The leap from Wimbledon to Newport, R.I. is not as far you would think.
Newport, like the village of Wimbledon, is well established. It was founded in 1639; the port community is steeped in tradition, yet evinces a quaint atmosphere loved by its residents and thousands of tourists that invade over the summer months. It boasts the highest number of ‘surviving colonial buildings’ in the United States — including the opulent Newport mansions, which were home to the wealthy during America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century.
The obvious connection Newport has with Wimbledon, at least this week, is tennis. The Tennis Hall of Fame tournament is the only ATP event played on grass in the United States, and it always follows the two weeks of hoopla that engrosses Wimbledon village and the most coveted of Grand Slams.
Although the Hall of Fame tournament is small — an ATP 250 event — the honor it bestows brings with it a sense of a continuing tradition perhaps only experienced when players compete on grass.
This year’s lineup seems like old home week for Americans and Australians — although Lleyton Hewitt, the defending champion on his farewell tour, is not here. Davis Cup, scheduled for the weekend, has always been a priority for the Aussie and even more so as he approaches retirement. Last year, he intimated he would retire when Australia’s Davis Cup team was robust, which it is leading into the quarterfinals. Picked to play are Hewitt, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Groth, and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Ten of the 32 main draw entrants in Newport are American, led by two-time Newport champion John Isner as the No. 1 seed. Naturally, because the draw is small, American played American in the first round. Rhode Island’s own Jared Donaldson eliminated Austin Krajicek, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2, yesterday.
Today, Rajeev Ram faced Isner, and it didn’t turn out well for the top seed. He was upset by the 2009 Newport champion, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(8) and Ram saved one match point to record his third top-20 win. The American had defeated Kei Nishikori here in 2012, as well. The tournament was later spared the loss of another top seed and American, Sam Querrey (No. 6), who struggled against Matthew Ebden before pulling out a straight set victory, 7-6(3), 7-6(1).
“I had to play the court rather than play your normal game,” Querrey told the small gathering of reporters. “As long as you can get it through your head that it is going to be a different type of match that’s good.”
Too bad Querrey wasn’t on court to witness Isner’s match — perhaps the camaraderie would have helped.
“We don’t ‘rah rah’ cheer each other on,” Querrey began. “But I think subconsciously you see your buddies win and you want to win, definitely.”
A total of nine Australians competing in qualifications and the main draw, are on hand, too. Returning to Newport, after nine years off tour, is Mark Philippoussis. He was granted a wild card into qualifications, almost a decade after the 38-year-old had won the title in 2006. Yesterday, he lost his opening, and only, match to American Eric Quigley in — as would be expected from the 6-foot-5 Aussie — two tiebreak sets: 7-6(1), 7-6(4).
“It was the first time back after nine years,” Philippoussis told the ATP World Tour. “Getting the body back into this pace and movement, it was difficult to get rhythm. I had my opportunities.”
Philippoussis is also entered in doubles alongside Ryan Harrison. The American saw his charge at the title end in the opening round today, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, to Yuichi Sugita.
The top-seeded Australian, Bernard Tomic (No. 3), made an early exit yesterday — unexpectedly falling to countryman John-Patrick Smith, 6-3, 7-5, ranked No. 156 to Tomic’s No. 25. Tomic, though, could have been distracted prior to the match, leaving him with little defense on court. An email surfaced from Tennis Australia which published the order of play at Newport, labeling it ‘The Tennis Hall of Shame.’ Tomic won’t be playing Davis Cup in this weekend’s quarterfinals, after yet another disagreement with Pat Rafter and Tennis Australia’s CEO, Craig Tiley. Tennis Australia has since apologized for the email, calling it a ‘mistake.’
Stepping outside the boundaries of American and Australian tennis — two of the largest contributors of tennis stars over the decades — stood a man who has become increasingly more recognizable since Wimbledon: Dustin Brown. Although he hasn’t played Newport in a number of years, the German was happy to be back and win today. Their first set took close to an hour, but Brown closed the match against Adrien Bossel 20 minutes later, 7-6(4), 6-3.
“The [courts] are a little different than last week. Probably good we got to play our doubles yesterday to just try to find our groove a little bit,” Brown said. “I was struggling in my first serve. I’d played Adrien [Bossel] before but years ago. He’s a really good player. I was lucky to serve my way out of the first set.”
Next up for Brown is Querrey. The German defeated the American in Newport in 2010 in the same round.
“Just because I beat him a few years ago has nothing to do with the match we’ll play,” Brown said. “But obviously he’s a big server, so you have to out and see what you can put together. I’ll try to string a few returns together. But, yeah, everyone’s serving well here.”
Does Newport provide a good backdrop for Brown after his headlining upset of Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon?
“We went down to the Harbor for food,” Brown began. “Also it was the first time I’ve been on the roof at the hotel. I’ve stayed there a few times but never been on the roof. It was nice; you could see the view and all the way down to the water. I’m here with a friend and my girlfriend. Everything’s in walking distance, which is also nice.”