2014/09/18

Third Final is the Charm for Lleyton Hewitt in Newport

Photo by Ben Solomon

Photo by Ben Solomon

By Dave Gertler

 

(July 13, 2014) NEWPORT – Lleyton Hewitt held off big-serving Ivo Karlovic for his 30th career title at the Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, Rhode Island.

 

The final was a tight affair, with Karlovic’s potent serve-volleying a close match-up with Hewitt’s counter-attacking and ability to return well and chase down shots that other players wouldn’t get to. “I think my passing shots and returns are probably as good as anyone’s out there,” said Hewitt after the match, “They are two massive strengths of my game, and, playing Ivo, who was always gonna serve-volley first and second serves, I knew I was gonna have to do that well.”

 

The match was also the longest of the tournament, at 2 hours and 30 minutes. Hewitt broke early in the first set, capitalizing on Karlovic’s low first-service percentage, and often making the return passing shot look easy. “My service games, I was just trying to play clean tennis as much as possible,” said Hewitt, who would not face a break point in the first set, closing it out with a second break for 6-3, “But obviously from the baseline I was able to adjust to the wind a fair bit better than him.”

 

Karlovic, who served 26 aces to Hewitt’s 5 in the course of the match, would be the first to break in the second set. “He returned really well,” said Karlovic, who served 10 double faults to Hewitt’s 6, “He almost didn’t miss any balls. I didn’t serve as good as normally, because it was a lot of wind, and I didn’t feel it.”

 

Hewitt, having thrilled Newport over the last two years, had the firm support of the crowd going into his third consecutive final. During the second set, in which both players would be broken twice, Karlovic appealed to the crowd for support, singling out one person high in the stands and thanking them for cheering for him. “Even though I didn’t play my best,” said Karlovic, who would win the second set tie-break, taking the match to a deciding sert, “I was fighting, I was trying to turn it around and I was able to do that. I’m a little bit disappointed, but overall it was a good week.”

 

Hewitt faced three break points in the final set, but neither player would get the upper hand until the third-set tie-break, which Hewitt would seal, along with his second title of the year. Hewitt was battling the odds against Karlovic, having only won one of their five career matches, saying he felt, “Obviously relief. It’s an important tournament. It’s not a grand slam, by no means, but for me, I’ve come here the last three years and I’ve put myself on the line and come awfully close the last two years, so it was nice to get rewarded today.”

 

Hewitt was still to add to his achievements by taking the doubles title with Davis Cup partner Chris Guccione 7-5, 6-4 against Rajeev Ram and Jonathan Erlich. “First time I’ve been able to win singles and doubles at the same tournament. It was good to win with Gooch as well. We’ve never won a title together before. We’ve played so many matches in Davis Cup. It was a really important one for us to win and, yeah, pretty pumped about it.”

 

With the win, Hewitt will edge closer to the top 40. “On these grass courts, it’s not easy to turn up every time and play consistently and beat guys,” said Hewitt, “That’s probably something I’m more proud of – the way that I’ve been able to beat some of the best servers in the game, Isner and Karlovic, on these courts. So that still shows that I’m able to match it with the best guys on grass, obviously.”

 

For Karlovic, who now flies to Bogota as the defending champion of the Claro Open hard court ATP 250 event, the final appearance in Newport will take him inside the top 30 for the first time since April 2010.

 

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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The Newport Club

International Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Nick Bollettieri, Jane Brown Grimes, Lindsay Davenport, John Barrett, and Chantal Vandierendonck   Photo by Kate Whitney Lucey

International Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Nick Bollettieri, Jane Brown Grimes, Lindsay Davenport, John Barrett, and Chantal Vandierendonck Photo by Kate Whitney Lucey

The Newport Club

By Jack Cunniff

(July 12, 2014) NEWPORT – With apologies to the late John Hughes.

Five students of the game of tennis – “executive” Jane Brown Grimes, “journalist” John Barrett, “survivor” Chantal Vandierendonck, “coach” Nick Bollettieri, and “champion” Lindsay Davenport – all come from different backgrounds. On Saturday, they reported for Saturday “detention” at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI. At the end of day, by sharing their life experiences, we learn that they aren’t just the executive, the journalist, the survivor, the coach, the champion. We see them for what they are: tennis fans. They are “The Newport Club”, Class of 2014.

 

To look at the resume of Jane Brown Grimes, she’s the consummate tennis executive. President and CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Managing Director of the Women’s Professional Tennis Council (now known as the Women’s Tennis Association). Chairman of the Board of the United States Tennis Association. Professional tennis has always had a fragmented political structure, and it is never easy to get each body to agree on the issues facing the sport. It was Brown Grimes’ love of tennis that allowed her to succeed in each of these roles by moving the sport forward. In her own words, “If you can kind of get on the same page with various groups, really convince them something you think should happen is good for the game overall, if you can back your own ego out of it, I think you can get a lot done.”

It’s easy to label Barrett a journalist. For over forty years, he was the tennis correspondent for The Financial Times of London. He was editor of World of Tennis, and publisher of Wimbledon the Official History. He was the Wimbledon announcer on the BBC from 1971 until 2006. More than this, however, he is a fan of tennis and feels incredibly lucky to have made his life in the sport. Regarding his broadcasting career, Barrett says “I had the best seat in the house. I could comment about the game I loved from an early age and they actually paid me for it! What could be more wonderful than that?” He married tennis as well, taking three-time Grand Slam champion Angela Mortimer as his bride in 1967.

 

Vandierendonck was born into a tennis family. At age 18, tennis took a back seat when she became a paraplegic as the result of an auto accident. Chantal would have to learn to accept life in a wheelchair. How could she survive life without tennis? Her uncle told Chantal about wheelchair tennis. Upon seeing the sport for the first time in Paris, she saw it was “still real tennis”. Her family organized wheelchair events in her native Netherlands, and with her love of practice and hard work, Vandierendonck soon became a champion in the sport. Because of her dedication to tennis, Vandierendonck learned how great her life in a wheelchair could be. She’s not only the first women’s wheelchair player inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame, but also the first Dutch player inducted.

 

The “Coach”, Nick Bollettieri, is famous for many reasons. He has a number of successful former pupils, including Hall-of-Famers Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Monica Seles. He partnered with Arthur Ashe to start the Ashe Bollettieri Tennis Program in Newark, NJ, then started the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, FL. He’s the author of several instructional books. His commitment to tennis continues to drive him. His sponsorship for children’s tennis programs is well-documented, but in Newport, Bollettieri partnered with AARP Rhode Island to hold a free clinic for senior players. As he announced in his induction speech, “I’m just beginning my journey.” This fan of tennis says that retirement is not in his vocabulary.

 

Lindsay Davenport has always been known as a champion. She won regularly in the junior ranks of tennis. Within four months of turning professional, she won her first of 55 tournament titles. After turning twenty, she claimed the gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. And she continued to win on the biggest stages of the sport, taking the Women’s Singles trophies at the 1998 U.S. Open, 1999 Wimbledon, and 2000 Australian Open. It’s been only recently that we’ve come to view Davenport as something other than a champion. Certainly, as the wife and mother of four, she has new responsibilities today. Yet her love of the sport has returned her to the scene as a respected tennis commentator. “I always loved to study the game,” Davenport admitted, “I would spend a lot of time trying to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the players at the very top. I’m a tennis junkie.”

 

The five most recent inductees had been labeled and stereotyped into a role. But after the 2014 Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, we learned that the reason for their success was that they were, and still are, tennis fans.

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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.”

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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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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 .

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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 .

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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 .

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Defending Champ Mahut Feels Like Home in Newport

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By Dave Gertler

 

(July 8, 2014) NEWPORT – Day Two of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships promised plenty of top-seed grass court action for the tennis-loving community of Newport, Rhode Island, but it delivered much more than the crowd expected in terms of match quality and edge-of-your-seat drama.

 

Thirty-two-year-old Nicolas Mahut played his first round match against Argentina’s Facundo Arguello, the only Spanish speaker in an ATP 250 main draw that started with 14 North Americans and 4 Australians, out of 32 players. The French fourth seed, also the defending his 2013 Hall of Fame Tennis Championship title, was largely untroubled by the 21-year-old world No.119. Although Arguello was able to force a first-set tie-break, he was unable to create any break point opportunities in a match that lasted 1 hour, 30 minutes.

 

Mahut seemed comfortable in the New England surroundings. “Of course, I feel like almost home. I played, I don’t know, maybe ten times (in Newport), and I know everybody here. I have my habits, I go to the same restaurant with a French manager.” The world No. 59 was dominant in the match’s only tie-breaker, only allowing his younger opponent 1 point, saying, “I’m ten years older, so I get more experience. And that helped me in the important moments. Like in the tie-breaker, first set.”

 

While this predicted result was playing out on Center Court, a minor upset was taking place on Court 2 where Canadian Peter Polansky and Australian Luke Saville were contesting for a spot in the second round to face the winner of Mahut/Arguello. Polansky and Saville, ranked 133 and 184 respectively, started nervously, particularly Polansky, who is yet to win a main draw ATP match this year, and who served three double faults to break himself in the first game. Saville also opened his serving campaign by getting broken, but would soon right the ship, becoming the steadier of the two, and ultimately scoring his first career ATP main draw match, outside of a grand slam.

 

”I feel like mental toughness is probably the biggest part of my game, my biggest strength,” said Saville, “I think he let (the conditions) affect him a lot more than me today, which I was quite happy to see him get a bit frustrated out there. I’ve been serving well, been getting a lot of free points when my first serve lands. I’ve gotta keep serving well, keep staying mentally tough, keep trying to get to the net, try to get the first big shot in the rally and get him on the defense.”

 

Saville, who grew up playing on Australian grass, and has a Junior Wimbledon trophy under his belt, is relishing the opportunity his next match, Wednesday’s opening match on Center Court, will bring. “I’ve got a tough match next round against the defending champ Mahut, so I’ll go out there and give it my best crack. I believe I can win out there.”

 

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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Mahut Tops Hewitt for Newport Title and Also Wins Doubles

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(July 15, 2013) Nicolas Mahut won four matches at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships over the past two days to claim both the singles and doubles titles at the tournament Newport. Monday morning, he paired with Edouard Roger-Vasselin to claim their fourth title as a team, coming back to beat the American pairing of Tim Smyczek and Rhyne Williams, 6-7(4), 6-2, 10-5. Sunday Mahut defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the singles final for his second career title, his first coming last month at ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

 

“First to win the singles is a big accomplishment,” said Mahut. “To win both in the same week, singles and doubles, it’s amazing. When I look back a month ago, I was ranked 240, then I played the French Open final in doubles, won two titles, won another one in doubles, it’s just a great achievement. I just don’t think I even realize it all yet.”

 

Due to rain over the weekend, the tournament semifinals were moved from Saturday to Sunday. Mahut played three matches on Sunday – singles and doubles semifinals, and singles final, as well as this morning’s doubles final. In 2010, Mahut competed in the longest match in tennis history, when he and John Isner played for 11 hours and 5 minutes at 2010 Wimbledon before Isner won 70-68 in the fifth set.

 

Mahut is the first player on the ATP World Tour to win both singles and doubles titles at the same event this season. He is the third player in the history of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships to do so (Rajeev Ram in 2009 and Dan Goldie in 1987).

 

 

“When you want to win a final, everything can happen. I just can’t believe it’s true,” Mahut said of winning the singles crown.

“A month ago I was playing to make the cut for the qualies at the US Open, I was [ranked] 240 with some points to defend. I told my coach, I have to play great on grass to make the cut for the qualies. A month later I have two titles.”

“It’s always easier to come back onto court after wins. You know I can play a long time, I can stay a long time on the court.”

 

As for winning the doubles, Mahut said: “I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent at the beginning, but in the end, I played good at the right time and Edouard played really well.”

“First to win the singles is a big accomplishment. To win the same week, singles and doubles, it is the first time it has happened to me in my career, and it’s amazing. When I look back a month ago, I was ranked 240, then I played the French Open in doubles, won two titles, won another one in doubles. It’s just a great achievement. I don’t think I even realise it all yet. It’s incredible what has happened to me in the past month.”

“I was maybe going to stop playing singles because my [ATP] Ranking was too low only a month ago, so I was thinking to play maybe just doubles, and a month later I’m back in the Top 100. It’s just unbelievable.”

By winning the singles title, Mahut has moved up 52 spots to in the ATP Rankings to World No. 75.

 

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