October 9, 2015

Veterans Hewitt and Karlovic Reach Newport Final

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(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.”


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 .



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 .


Groth Takes Out Defending Newport Champ Mahut

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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 .



John Isner Leads Top Seeds into Newport Quarterfinals

John Isner

John Isner

By Dave Gertler

(July 9, 2014) NEWPORT – Day Three of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, saw solid performances from top seeds, and expected results from the tournament’s big servers and grass court specialists.


The only minor upset of the day was Israel’s Dudi Sela ousting his higher-ranked opponent, No .8 seed Adrian Mannarino, in straight sets. Sela had a strong serving day, winning 82% of points on his first serve and converting five of six break points against the Frenchman. Sela, one of the shorter players on tour, will now face the tallest, Ivo Karlovic, whose 18 aces was too much for serve-and-volleyer Sergiy Stakhovsky to handle, the Croatian winning 7-5, 7-6.


The tournament’s top four seeds also won through to the quarterfinals in straight sets. Defending champion Nicolas Mahut beat Australia’s Luke Saville in an hour, 10 minutes, out-serving the 20-year-old Australian qualifier, breaking him on four occasions. “It was a tough match,” said Mahut, “He’s a good player on grass. This kind of surface you have to be really focused on your serve and take the opportunity. It was much better than yesterday and I hope tomorrow will be even better.”


His serving will need to stay solid in his quarterfinal match against Australian Sam Groth, who although still outside the top 100, is one win away from reaching that milestone after another solid serving performance saw him through his match against Malek Jaziri. Groth’s ace count against the Tunisian was remarkably high at 24, ominous for his next opponent, who said, “He’s serving huge, he’s a very, very powerful player. So if I had to play against him I will have to be really concentrate on my serve, and then wait for something, maybe a double fault once, try a good return and waiting for the small opportunities I will have. But the first thing is to keep my serve, I’ll be really focused on that.”


Tournament top dog John Isner required less time and less aces against fellow American Austin Krajicek, defeating him on Center Court 6-3, 6-3 in just over an hour. “It was a pretty clean match,” said Isner, “I guess I got up early in both sets, and for me, that helps so much. I feel like I play pretty well when I’m playing ahead, especially on this surface too. It was a good match, very happy with it.”


Isner’s quarterfinal opponent was decided in a match between Rajeev Ram and Jack Sock, 21-year-old Sock coming through on top. Sock and Isner, both good friends, are looking forward to the quarterfinal. “He and I practice a lot and have become pretty good friends,” said Sock of Isner, “We obviously know each other pretty well now. We both know each other’s games pretty well so it should be whoever can execute better, I guess.”


Sock, fresh from winning his second grand slam – a Wimbledon doubles title with Vasek Pospisil, defeating the Bryan brothers in the final – is enjoying the burst of confidence he’s received into his singles game. “No matter what tournament it is, even doubles,” said Sock, “Whenever you win a match, it can only help, and especially the slams. I think that when you can get that run going into to second week of any slam, singles or doubles, and then you end up, like we were, fortunate enough to play on the weekend, second week of a slam, there’s only a few guys left in the locker room. It’s pretty cool, it’s a pretty special feeling. And to be able to be there and then go out on Center Court and play, and be lucky enough to win against the best team, probably, of all time in doubles, it can only help your confidence.”


Isner, who has not lost to Sock in four matches, seemed positive about Sock’s future in the game ahead of their first meeting on grass. “We’re both gonna want to win,” said Isner, “We’re good friends; we may even go out to dinner tonight, or even tomorrow night. I’ve gotten especially close to him now that he’s moved to Tampa. We train together, we use the same strength coach, we’re always training together. He’s a good friend of mine and someone who – I think, in a sense, he might look up a little bit to me. I’m certainly much older than him but he’s – in my opinion – got an incredibly bright future. He’s got a lot of weapons in his game, especially with that forehand of his, which is world class. So, he’s only gonna get better.”


The winner of Isner/Sock will face – in the semifinal – the winner between Lleyton Hewitt and Steve Johnson, who both graduated comfortably past their round-of-16 opponents, Ante Pavic and Tatsuma Ito, respectively. While Hewitt and Johnson won’t contest their quarterfinal tomorrow, the 33-year-old Aussie won’t be resting entirely. He’s one of five Australians remaining in the doubles draw at the quarterfinal stage. After his match with Pavic, Hewitt revealed, “I only play doubles most of the time to play with guys that I’m going to play Davis Cup for Australia with. That’s the only real reason that I play doubles. We’ve got a Davis Cup tie later in the year and Chris Guccione and I will most probably be playing doubles there, so it’s good to get some more matches.”


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 .


Round of 16 Preview for Hall Of Fame Championships

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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 .


Top Seed Isner Advances, Hewitt Guts Out a Win Over Harrison


John Isner

John Isner

By Dave Gertler

(July 8, 2014) NEWPORT – Tuesday was always going to be an exciting day at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, with a defending champion, No.1 seed, and a dual grand slam champion in action. All three – Nicolas Mahut, John Isner and Lleyton Hewitt respectively – would advance through their matches to round two, but it was the manner in which, in particular, the latter did, that had the New England tennis enthusiasts on the edge of their seats.


Two-time champion John Isner managed a late charge from his first round opponent, qualifier Wayne Odesnik, but would be too strong, taking the match 6-3, 7-6 in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Isner’s second round opponent will be world No.208 Austin Krajicek, who held off Tim Smyczek in their first round match.


Lleyton Hewitt in Press

Lleyton Hewitt in Press

While big-servers Isner and Mahut would have relatively comfortable wins, the match-up between Lleyton Hewitt and world No.144 Ryan Harrison would turn out to be a much more even and entertaining one.


22-year-old Harrison opened strongly, breaking twice in the first set for 6-1. “I was trying to play a bit too clean tennis,” said Hewitt post-match, “and sort of just over-hitting the first set and I just lost my rhythm a little bit. After the first couple of games, Ryan played a lot better as well. He hit his spots on his serve, hit his forehand a lot better.”


In the second set, Hewitt appeared to be experiencing shoulder pain, but after treatment during a medical timeout, was able to stay in touch with Harrison and eventually take the set 7-5. “So at the start of the second set, I was really just trying to hang with him more than anything, and make him play a lot of balls.”

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By the start of set three, it was clear to the Newport crowd that they were being treated to an exceptionally high-quality grass tennis match, and were showing their appreciation to the Australian as much as their local prospect. “Considering I was playing an American, it seemed like a lot of them were going for me, which is nice,” said Hewitt, who has reached the final in Newport the last two years, “I guess they appreciate me coming back as well, after losing in two finals as well.”


The final set included a total of five breaks of serve, Hewitt ultimately the victor 6-4. After being on court for 2 hours and 10 minutes, Hewitt said of his gritty win, “I just tried to win ugly more than anything, and just get balls back in play.”


Harrison, who is unfortunately known for drawing tough first-round opponents in big tournaments, was unable to contain his emotion at one point, breaking his racquet on the grass, and receiving a code violation. Said Hewitt of his up-and-coming opponent, “I think he’s just frustrated because he’s a lot better player than where his ranking’s at at the moment, and he’s probably been in this situation where he’s had opportunities to beat better players and hasn’t been able to close it out. I knew that going into the match and that’s why in the end, I just tried to hang with him, hang with him and then hopefully put some pressure and some doubt into his mind.”


Hewitt’s will take the court against his round 2 opponent, Croatia’s Ante Pavic, on Center Court, Wednesday.


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 .


Rafael Nadal Dusts Off Lleyton Hewitt at Sony Open

Nadal 321 press-001

(March 22, 2014) Rafael Nadal dominated Lleyton Hewitt on Saturday night 6-1, 6-3 at the Sony Open.

Back on Thursday Hewitt joined Nadal and Roger Federer as the only active players with 600 or more career wins on the ATP World Tour.

Lleyton Hewitt Reaches 600th Win Milestone

“I think I played a solid match with not many mistakes,” Nadal explained.  “It’s true that I am having the feeling of the back better for two weeks already, so I start to feel a little bit more comfortable with the serve because I am able to practice a little bit the serve and to do the normal movement again.

“So that’s important thing for me.  And from the baseline, I think in Indian Wells I didn’t play the right way.  I think I played with too many mistakes.  Some good points; some bad points.  I tried to play with all the time the logical shot.

“So playing against his backhand, and when I had the chance change to the down the line with the forehand, no?  I think the good thing is I didn’t have a lot of mistakes.

“I think Lleyton played much better in the second set.  He played more aggressive.  I was solid with my serve.  Some good rallies.

“Very happy the way that I played at the end of the first set.  Start to feeling the ball very well with the forehand, changing directions.

“In general, I have to be very happy the way that I start, I think.”

Nadal moves into the third round.


Rafael Nadal to Meet Lleyton Hewitt in Opening Match at Sony Open

Nadal 321 press-001

(March 21, 2014) No. 1 Rafael Nadal opens up his campaign to try and win his first Sony Open on Saturday when he meets 33-year-old veteran and former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt on Saturday day night in Key Biscayne.


“I think he’s a great inspiration for a lot of players after winning a lot of things as he did, and having a lot of physical problems he’s able to keep competing with unbelievable spirit, great motivation” Nadal said of Hewitt.  “He’s able to come back after important injuries.

“So that’s a great example for the rest of the players.  I am happy to see him playing well again.  Hopefully not tomorrow,” Nadal said with a smile.

“But, yeah, he already won a tournament this year, so it will be a tough match for me.  I need to play well.  I’m going to try.”


The Sony Open is one of very few events the Spaniard has never won.


“I would love to win here any year,” Nadal said.


“When I am playing a tournament, I always try my best in every one.

So when I go on court, I try my best in every tournament, in every match.  I gonna do it the same here, no?

“Hopefully I will have a good few days.  I hope to be competitive tomorrow.  Never is easy the first round, especially when you play an opponent like Lleyton, and especially when he already played a match, so it will be tough battle.

“I need to be very competitive.  I need to be ready.  I hope I will be.”

“I prefer an easier opponent,” said a smiling Nadal.  “But that’s what there is.  I cannot choose the draw.

“Gonna be tough one.  But at the same time, he’s a player that you can play ‑‑ we are gonna play rallies from the baseline.  Gonna be a hard one.

But the good thing of playing these kind of matches is that if you are able to win, you will be in rhythm for the tournament.

“Against the players that I played last week, (Radek) Stepanek or (Alexamdr) Dolgopolov, even if you win, you feel that you are not playing the point the way you want to play.

“So different history.  The good thing is if I am able to play a good match tomorrow and win, probably I will be confident and on rhythm.

If I lose, I gonna be on rhythm flying home.”

Nadal holds a  6-4 head-to-head record against Hewitt.


Showdown in Hong Kong for World Tennis Day Sees Aussies Win


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By Natalie Ho

(March 3, 2014) HONG KONG – The second annual BNP Paribas Showdown in Hong Kong, part of ITF’s World Tennis Day initiative, was concluded in lighthearted fashion with the participation of four star players – Li Na, Sam Stosur, Tomas Berdych and Lleyton Hewitt. The evening turned out to be a good one for the Aussies as Former US Open winner Sam Stosur beat reigning Australian Open champion Li Na 6-4, 6-3 in the opening match, while former world No 1 Lleyton Hewitt defeated No. 6 Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-5 in the second match of the evening.

This year the event was moved to the newly opened Hong Kong Velodrome where a tennis court and bleacher seats were built especially for this showdown. Those lucky fans with tickets to the temporary bleachers were literally court-side. They were treated to an intimate setting with the only disadvantage being the chance to get hit by serves. However, spectators in the upper section were separated from the action by a cycling track which was quite a distraction and might explain the lack of atmosphere especially at the beginning.

Missing Li last year due to injury, the crowd was happy to see her finally but Stosur also had very vocal support. The ladies traded service breaks multiple times but in the end it was Stosur, the more solid player in the match, who prevailed. The men’s match was, in contrast, more exhibition-like. Berdych was quite a crowd pleaser while Hewitt’s competitive drive was visible even in an exhibition. The crowd really got into the match towards the end and was shouting “third set, third set”. However, it was not to be as after some tussling Hewitt was able to close out the match.

Earlier in the day the players participated in a news conference to kick off the event.

Lleyton Hewitt, asked about the International Premier Tennis League, said Asia is a massive growth area for tennis so being an Aussie he’s excited to take part.

Tomas Berdych was asked about hiring a star coach. He feels this is not a must and that a star coach may not work well within a team.

Sam Stosur is happy to be working on different things with her new coach Miles Maclagan and plans to play more doubles this year.

Li Na naturally received the most questions. Between more GS & #1 she wants both. #1 is a goal as she’s now on her career high ranking. She also revealed a funny team dynamic: her husband would tell Carlos his ideas so Carlos would say them. Otherwise she wouldn’t listen.


Lleyton Hewitt Commits to New International Premier Tennis League


By Alana Mitchelson

(January 21, 2014) MELBOURNE – Lleyton Hewitt has announced he has committed to the International Premier Tennis League for the year, a new development which has been confirmed to debut in November 2014.

Falling between November 28 and December 20, the new series intends to offer quality matches to players during the off-season in a uniquely formatted, team-based tournament. Its main focus is centred around bringing high profile players to Asian countries and entertaining tennis aficionados internationally.

“I have a huge fan base in Asia which is important to me,” Hewitt said.

“That was one key aspect of me getting interested in the first place.

“Especially for myself, playing in Asia is such a big part of the Australian Open, Australasia Grand Slam. Expanding in that market is good for our sport.

“I think that’s the biggest thing for the event as well, for pumping up tennis in the Asia area… I have no doubt there’s going to be a lot of quality players that are still real contenders at the Grand Slams, and I think it needs that.”

Each team will be made up of six to 10 players and will comprise of a combination of categories including current players, tennis legends and the future stars of tennis; both men and women.

Team members in relevant categories will play a round robin in men’s singles, mens doubles, women’s singles, mixed doubles and legends doubles – both home-and-away – with the home team selecting the order of play on the night of the matches.

There will be no advantage scoring and a tie-break at 5-5, making for a time-sensitive format of no longer than three-and-a-half hours duration which is unique to the sport and ideal for television.

The winner of each round will be determined by the most games won by the team as opposed to the number of sets. At the end of the round robin, there will be a grand final to decide upon the champion team.

“Ideally we’d like to get to 10 teams by 2020,” Indian professional tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi said.

“(But) it will be a minimum of five, maximum of six in the first go.”

The cities to be involved in this year’s event are Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Mumbai and one more Middle Eastern city yet to be confirmed.

“I’ve obviously witnessed the Twenty20 Cricket really explode as well. This has been that format where we get the opportunity to play in a close-knit team, which is close to my heart, growing up with Australian football and team sports,” Hewitt said.

“That’s one thing lacking in tennis. We don’t get the chance to participate in a team. I look forward to that.

“I love playing in a team environment. I enjoy that. Travelling around and playing within that timeframe, it fits in well with me.”

There is also talk of a large amount of prize money being invested into the tournament to attract some of the best players the sport has to offer.

According to Hewitt, the Asian tennis league has already received much interest from the players.

“A lot of the talk in the locker room is very positive. I have no doubt there’s going to be a lot of big names released in the next couple of weeks to next month or so.”

But with the dramatic altering of the traditional landscape of the sport, there is a concern that such an unusual format could taint the legacy of the game.

“We’re hoping for a positive impact,” Bhupathi said.

“I think things are changing worldwide. That’s why IPL (cricket) has been so successful. Nothing will ever change the four pillars of our sport which are the four Grand Slams.

“I think the youth of our sport are looking for something fun, innovative. I think this format brings the biggest stars in the world, creating something new and fresh for tennis.”

The player draft is to take place on March 2, in Dubai, later this year.