‘A low hanging mountain.’ This is the phrase commentators used to describe John Isner as he served his way to title defense in Newport today. In the strictest sense of statements that make sense, it’s almost entirely nonsensical, but still, somehow, it fits. When John Isner’s serve falls on you, like a large-ish pile of boulders, it hurts. Clinging even more precariously to the cliff of reason is my opinion that this phrase also describes last week’s gathering of post-Wimbledon tournaments.
Hovering hills, lowering plateaus, crested buttes—this gathering of smaller tournaments, wedged between two to the most important tennis events of 2012, and staged on a colorful assortment of clay, hard, and herbaceous surfaces, combined to produce small yips of excitement as well as compound my post-Wimbledon exhaustion. I confess to taking frequent naps throughout.
Tournaments were played on behalf of Mercedes vehicles, Swedish skis, Campbell’s soup, Italtian-style communication, a western approach to banking, and vegetable broth. Stuttgart, Båstad, Newport, Palermo, Palo Alto, and Umag were the host cities. Janko Tipsaravic, David Ferrer, John Isner, Sara Errani, Serena Williams, and Marin Cilic, all won titles today. Juan Monaco, Nicolas Almagro, Lleyton Hewitt, Zahlavova Strycova, Coco Vandeweghe, Marin Cilic, and Ryan Harrison, did not.
I confess to not napping through three consecutive Ryan Harrison matches in Newport this week, and I was quite happy with the first two, but rather displeased with the third. During Harrison’s Round of 16 and Quarterfinal victories— which, in a 32-man draw, are the rounds that come directly after the first— I was content to watch Ryan serve big and then fling himself haphazardly at tennis balls until the point eventually, or immediately, ended, because even at net, Harrison won more points than he lost. Watching Ryan hurl his body at John Isner’s serves and passing shots, and mostly miss, was not quite so super fun.
Isner dropped only a single service game en route to the title (to Sergei Bubka in the Round of 32), and he played one tiebreak set in each match. The big, leggy, long, and lanky American defeated the 31 year-old Lleyton Hewitt, 7-6, 6-4, to inflict the first double-break on Newport’s ‘Casino Curse.’ This tournament marks Hewitt’s best showing since he defeated Roger Federer to win the 2010 Halle title, and would seem to indicate that the Australian is growing accustomed to having a variety of metal bits lodged in his foot-bones. Listening to Isner’s victory speech, which contained a few awkward moments— such as when he said that he hadn’t really liked the courts at Newport in 2007, but liked them a bit better later-on because he won some matches on them— I couldn’t help wondering if Lleyton enjoyed being repeatedly referred to as ‘one of the legends.’ He is, after all, only four years older (and ten inches shorter) than the American college-graduate.
Nonetheless, the Hewitt has won 109 career matches on grass, a record second only to Roger ‘another one of the legends’ Federer who has 112. Hewitt is also a storied returner of tennis balls, so the argument could be put forward that he made Ryan Harrison look a smidgeon less hopeless by comparison. Hewitt was aced 16 times and earned only one more break point during the hour-and-a-half final than Harrison managed in the semis.* But Isner played much better in the final than he did on his way to it, so the superior argument is that today’s final offers proof-positive that John Isner is truly the former American Prince of Clay and current American Prince of Lawn Tennis—or at least it could be said that the low hanging mountain looks ready to loom large when he returns to the All-England Club.
For his part, Lleyton Hewitt looks willing and able to embrace his role as a dangerous floater in the Olympics draw. As proof of his enthusiasm, Hewitt’s t-shirts have been printed with his signature, if not original or color-coordinated, saying. Indeed, in a casual, friendly handwriting-font, the word ‘C’mon!’ is printed right where it ought to say ‘Fila,’ or ‘Lotto,’ or ‘Swoosh’—exactly over the heart. Legendary.
Even if I’d wanted to nap through the Skistar Swedish Open final, David Ferrer barely gave me time to get settled-in before he finished off Nicolas Almagro, 6-2, 6-2. To explain Almagro’s poor performance, the changeovers offered us multiple viewing angles of a large hickey on his shoulder that looked exceedingly painful. In fact, the way Nico kept screaming and clutching at it after hitting forehands into the bottom part of the net made me think it wasn’t a hickey at all, unless it was the kind administered by a member of a televised vampire coven. I haven’t checked his schedule, because I’m a blogger and am thus not obliged to do research, but I’m going to hope that Almagro takes next week off.
While I was pleased for David Ferrer, I did spare a moment’s thought for the (legendary & mythical) Robin Bo Carl Soderling. As of today, Soderling, who is expecting his first child, no longer holds a single ATP singles title. (One could make the argument that expecting a baby equals at least two 250 titles, or even a 500, but that’s a topic for another post.) Soderling won his home tournament last year, beating Ferrer, in fact, also by the score of 6-2, 6-2. However, it must be said that Robin’s trophy was way more fun, not to mention funnier, than David’s. Would you rather have a glass tennis racquet (when you already have a bag stuffed with better-looking real ones) or a bowlful of swan and glass snow? Sure, the swan is trickier to dust, but you could name it Louis, and then talk to it when you’re feverish with mononucleosis.
If Ferrer’s trophy wasn’t as nice as Soderling’s, it was worlds better than the piece of ATP-branded beige-painted concrete that Janko Tipsarevic looked very happy to heft in Stuttgart. Tipsarevic has an intricate game that he uses to tie his opponent in knots, unless he’s too busy tying himself into a massive emotional tangle. There’s nothing terribly intricate about Monaco’s game on the best of days, and today wasn’t one of them, but he’s fully Tipsaravic’s equal when it comes to mental tangles, so the two traded knotty moods until the rain delay, after which Janko managed a straight line to the ATP 250 Stone of Victory, winning by a score of 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.
In the final final of the day, Serena Williams bested fellow-American, Coco Vandeweghe, by a score of 7-5, 6-3. The first set was very nearly Vandeweghe’s, she served for it at 5-4 but was broken when she double-faulted in a many-deuced game, and throughout the match she put on an impressive display of hitting tennis balls really, really hard. The 120th ranked 20 year-old is 6’1” and wallops balls at shoulder-height with fluid, long-armed ferocity. Her backhand is particularly fearsome, and served as my second reminder of the absent Robin Bo Carl Soderling today. But Vandeweghe’s 120 mph first serves and tremendous groundstroke attacks also had the effect of highlighting Williams’ ability to control and direct her power into angles of extraordinary acuteness and lethality. It wasn’t the most thrilling final to behold, but it was a powerful one, and it marked Serena's 43rd title, equaling her sister's record for the most titles of any active WTA player.
The distance from my living-room to Standford University, where the Bank of the West Classic takes place, is no more than an hour’s journey by compact, Japanese-made automobile. There were a number of reasons I couldn’t make it down there this year, and I thought I’d be fine with that—watching tennis being like clambering up a boulder-strewn, low-hanging mountain in post-Wimbledon land—but after seeing Williams defend her 2011 title via a 4 x 6 stream, I was sorry not to be there. I will also be sorry not to be able post much about Hamburg, Gstaad, Atlanta, Carlsbad, Baku, or the full and complete recovery of Rafa’s knees. I’ll be traveling most of this-coming week, but never fear, I’ll be back just in time to write important nothings about the Olympic draw.
*Which happened to be exactly one break point.