Every July, immediately following the Wimbledon championships in England, top-rated American tennis players flock to New England. They are attracted to two venues, the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. and the World Team Tennis facility at the Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton, Mass.
These sites, an easy drive from southern Maine, provide a great opportunity to see pro tennis players up close.
The Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championship in Newport is always played the week after Wimbledon. It is played at America’s oldest tennis facility, dating back to 1880. Like Wimbledon, the courts in Newport are grass (no other tournament in the United States is played on that surface.) The Newport grass is softer than at Wimbledon, and provides a nice surface for both power and touch players.
The finalists this year were American Mardy Fish (the fifth seed) and Oliver Rochus (the fourth seed), No. 61 in the world, from Belgium. The final was a classic match between a serve and volleyer (Fish) and a baseliner. Fish won in three close sets, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. The victory, his fourth career title, came in his eighth appearance in Newport.
By winning the tournament, the 6-foot, 2-inch Fish jumped from No. 79 to No. 49 in the world rankings, and up to No. 4 among Americans.
As a high school senior in 1999, Fish lived with Andy Roddick’s family in Boca Raton, Florida. The two future pros played together on the Boca Prep basketball and tennis teams.
Fish’s career high of No. 17 in the world was achieved in 2004. In the ensuing years he fought through several injuries and made it back to No. 20 in August 2009. He is determined to reach those heights again. Fish, 28, is in top shape since rehabilitating from knee surgery last September. He has worked hard on conditioning and lost 30 pounds.
The top American (and No. 1 seed) in the tournament was Sam Querry, 22. He has risen to 19th in the world and is No. 3 in America. The hard serving 6-foot-6 Querry, who has won three tour events this season, was upset in the second round. No top seed has ever won during the tournament’s 34 years.
Despite the loss, Querry was relaxed during the postmatch press conference. After answering questions about the match, he chatted with reporters about the Boston sports scene. He does not think the Celtics should go after Shaquille O’Neal.
Newport is a great place to watch tennis. During most of the tournament, three matches are played concurrently. The intimate main stadium provides those seated in the historical covered grandstands protection from the sun. Fans wishing to get real close to the action gather at the two adjacent side courts. After each match in the main stadium, the winner is interviewed for all to hear over the public address system. After players leave the court area, it is not difficult to get a photo or autograph.
World Team Tennis (WTT), in its 35th year, was created by tennis legend Billie Jean King. New England’s team, the Boston Lobsters, play at the elegant Ferncroft country club, 15 miles north of Boston. The stadium’s capacity is a cozy 1,700. The seats are so close to the court that everyone can hear the player’s side comments.
Second-year Lobsters coach Bud Schultz is a Bates College graduate who went on to achieve a world ranking of No. 39.
To showcase our country’s top players, this year’s team is comprised solely of American-born athletes. Team regulars include Jan-Michael Gambill, Eric Butorac, Raquel Kops-Jones and Coco Vandeweghe.
Gambill has been ranked as high as 14th and had wins over Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Butorac, the best Division III college tennis player since Bud Schultz, has reached No. 29 in doubles. Third-year Lobster Kops-Jones has reached 31st in doubles. Vandeweghe, who is 6-foot-1 and only 18-years-old, is the niece of former NBA star and current Denver Nuggets general manager, Kiki Vandeweghe. She is ranked No. 15 in America and No. 200 in the world. There are only two American women her age who are ranked higher than she is.
Marquee players James Blake and John Isner each joined the Lobsters for selected matches. Blake, who played at Harvard, has reached as high as No. 4 in the world. Isner, best known for winning the longest match in tennis history this year in Wimbledon, is ranked No. 18 in the world. Standing 6-9 and processing a strong serve and forehand, Isner, 25, is the No. 2 American, behind only Andy Roddick, who is ranked ninth in the world.
The league has two conferences, each with five teams playing 14 matches during a three-week period in July. The top two teams in each conference advance to the playoffs. With three matches remaining, the Boston Lobsters had a 5-6 record and were in third place. A playoff berth could be on the line when Boston hosts Washington for their season finale this Thursday. This writer encourages The Forecaster’s sports fans to make the 90-mile trip from Portland to root the team on.
The playoffs begin the next day on the homecourt of the top-seeded team from each conference. The winners will meet on Sunday in Kansas City.
World Team Tennis has a unique format, which is exciting even to those watching tennis for the first time. Team matches consist of five sets, including one set each of men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed (coed) doubles. WTT innovations such as “no-ad” game scoring and “let serves are in play” keep things moving. The family friendly event encourages young fans like to stick around after the match to meet the players from both teams at the autograph table.
July is a great time in New England to watch American tennis stars past, present and future. With choices like the tradition filled Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championship in Newport or the spirited Boston Lobsters World Team Tennis matches, there is something for fans of all ages.
American Marty Fish hits a forehand during the Campbell’s Hall of Fame tournament in Newport, R.I., earlier this month. Fish won the men’s singles championship.
Members of the Boston Lobsters tennis team sign autographs after a recent match.