July 14, 2014

Age Before Beauty

In a week which saw so many up-and-coming stars deliver breakthrough performances on the European clay -- I'm looking at you, Shelby Rogers -- it's fitting that two thirty-plus players were left battling it out for a title on the grounds meant to honor the rich history of tennis. But at the International Tennis Hall of Fame this past weekend, we saw a couple veterans -- not much younger than some of the inductees -- tough out the upstarts on their way to championship weekend. And the eventual winner may have made the case for his eventual inclusion among the legends a little stronger.

Of course it wasn't all about the tried-and-true. Samuel Groth, who'd only won two Tour-level matches all year, took out defending champion Nicolas Mahut in the quarterfinals, and Jack Sock, fresh off a stunning doubles title at Wimbledon -- where he and partner Vasek Pospisil defeated fifteen-time Major champions Bob and Mike Bryan in the final -- proved he was also a force on the singles circuit, ousting top seed and two-time titlest John Isner to make the semis.

But ultimately it was two long-slogging stars most comfortable on grass who made their way to Sunday's final -- appropriately the oldest ATP contest since 1977, just before either combatant was born. Big-serving Ivo Karlovic, thirty-five years young, did what he does best, firing off fifty-three aces in his first four matches -- he added twenty-six more in the championship game -- to earn his third chance of the year to play for a trophy. And former world #1 Lleyton Hewitt, who's more than a decade removed from his high ranking and a dozen-plus from his most recent Slam trophy, proved he's in no rush to slink off into the shadows. The Australian who'd won more than three of every four matches he's played on grass and picked up seven titles to boot, reached his third consecutive final in Newport with wins over three American upstarts along the way.

But this time Hewitt was able to come out on top -- in the two-and-a-half hour match, not surprisingly one that went three sets and two tiebreaks, the third seed was able to break his streak of final losses at the Hall of Fame and captured his thirtieth career trophy. He's just the fourth active player -- behind Grand Slam legends Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic -- to hit that mark, and he certainly seems to have the hunger to add even more to that number. At thirty-three, Hewitt's now been winning titles on Tour for over sixteen years. Whether he come back to Newport to defend this latest one or to be enshrined like other champions of the sport remains to be seen -- but something tells me it won't be long before we hear from him again.

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