more than obvious I’m not playing even close to what I’m supposed to play.”

 

In the second set, Djokovic was unable to make a dent on Robredo’s serve, winning only four points while receiving. While Djokovic was able to save two match points, serving at 4-5, Robredo would convert at his next opportunity, taking the second set 7-5.

 

“Well, maybe he didn’t play very good the last two matches that he played,” said Robredo after his second career win over a world No.1 – the first was against Lleyton Hewitt in 2003, “But anyway, he’s the world No. 1. He won in Wimbledon. He’s a great player. If you don’t play your best you’re gonna lose for sure. Even if you play your best, sometimes if he’s playing great, you’re gonna lose also.”

 

While Djokovic will head straight to New York to prepare for the US Open, where he is defending finalist, Murray will face either Gael Monfils or Roger Federer, who play their third-round match on Center Court this evening.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament on @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Aussies Bounced Out of Cincinnati

Sam Stosur

Sam Stosur

By Dave Gertler

(August 13, 2014) MASON, OHIO – The last three Australians left in the singles draw at the Cincinnati Masters all played their second-round matches on Wednesday, with Sam Stosur and Marinko Matosevic both bowing out to their American opponents in straight sets. Lleyton Hewitt also succumbed to the grinding baseline play of Italian Fabio Fognini.

 

Stosur and Serena Williams added another encounter to their storied rivalry, the Aussie receiving warm support from the crowd as she battled to stay in both sets, at times out-hitting her world No.1 opponent. In a match lasting almost two hours, where neither player dropped their serve, and Williams needed to come from behind in both tie-breaks to eventually win through to the next round. “She was up in both of the breakers,” said Williams, “I think it was just a great match, to be honest. She served unbelievable, and I was like, I can’t lose serve because she’s just serving great.”

 

Both players brought their big serves to the table, particularly Serena, who served 12 aces. “Really good quality match,” said Stosur, “I’m really pleased with the way I played. I’m disappointed when you have those couple of set points and don’t go through and at least win that set to take it into three. But I gave myself every chance to try and get through that one.  She came up with some really great stuff when it really counted.”

 

While Stosur was facing last year’s women’s runner up, Marinko Matosevic had to contend with the men’s runner up from last year, in a slightly less competitive 3-6, 6-7 loss to the American John Isner. That left Lleyton Hewitt in a familiar position as the last Australian in the singles draw.

LleytonHewittHOF

Hewitt would drop the first set against Fognini 6-1, before going up a break in the second set, a lead that he would ultimately relinquish, allowing Fognini back into the second set, which he won 6-4. “The second set I fought hard, I was up a break in the second set but couldn’t consolidate,” said Hewitt. The 33-year-old Australian served 9 double faults, saying, “I just didn’t hit my serve well today, especially early on,” said Hewitt, “He makes you play a lot of balls as well. He’s a confidence player, and when he’s hitting ball well, he’s tough to beat. He moves well, as well.”

 

Serena Williams’ next opponent will be Flavia Pennetta, while Isner faces No.8 seed Andy Murray. Fabio Fognini will face Yen-Hsun Lu, who had an upset victory over 4th seed Tomas Berdych. Also through to the round of 16, Roger Federer, who beat Canadian Vasek Pospisil 7-6, 5-7, 6-2 in 2 hours for his 300th win at a Masters Series 1000 event.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament on @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Isner Among the Top Seeds in Action at Citi Open on Wednesday

John Isner

John Isner

By Dave Gertler

(July 30, 2014) WASHINGTON, DC – The top seeds in the men’s draw at the Citi Open are all in action today, and with defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro still recovering from injury, as well as the pre-tournament withdrawal of would-be No.3 seed Grigor Dimitrov, fifth seeded American John Isner might be sensing the opportunity to finally raise the trophy of the tournament that has meant so much to him during his professional tennis career.

 

“For me, Washington has always been a special place,” said Isner during a USTA-organized conference call two weeks ago. “I’ve always played extremely well there, but I’ve never won it. I know I’ve made two finals and two other semi-finals, so I’ve always played well there, but haven’t quite finished it off. So hopefully this year will be different.”

 

“I was lucky enough to get a last-minute wildcard in 2007,” said Isner of his first appearance in Washington as a 22-year-old, “If I remember correctly, Fernando Gonzalez pulled out or something and I was able to get a wildcard. I was extremely lucky.” Having found success later in his career than most players, Isner’s nine career titles have all come in the last four years; five of them have been on hard courts, and all but two having come on American soil.

 

“I had nothing to lose,” he told of his debut at what was then the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, “And that’s how I played that week, and I made the finals. It helped me out so much. I sort of made a name for myself, and got my ranking up there pretty high really quickly.”

 

By making the finals that year, albeit one that he would lose to Andy Roddick, Isner’s dramatic rankings jump took him from 416 to 193 in the world.

 

Isner has since lost as many ATP finals as he has won. His most recent opponent in Washington, Del Potro, took a 4-0 winning record against the American into their 2013 final. One of those wins had in fact come in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Legg Mason. In 2009, Isner would lose once again to Roddick, this time in the semi-finals.

 

Along with Del Potro’s absence, the withdrawals before the tournament of No.3 seed Grigor Dimitrov, as well as Gael Monfils – a player who’s stopped Isner’s progress here in the past – has considerably opened up  the field for the 29-year-old, who maintained that, “Even without (Del Potro), I think the field is stronger than it was last year,” said Isner. “There are a lot of, lot of good players. This is one of the toughest 500 tournaments in the world, no doubt about that.”

 

While Isner’s best recent result was reaching the second week of Roland Garros, world No.7 Milos Raonic made the semi-finals of Wimbledon a few weeks ago, and can now be considered amongst the favorites to take out any ATP 500 Series tournament, as can Kei Nishikori, and world No.5 Tomas Berdych, who accepted a late wildcard into the Citi Open two weeks before it began, and plays as tournament’s top seed. Berdych has played the tournament three times, making a semi-final and two quarterfinals, most recently in 2010.

 

“I think it’s more exciting for me,” said Isner about the high caliber of players in attendance at the Citi Open, “Me personally, I always want to go up against guys that are ranked higher than me. That means I’m progressing well within that tournament. But it’s good for the tournament, it’s good for everyone.” Isner’s first match will be a second-round encounter with compatriot Steve Johnson, while fellow big man Ivo Karlovic awaits the winner in the third round.

 

While Isner will be making his seventh appearance at the tournament since 2007, one dangerous floater will also be making his seventh appearance since first appearing in the 1998 Washington draw as a 17-year-old. 33-year-old Lleyton Hewitt – who refuses to discuss any plans for retirement – will be celebrating ten years since he won the 2004 Washington title. Hewitt’s second-round win against countryman Marinko Matosevic pits him against the winner between Jack Sock and Milos Raonic, who are billed as the third match on Stadium Court today. Also on Stadium Court today, Americans Sam Querrey and Robby Ginepri to face Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych respectively, while 4th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet takes on in-form Israeli Dudi Sela.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open 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 .

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John Isner Defends Atlanta Open Title

 

(July 27, 2014) John Isner won his ninth ATP World Tour title on Sunday by defeating Dudi Sela of Israel 6-3, 6-4 to win the Atlanta Open for the second straight year. It was the American’s fourth Atlanta final in five years.

“The field is so tough at this event,” Isner said. “I’m so happy to win this. I consider myself fortunate that this event is even here. It’s a big advantage for me to play in Georgia and to have a lot of support.”

“Isner went for his shots and played more freely,” Sela said. “With his return game, he just went for it.”

In doubles action, Wimbledon champions Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil reman a perfect 10-0 as a doubles team, capturing the title with a 6-3, 5-7 10-5 over Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey.

“[Johnson and Querrey] played well, but we felt like we were playing better than they were even after losing the second set, said the Canadian Pospisil. “We just had to stay calm in the [Match Tie-break] and go point by point.”

“We’re trying to make the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals,” said Sock. That’s one of our goals this year on the side, aside from improving our singles rankings.”

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Isner to Meet Sela in Atlanta Open Final

John Isner

John Isner

By Herman Wood

(July 26, 2014) ATLANTA – Young American Jack Sock took on veteran John Isner on Saturday at the BB&T Open in the first singles semifinal.  Hotlanta certainly was up to the nickname.  Conditions were compared to this year’s Australian Open, when players were understandably concerned.  The difference?  In Atlanta, the humidity combined with the heat makes it more difficult for the body to cool itself.  Despite the conditions, both men came out in dark colored tops.  Isner said, “It’s not easy conditions at all playing, doing anything.  Heat like that is tough.  I don’t know how the fans endure it.”  Despite conditions, Isner started off on the right foot, unlike yesterday.  He was striking winners off his forehand and backhand, though his first serve was off and he only had three aces for the first set while serving 48% on that delivery.  Sock looked better able to handle the conditions early in the match, moving better with his head up and working for points while Isner was content to let some balls go.  Isner has been accused of playing “possum” a bit in matches, but the two men train together, so that was not in the cards today.  (In the southeastern United States, possum refers to a marsupial whose primary method of defense is to play dead until an opportune moment, at which time they either wander off or show impressive teeth and a willingness to fight.)

 

As expected, rallies were mostly short, one or two strokes after a return.  The first deuce point occurred at four games apiece, with Isner serving.  On Isner’s very next service game, Sock seemed to fully get his teeth into Isner’s deliveries and forced him to rally.  With an untimely double fault, Isner handed Sock his first break point opportunity.  With a second serve coming, Sock got the return back into play and correctly anticipated Isner’s inside out forehand and just missed a pass off the tape that might have made all the difference and he clearly knew it.  Isner took full advantage and held with a blistering forehand and 128 MPH ace.  Serving at 5-6, perhaps Sock wasn’t able to clear the thoughts of the missed opportunity and missed his next three serves, the first two a double fault.  His fourth serve was punished by Isner for an easy winner.  Isner was certainly feeling it, as he challenged on the third point of the game on a ball that was solidly on the line.  The challenge may have given Sock some time to settle himself, as he took that point and the next two to get to 40-30.  Isner toughened and Sock got a bit loose.  Combined, that let to nine deuces before the matter of the twelfth game and ultimately the first set could be settled.  Sock chose the more difficult down the line forehand on a short ball and clipped the tape.  Isner sealed the first set on his third try with a Sock backhand error, 7-5, on a ball that did not seem that difficult.

 

Sock settled in despite early pressure from Isner in the first few games of the second set.  Certainly, he showed maturity beyond his young age, keeping his wits about him and continuing with good fight through two games all.  On Sock’s serve, at 2-3, Isner made a challenge on a ball called out right in front of Sock.  It turned out to be a wise challenge, as review showed the ball good.  The chair awarded the point to Isner.  Sock argued that the call by the linesman affected his play on the ball and that the point should be replayed.  It was very tough to tell when the call came, though it did appear that Sock had a play and chose not to play the ball and the linesman made the call late.  Sock struggled with himself throughout the game.  He told the chair umpire “You ruin matches, you know that.”  To his credit, Sock worked through the game and held to get to three all.

 

Perhaps the game energized Isner, as he showed no signs of playing possum or “lollygagging around” as he kept the pressure on Sock, with extremely high kicking second serves that Sock had lots of trouble returning mixed in with a few more aces on first serve deliveries.  On Sock’s service games, Isner was clearly trying to attack with frequent approaches and crushed forehands.  The strategy led to some impressive shots as well as shanks, one of which may have stopped traffic on nearby Interstate 75.  The crushed forehands from Isner looked to do damage to anything they hit.  Isner stepped up his serve to hold to get to 5-4.  The game went for three straight service winners, only to be interrupted by an Isner miss on the only ball Sock got in play in the whole game.  Isner closed the game with an ace.  Sock stepped in to serve, down 4-5, to stay in the match.  After more impressive shanks by Isner, Sock let a thirty love lead evaporate on a poor attempt at a slice back hand and floating forehand winner by Isner.  Isner stepped up again and committed to the rally and Sock missed to give Isner a match point.  Sock saved it with aggressive play, leading to an overhead to get back to deuce.  Unfortunately for Sock, he double faulted immediately to give Isner another match point.  Sock played bravely, nailing a ball onto the left baseline that Isner challenged unsuccessfully.  If out, it would have ended the match.  Sock could not manage to rally on the subsequent deuce, missing a forehand to give Isner a match point. Sock finally donated a double fault to hand the match to Isner, 7-5, 6-4.  He will either face Dudi Sela or Benjamin Becker in the finals on Sunday.

 

When asked about his possible opponent on Sunday, Isner expressed no preference.  He mentioned that “They said on TV I was 2-0 against Becker, though I can’t remember the two times I’ve played him.  He’s another college product.  He went four years at Baylor.  That would be kind of cool, two four year college guys.  Dudi, I remember I played him in Delray Beach this year.  I beat him 7-6 in the third.  Although he is slight of stature, he doesn’t mind playing guys with big serves.  He beat Querrey.  He beat Pospisil.  He’s just an extremely talented player that can do so much with the ball.  I don’t know who to favor.”

 

 

 

Before an appreciative packed house at Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Israeli Dudi Sela took on German Benjamin Becker over three tough sets for a chance to play local favorite John Isner  With the first two sets virtual mirror images, with each man winning a set 6-3, the match came down to a tight third set.  With Becker giving him only one opportunity to break, Sela took full advantage to get to 4-2.  Becker had five opportunities to break at that time, but had not cashed in.    Both men could feel the pressure, but Becker stepped up with a forehand winner to finally break right back.  Sela was far from done, hitting his picture perfect backhand for winners at crucial times and breaking again to allow him to serve for the final, 5-3.  Sela went for his shots and earned his first match point with a nice forehand retrieve that Becker shanked.  On the very first match point, Sela seized the opportunity with a blistering forehand that was too much for Becker.  It will be only his second final.  He has experience playing big servers like Isner.  He eliminated Pospisil and Querrey earlier in the Atlanta tournament.  In Columbia, he played Ivo Karlovic and used a chair to shake his hand after the match.

Sela really appreciated the support.  “This atmosphere is great!  I love Atlanta.”  Somehow, even with a well educated Atlanta tennis crowd, I expect former Georgia Bulldog John Isner will be feeling a bit more love.  The last time they played, it took Isner a third set tiebreak to overcome Sela.  The local support may be all the edge Isner needs.

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John Isner Saves Two Match Points in Win over Robby Ginepri

GSM Isner

By Herman Wood

(July 24, 2014) ATLANTA – It was a showdown of Americans with local ties tonight at the BB&T Atlanta Open.  Former University of Georgia standout, top ranked American, and number one seed John Isner took on local Robby Ginepri, from just up I-75 in Marietta, now Kennesaw.  It was their fourth meeting, with Isner holding the edge, 2-1.

Ginepri, currently ranked 281, though as high as 15, was in the tournament as a wild card.  As expected in any John Isner match, things started with an ace.  Ginepri returned the favor with his very first serve and had a very easy hold.  From that point forward, it was evident that Ginepri was dialed in on the Isner serve.  He made Isner work by getting balls back in play off huge serves.  Isner did not help his own cause by only getting forty six percent of his first serves in and it led to the inevitable break with a sizzling passing shot by Ginepri to get him to 3-2.  Ginepri consolidated the break with a hold and the match stayed on track until Ginepri served the first set out 6-4.

As with any John Tiebreak, rather, Isner match, the second set went exactly that way.  There were threats of service break, again with Ginepri seeming to have really timed Isner’s deliveries.  It certainly seemed to take its toll, as Ginepri was flexing his wrists after blocking back 140 MPH or so blasts.  Isner served 71% of his first serves into play, converting 73% of those points.  Ginepri had no break points against his serve, while Isner saved the two opportunities Ginepri had.  There were mini-breaks of serve in the tie breaker, but the master of the breaker prevailed in a tight one 7-5.  Of course, the last point was an ace.

In the deciding third set, Ginepri seemed struggled a bit more to hold his serve, facing 7 break points.  He even dug out of one 15-40 hole and punctuated the hold with a yell.  It was inspired Ginepri tennis.  Isner had the customary two break points and saved both.  In Ginepri’s final service game, he was trying to hold for 6-5 and it couldn’t quite hold on.  The whole state knew what was coming next, but Ginepri was game, going for a new racquet in his attempt to break Isner’s  serve.  He never needed it.  Ace, ace, ace, ace.  Game, set, match; Isner 4-6, 7-5 (5), 7-5.  Isner said “It’s not easy, coming in playing your first match.  Having a bye is nice, but at the same time you are playing someone that has played a match.”  Isner will play Matsovci on Friday, surprisingly at 4 PM.  The feature 7 PM slot will see Jack Sock take on Lukas Lacko.

The crowd was well entertained and solidly behind good play, getting loud for each player in appreciation.  Of course, there was barking for Isner and shouts of ROBBY in support of Ginepri.  Some would have been concerned about turnout if Ginepri had won, but the crowd support for both men made it clear that Atlantans appreciation of good tennis should not be underestimated.

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The US Open Series Begins this Weekend in Atlanta

 

BB&TAtlantaOpen

By Herman Wood

(July 17, 2014) ATLANTA – Preparation for the US Open is underway.  The BB&T Atlanta Open gets things started on Saturday, July 19th for the men.  Qualifying begins at 10 AM.  The BB&T Atlanta Open is an ATP 250 event, with a 28 player draw, four of which come from the qualifying tournament.  The qualifying field will have 32 players.  The doubles draw is a 16 team field.  Last year’s champ, John Isner, is returning, along with fellow Americans Sam Querrey, Wimbledon doubles champ Jack Sock, and Donald Young.  Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Radek Stepanek, Ivo Karlovic, Ivan Dodig, Lleyton Hewitt, and the other half of the Wimbledon doubles championship team, Vasek Pospisil, are also expected in the tournament.  The tournament aspires to be a mini US Open, with the venue set among the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta at Atlantic Station.  Atlantic Station is a community within downtown that provides homes for 10,000 people integrated with shopping, restaurants, and retailers that make it a hit with the players.  Besides the attractive venue, players will get a jump on the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, where nearly $40 million in prize money is up for grabs.  This is the third year the tournament has been held at Atlantic Station.

It is a familiar place for Americans, with Isner winning last year, Roddick in 2012, and Fish in 2011.  It has also been comfortable for big man tennis- last year Isner, at 6’10”, overcame Kevin Anderson at 6’8” in three tiebreaks.  Fans in the first couple of rows certainly had to pay attention with the huge serves coming their way.  It is especially familiar for Isner, who competed collegiately just an hour down the road for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, leading the team to a national championship and winning every possible team title in 2007.  He’s usually a fan favorite, with at least a couple of barks from Georgia fans in his favor at each match.  Isner may not be the only recipient of barks; University of Georgia player Austin Smith has accepted a wild card into the main draw. The sophomore from Cumming, Georgia excelled this season as the Bulldogs captured the 2014 SEC Championship. Smith finished with a 35-12 record, and went 9-1 in SEC matches. He has won four USTA Pro Circuit matches. A tournament qualifier in 2011, Smith will be playing his debut ATP main draw match.

Another American, Jack Sock, could very well get on a roll at this tournament.  After winning doubles with Pospisil at Wimbledon, he rolled into Newport and eliminated Isner in the Newport Hall of Fame event on grass just a week ago.  Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to keep that momentum and was eliminated by the veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who went on to win the tournament.  Hewitt’s feisty shouts of “C’mon!” have endeared him to the Atlanta fans in past years.  Fresh off his renewed success at Newport, he could very well win Atlanta.  The main draw was just rounded out with the addition of Ryan Harrison and Robby Ginepri.  “We’re ecstatic to welcome back two of our fan favorites in Ryan Harrison and Atlanta metro resident Robby Ginepri,” Tournament Director Eddie Gonzalez said. “One of our goals is to highlight American talent and both of these players are great examples of the fine players this country has produced.”  Harrison won the doubles last year, partnering with Matthew Ebden.  Ginepri appears for the fourth time, with a onetime ranking of fifteen.  He is a graduate of Wheeler High School, just a few miles north of Atlantic Station.  He currently resides in Kennesaw, another couple of miles north.

The draw will be finalized over this weekend with the completion of the qualifying tournament.  Promising American junior Francis Tiafoe has accepted his first tournament qualifying wild card. Tiafoe, 16, is a talented young prodigy who rose to No. 2 in the world junior rankings this spring. Georgia Tech’s Nathan Rakitt and Alabama’s Becker O’Shaughnessey have also accepted qualifying wild cards. Rakitt, a Marietta native and All-ACC selectee, is competing again for the second year. O’Shaughnessey of Macon, Ga., led the Crimson Tide in singles wins (22) this season.

Herman Wood is in Atlanta covering the BB&T Open action from around the grounds for Tennis Panorama News, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/hermanewood.

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Veterans Hewitt and Karlovic Reach Newport Final

Karlovic !cid_1_3773490110@web124506_mail_ne1_yahoo-001

 

(July 12, 2014) NEWPORT – Lleyton Hewitt has not yet had to face one of the big-serving grass-courters that marked out the draw, but on Sunday, that’s set to change, as his opponent in the Hall of Fame Tennis Championship final, Ivo Karlovic, awaits.

 

Karlovic, who stands at 6’11”, has made it to the Newport final without dropping a single set the whole tournament, and while Hewitt has only dropped one – his first of the tournament against Ryan Harrison on Tuesday – he can’t rely on his own serve in the way his opponent in the final will be able to.

 

Karlovic led the tournament ace count with 44, going into his semifinal match against Australian Sam Groth, who was coming in second at 42, and he would add 9 more to that count during a match in which he broke Groth once in each set, winning it 6-4, 6-4 – the first time this tournament Karlovic has played a match without a tie-break. The match was predictably chess-like; “Wasn’t a lot of rallies out there,” said Groth after the match, “You’re not gonna get many chances on his serve. He came up with a couple of winners to break me in the first set and then all of a sudden the pressure’s back on me.”

!cid_2_3773490110@web124506_mail_ne1_yahoo-001

After 21-year-old American Jack Sock’s upset victory over compatriot and No.1 seed John Isner in yesterday’s quarterfinal, 33-year-old Hewitt proved a much tougher challenge for Sock, who was broken four times by Hewitt, eventually going down 6-1, 6-2. “I felt like his biggest weapon was obviously his first serve and his forehand,” said Hewitt, “And I was able to nullify those right from the start. Then he was sort of searching for answers. He was trying to go out of his comfort zone to try and change up and win points other ways, which I felt was playing into my hands.”

 

This will be the 33-year-old Australian’s third consecutive final at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championship, and while 35-year-old Karlovic has never been to a final in Newport, Rhode Island, he has now reached four finals on grass, and has won two. Hewitt, on the other hand, won 7 consecutive finals on grass, stretching back to 2000 where he beat Pete Sampras at Queen’s Club, all the way to 2010 when he beat Roger Federer in Halle.

 

When Hewitt walks onto Center Court at Newport on Sunday – the younger of the two oldest finalists there ever – he takes into the match a losing 1-4 record, the only win coming on clay in 2009.

 

While Karlovic’s confidence, focus and potency on serve seems to have grown throughout the tournament, Newport’s spectators at the Hall of Fame have been given daily reminders as to why the former world No. 1’s style of play still gives him a chance to take out his 30th ATP title on Sunday, even against an in-form Karlovic, but as Hewitt said of his preparation for the final, “There’s not a lot I can do until I get out there and play. I’m not gonna find 7-foot guys to come and serve at me.”

 

Hewitt will also be contesting the doubles final on Sunday with Davis Cup partner Chris Guccione. The last player to win both singles and doubles titles at an ATP tournament was last year’s Hall of Fame champion, Nicolas Mahut.

 

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 .

 

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Jack Sock Knocks Out Top Seed John Isner at Newport

 

Isner and Sock photo by Ben Solomon

Isner and Sock photo by Ben Solomon

 

By Dave Gertler

 

(July 11, 2014) NEWPORT – The second set of singles quarterfinals were played at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships on Friday in Newport, which will celebrate its 60th year by adding a new name to its list of champions. After Nicolas Mahut was taken out by Sam Groth in the first of yesterday’s quarterfinals, by the time the last quarterfinal was played, the only former  champion left in the draw was also eliminated from the tournament.

 

By beating American No.1 John Isner, promising young talent Jack Sock has made his first ever ATP tour semifinal, where he will face Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, who is looking to add to his tally of 29 career ATP titles. “He wasn’t on his A-game today,” said Sock of isner, “I was able to just scrap out a few returns, and lucky enough to get through.”

 

Earlier in the day, top-ranked Australian Lleyton Hewitt had a comfortable win over America’s Steve Johnson, beating him 6-4, 6-4 by playing solid tennis throughout. Johnson’s game was explosive at times, but he conceded points at crucial moments through unforced errors, and despite leading 3-1 in the second set, wasn’t able to win another game until serving to stay in the match at 3-5.

 

Hewitt is very comfortable on grass – of his 29 career titles, a healthy seven of them have been on this surface. After having made the final at Newport the last two years, the scene is set for Hewitt to perhaps go for third time lucky, as his family, who have been in Newport all week, would like to see. They wouldn’t be his only supporters in the crowd; Hewitt’s dynamic style of play and passionate displays of emotion on court have won the Rhode Island crowd’s support over the years.

 

“I still feel like I’m one of the fitter guys out there on the tour, no matter that I am over 30,” said Hewitt, after his singles quarterfinal and before playing his doubles semifinal later in the day, which he won with Australian partner Chris Guccione. “I’ve always done the right things, but it’s probably more important now to always do the right things after every match and prepare properly for the next match.”

 

He will need to be at the top of his physical game to beat 21-year-old Sock, who answered to the media as he iced his elbow ‘preventatively’. “Obviously, I’ll be playing a legend that’s still out there playing,” said Sock, “For him, it’s pretty unbelievable that he was No.1 that many years ago and still playing, still playing at a high level, so it’ll be tough.”

 

Before Hewitt and Sock take the court, the other semifinal will be contested between two of the game’s biggest men, and, biggest servers. Combining with Lleyton Hewitt, Sam Groth completes the first pair of Australians to reach a semifinal at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championship since Jason Stoltenberg and Wayne Arthurs did it way back in 2000. Both Groth and Hewitt will be hoping to go one better than their predecessors, who both lost their separate semifinal matches. The only other occasion where there have been a pair of Australians in Newport singles semifinals was in 1988 (Brad Drewett, Wally Masur).

 

“Tomorrow’s more about Sam holding his nerve in the semifinal,” said Hewitt, who has played Groth’s semifinal opponent Ivo Karlovic five times, only beating him once. Like Jack Sock, 26-year-old Sam Groth will be playing his first ATP-level semifinal when he takes the court against the 6’11” Croatian tomorrow. All four players are competing for prize money drawn from the tournament’s total financial commitment of $539,730.

 

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 .

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Groth Takes Out Defending Newport Champ Mahut

Black and white Groth-001

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 .

 

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