Tennis Prose



Newport 2021 Scrapbook

Last year the Newport Hall of Fame Championships was not contested for the first time since 1975 and according to new tournament director Brewer Rowe, the Hall of Fame lost 75% of revenues last year because of the pandemic. However the tournament has returned this year in full force and the action was better than ever. In part because the players collectively are happier with the new grass surface which is based on a new seed which has improved the courts playability with better rallies and much less bad bounces.

Jack Sock received a wildcard entry and is making the most of it, despite losing the first set of his opener against Aussie qualifier Alex Bolt, Sock came back to win 36 64 63. Sock looks super fit, when I asked if it’s the Keto diet effect he said no he’s just been more active.

Sock then defeated Japanese Olympian Yoshihito Nishioka 62 62 in the second round. Team Sock, consisting of his wife Laura and coach Alex Bogomolov, and his wife and two kids, are all in Newport hoping to cheer and inspire Sock back to ATP relevance.

Sock has overcome adversity this week. His hopes looked in peril at 1-1 in the third set vs. Bolt, serving at break point, the chair umpire hit Sock with a time violation warning. Sock was annoyed and had some words with the umpire for about a minute about his disagreement about the decision, because he said he was waiting for the ballkids. When Sock finally decided to serve he then double faulted to fall down the early break. But he responded positively with excellent hitting, high intensity, many fist pumps and cmons. Sock’s serve and forehand are still his major weapons but his backhand looks rock solid and his movement is excellent.

Tennys Sandgren beat Joao Sousa in the first round 64 76 and gave the best on court interview I ever saw with Blair Henley. She asked Tennys his thoughts about closing out the first round win and he replied, “I’m surprised I didn’t break all my racquets after getting broken at 6-5.”

Henley also asked him about playing doubles with a compatriot and his answer: “I play doubles to listen to Denis Kudla’s jokes.”

The last question was about if the super fit man from Tennessee hates any certain workout in his expansive regimen? “No. Embrace the suffering.”

Sandgren was in pain in his second round match, a 6-2 6-2 loss to Jason Jung. Jung’s returns of serve were doing damage, keeping Sandgren off balance and on defense. After one awkward failed lunge at a Jung return to his backhand corner, Sandgren called himself “a lumbering oaf.” One female fan behind the netting disagreed and said, “No you’re not.”

While watching Bublik and Novikov doubles with vs Galloway and Lawson 46 76 10-8 I noticed doubles veteran Santiago Gonzalez observing/scouting his next round opponents. Gonzo plays now with Jonathan Erlich, the 44 year old from Israel. He was kind enough to converse with me, sharing that his played four Grand Slam finals, the last one being a 6-4 in the third loss with Donald Young to Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus. And at 38 he is still looking for his first major. He remembers Su-Wei Hsieh playing in juniors, he played her once in mixed at US Open (he won with Abigail Speers) and said she is “so smart.” He could not remember her mixed partner.

Gonzalez also is a golfer and he said the best ATP golfers are Rafa Nadal and Casper Ruud. Gonzalez said he recently talked golf with Nadal, who told him he’s almost a scratch golfer. His worst injury was a pulled hamstring that happened in Houston which forced him to sit out for 3-4 months.

Santiago never played Roger Federer but he did hit with him in Basel two years ago on the day of the semis because RF had no one else to hit with. Gonzales is ranked 56 and has won 14 career doubles titles and over $2.3m in prize money. His best ranking was 23 in 2013. His ATP record is 281-277. He said there is one fourteen year old from Mexico who looks like he has a shot to make pros but we have to wait and see…

My money is on Jenson Brooksby making the top 50 at least. The 20 year old is ranked 152 now and just beat Kudla 7-5 in the third. Kudla just gave Djokovic a scare at Wimbledon. Brooksby has the scrappy, feisty intensity and emanates a burning desire to make it, that he NEEDS to win. He’s won three Challengers already and he beat Tomas Berdych at US Open 2019. His fierce focus and intensity on court reminds me of a young Andy Roddick and Dominic Thiem.

An interesting tidbit I was told is that a certain top American requested a $55,000 appearance fee but was only offered $35,000 and thus declined.

One special thing about Newport is you can see players in town. I spotted Sam Querrey with his wife and baby in a stroller walk by the Pop Flack courts across the street from the Hall of Fame, behind the CVS, while playing with good friend Ryan Balon. Balon hit a stab volley winner on my backhand pass, which Sam watched and gave us his patented grin of approval.

Doubles specialist Austin Krajicek was jogging down Bellevue Ave outside the Viking hotel.

I saw Brooksby walking down Bellevue two times with his coach, nobody recognized him.

The Sock team entourage went out to dinner together after the Bolt win to Nikola’s Pizza a half a block from the Hall of Fame but it was so crowded they didn’t have a reservation and had to wait outside for about 20-30 minutes.

The tournament is one of the most special events on the calendar, and at least two players Mitchell Krueger and Ruben Bemelmans call it one of their favorite tournaments. Keep an eye out for my Bemelmans Biofile next week, you won’t want to miss him talking about Facing Djokovic in Hopman Cup, how he heat stroke delay interrupted his Davis Cup match vs Lleyton Hewitt and how he managed to cut his face in the locker room two minutes before a French Open singles match.

The most poignant moment was the end of the Ivo Karlovic vs Alexander Bublik match, second round. Bublik won in three sets and gave a warm friendly embrace to Ivo at net, even bowing his head into Ivo’s chest, as if he regretted having to beat the 42 year old veteran, who most likely will never play in Newport again. Ivo was wildcarded into he main draw but at age 42 and a ranking of 210, it’s unlikely he will be back here in singles at least.

Ivo Karlovic, the well respected and popular Croatian departed stadium court and gave the crowd a very long series of waves and touches of his heart, expressing his appreciation for the Newport fans who have long adored the former champion. There will never be another Ivo Karlovic.

Dr. Ivo won eight career ATP singles titles and over $10m in prize money. His best ranking was 14 in 2008. His overall pro record is 371-344. Also noteworthy is that Karlovic’s win over Roger Federer in Cincinnati cost him the world no. 1 ranking (to Rafa Nadal).

I was fortunate to interview Karlovic many times in his career and he was always very polite, kind, friendly and insightful. A true champion. My favorite memory of Ivo happened at Citi Open about eight years ago. Sitting up high in the stadium late afternoon, I heard two people politely but persistantly cheering Ivo sitting near me. I looked over and saw a couple in their 70s, supporting Karlovic to another victory.

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