The longest of shots at the start of the week, Rajeev Ram was the last man standing in Newport. Unseeded and ranked No. 161, the American won his second career — and second Newport — title at the 2015 Tennis Hall of Fame Championships, defeating the No. 2 seed Ivo Karlovic who is ranked 24 in the world.
“I don’t know if I expected more of myself,” Ram began, comparing this win with the one in 2009 from Newport. “This is a different feeling. That was elation. This feels more satisfying.”
Ram, who upset top-seeded John Isner in the first round — became the lowest ranked finalist on the ATP World Tour this year, and became the first man ranked outside the top 100 to win a title in 2015. Interestingly, Ram won in 2009 as a lucky loser ranked No. 181, and additionally, it’s only his second career singles title in his 11-year professional career.
“It was a difficult match, very tight,“ Karlovic said. “He was a little bit better. That’s it.”
Unfortunately for Karlovic, this is his second consecutive loss in the final here. He went out to Lleyton Hewitt in 2014 and was hoping to win his third grass court title (Nottingham 2007-08) and his seventh overall.
“Like last year, it was really tight match I could have won both years, but hopefully next year,” Karlovic said, losing today 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(2). “I’m not really disappointed, but grateful that I was in the final once again.”
The day couldn’t have been a prettier one — blue skies, cool breezes off the ocean, and enough bad bounces off the worn grass kept players on their toes throughout the three-set contest. It featured a style of tennis many would label ‘throwback,’ with speedy serves-and-volleys, deft drop shots, and a few screaming winners from the baseline.
At the end of the second set, Ram’s energy and concentration dropped. Karlovic had threatened to break twice and was successful the second time. The third set, though, was a mirror image of the first although Ram’s first-serve percentage rose. The crowning jewel of the match came in the third-set tiebreak. Ram had visibly calmed down, as if taken over by a higher self. One stab volley seemed to put him in that clear mental position — one he called the biggest point of the match.
“At 6-all, 1-all, for me to come with that volley was the shot of the tournament for me,” Ram began. “I was surprised I got it by him, to have played it that cleanly.”
The American is now 16-5 at Newport, adding to an already good grass season for the Indiana resident. He won the doubles title in Halle, Germany, with South African Raven Klaasen and reached the second round at Wimbledon with the same partner. Ram and Austin Krajicek made a strong run here in doubles, eliminated in the semifinal by Jonathan Marray and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Ram’s projected ranking will rise to No. 86 tomorrow and he is guaranteed a spot in the main draw of the U. S. Open.
The final had all the elements of drama, drawn before a ball was struck. Karlovic, at 6-foot-11, is all about big serves and volleys — as is Ram at 6-foot-5. The match was going to be decided by a couple points, and unfortunately for Karlovic, his serve didn’t fire as well as it had in prior rounds.
“It wasn’t as good,” Karlovic began. “It was really hot and the conditions were really, really heavy. I wasn’t feeling as fresh as others days and Rajeev played well.”
For the match, Karlovic served 19 aces to Ram’s 17, had few errors for the match and faced one break point over the three sets. At the end of the day, however, the match was decided by a few points that did not fall in the Croat’s favor.
“I didn’t have any errors,” Karlovic explained. “He guessed where I was going to go and he hit unbelievable returns. That’s what it’s all about in the crucial moments to be able to do that. All congratulations to him.”
Karlovic plans to play in Bogota, Colombia, next week and then take off for two weeks before the hard-court season gets underway in earnest. “I’m going to need a little rest.”
Karlovic was right on the money about Ram, though. He played at his peak at the critical moments, when a champion steps up no matter what happened in the prior point or set. Ram could not have agreed more with Karlovic’s assessment; for his efforts, he earned $84,250 for the week and bragging rights to be 2-0 in final appearances — but for the American, the third set tiebreak was a taste of heaven. Three of Ram’s five victories en route to this year’s title were decided in final set tiebreaks.
“That tiebreak was as good as I can play,” Ram began. “It all seemed as if it was happening in slow motion. I felt like, after I stabbed that one ball back, I would hit an ace on every serve I hit. I felt like it was pretty easy, but it wasn’t easy. It was a mindset of what I wanted to do. There were nerves at different stages of the match, but at that point I felt pretty together.”