Newport, RI — Intriguing contrasts surround the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open. Held in on the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, America’s only grass-court ATP event juxtaposes the broad spectrum of tennis history with the myopic focus of contemporary pro tennis.
Never was this dichotomy more vivid than on Saturday. The afternoon kicked off with the annual induction ceremony – 11 Hall of Famers on the stage, welcoming new inductees Michael Stich and Helena Sukova into the Hall of Fame.
From celebrating history to making history: A pair of semifinal matches – each member of the quartet hoping to earn the Newport title for the first time.
The first match featured two men in the final four of an ATP World Tour tournament for the first time -- 30-year-old American Tim Smyczek versus 23-year-old Indian Ramkumar Ramanathan. Ranked No. 123 in the world, Smyczek knocked off fourth-seeded Matthew Ebden in the first round and in the quarters squeaked out a quarterfinal win over wild card Jason Jung.
Ramanahan, ranked No. 161, had compiled a meager record of 2-3 at ATP events in 2018. But this week, he caught fire, most notably in taking down eighth-seeded Denis Kudla, and then earning another impressive win over former Top-30 player Vasek Pospisil.
A sleek, stylish attacker with a big serve and appetite for attacking the net, Ramanathan’s hot form continued versus Smyczek. Cracking seven aces and winning an impressive 57 percent of his second serve points (compared to only 37 percent for Smyczek), in just over 90 minutes, Ramanathan earned a taut but emphatic 6-4, 7-5 win. In the process he became the first Indian to reach an ATP World Tour singles final since Somdev Devvarman more than seven years ago.
“It means a lot to me. Every match was very tough,” Ramanthan said about reaching the final. “I think the second match against Kudla was very tough. I pulled that out. On grass anything can happen. A few points here and there can change everything. I think I was composed and felt very well.”
The second semifinal between Marcelo Granollers and Steve Johnson was a battle between a pair of highly experienced players. Granollers,, ranked No. 124, was playing the 12th semifinal of his career – but hadn’t gotten that far in more than two years. His Newport run highlighted by an opening round victory over the sixth seed, big-serving lefty Gilles Muller, and a resounding quarterfinal 6-3, 6-1 win versus first-seeded Adrian Mannarino.
Johnson, seeded third and ranked No. 48, was playing his fourth semifinal of 2018. In the wake of the tragic death of his father in 2017, Johnson has been on the comeback trail – and doing quite well, most all of when he won Houston this spring. As you’d expect from an attacking Californian, Johnson’s game works quite well on grass (his best Slam result was a round of 16 showing at Wimbledon in 2016).
From the start, Johnson was the one dictating, pushing Granollers into comprised positions with powerful serves, accurate forehands and impressive backhands. Serving in the first set at 2-3, 15-love, Granollers missed a high forehand volley. The next two points tilted the match Johnson’s way – an inside-out backhand return winner, followed by drilled backhand down-the-line pass that triggered a missed volley.
While Granollers was consistently in trouble – he faced break point 13 times – Johnson didn’t see a break point the entire match. In 69 brisk minutes, Johnson reached the fifth singles final of his career. Come Sunday– the final now starting at 12 p.m. due to a possible storm – the American will have the chance to earn his fourth title.
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.