2018-07-19 / Around Town

Tennis Only Part of the Allure

By Rob Duca


Ivo Karlovic advanced to the second round on July 17 at the Hall of Fame Open. He has won eight ATP singles titles. Ivo Karlovic advanced to the second round on July 17 at the Hall of Fame Open. He has won eight ATP singles titles. Most professional tennis tournaments are predominantly about the tennis. But at this week’s Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open, which runs until Sunday, July 21 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the competition is merely one facet of an event that is more like a festival.

With the Hall of Fame Museum as the historical backdrop and the immaculate emerald lawn producing one of the sport’s matchless settings, the week also features the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and, for the first time in almost 30 years, a women’s professional exhibition match that will pit last year’s U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens against runner-up Madison Keys.

In addition, this week’s event also features a new philanthropic program, “Aces for Rhode Island,” which will raise funds for local charities that are collecting pledges based on the number of aces hit on center court during the tournament. Among the seven charities to benefit are the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Newport County YMCA and Boys & Girls Club of Newport County.


Tennis player Purav Raja shows some playing techniques, at a recent clinic, to MLK kids. (Photo by Jen Carter) Tennis player Purav Raja shows some playing techniques, at a recent clinic, to MLK kids. (Photo by Jen Carter) As part of the Aces initiative, ATP World Tour pros and ITHF pros conducted tennis programs for children inside a gymnasium, on an outdoor basketball court, and on a soccer field, where the young folks learned how to run and swing, and also got some tips about teamwork and communication.

Doubles team Ken Skupski and Purav Raja worked with kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Newport County. YMCA campers benefited from sessions with their trainers, Leander Paes, Jamie Cerretani, Hall of Famer Nick Bollettieri, and ITHF Pros Ryan Harry and Marcelo Gomes. At the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center, the youngest participants of the day got the opportunity to learn something new.


Legendary coach and Hall of Famer Nick Bollettieri helps Marcell Dos. 
(Photo by Jen Carter) Legendary coach and Hall of Famer Nick Bollettieri helps Marcell Dos. (Photo by Jen Carter) “There is so much to offer here, from the historical element to the Hall of Fame Museum,” said Todd Martin, Hall of Fame CEO and tournament director. “We can bring people into the property and give them a great diversity of activities and experiences.”

Held in a magnificent venue that has hosted tennis legends for more than a century, the tournament harkens back to the roots of the game when grass was the surface of choice. “This is the most historic, preserved tennis facility in the world,” Martin said. “It is seven acres of beauty, the beauty of the sport, and also the beauty of the grounds and the architecture. In the middle of July, it really shines.

Coming one week after Wimbledon, the tournament didn’t attract Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or, for that matter, any of the top 10 players in the world. Defending champion John Isner, ranked eighth, would have been here, but he withdrew after losing an epic Wimbledon semifinal that lasted nearly seven hours. Therefore, the No. 1 seed is 26th-ranked Adrian Mannarino of France; no one else in the field is ranked in the top 40.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing [that Isner withdrew],” Martin said. “But at the same time, I love telling people that a three-time champion at our tournament just made the semifinals at Wimbledon. That demonstrates how strong the players are who come here.”

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday, July 20, will bestow the game’s greatest honor upon Germany’s Michael Stich, a former Wimbledon champion, and the Czech Republic’s Helena Sukova.

Although the induction ceremony is always memorable, this year’s event carries special significance as it will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Open Era in pro tennis. In attendance will be Owen Davidson, who captured the first match in the Open Era, Nancy Richey, who won the 1968 French Open, and Jeanne Moutoussamy

Ashe, wife of the late Arthur Ashe, who captured the 1968 U.S. Open.

“Every year provides a great opportunity to bring back Hall of Famers, but I think there is a more poignant story to tell this year,” Martin said.

For the first time since 1990, professional women’s tennis will take place when Stephens and Keys face off on Friday, July 20. Previously, women’s pro tournaments were held here from 1971 to 1974, and from 1983 to 1990. “One of the consistent bits of feedback we’ve gotten over the years is when are we going to bring women’s professional tennis back to Newport,” Martin said. “We’ve chosen to make this a focal point of our weekend.”

Hosting a future full-fledged WTA event is not currently in the plans, Martin said. “There are some complexities as far as bringing a tournament here,” he said, noting that it would be difficult to secure a date on the WTA calendar.

Through it all, fans will have the chance to interact with today’s stars in a way that is not often possible. “There is an opportunity to take photos, to get autographs, to watch them practice up close and to see the personalities that you wouldn’t necessarily get from watching on TV,” Martin said.

The weeklong event’s accessibility to the athletes, combined with the atmosphere, the historic venue and the special ceremonies, are what sets apart this professional men’s tennis tournament.

For schedules and other information, visit halloffameopen.com.

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