Hall of Fame Tennis Championships Preview
The final grass court tournament of the season starts Monday in Newport, Rhode Island. The Hall of Fame Tennis Championships always seem to be the place where seeds go to die. Over the past five years, the top seed has only made the final twice. Both times that was John Isner in 2011 and 2012. Overall, at least half the seeds have been gone in four of the last five years by the end of round two. Last year saw three seeds go out in round one, including the #1 and #3 seeds. Two more seeds would join them on the sidelines in round two. It was unseeded Rajeev Ram who won the tournament over 2nd seeded Ivo Karlovic.
Ram continued a solid run for unseeded players making deep runs in this tournament. In the last five years, unseeded players have claimed eight of the 20 semifinal slots and have made the final three times in that span. So first things first, let’s take a look at this week’s Seed Report followed by a look at the most dangerous floaters in this year’s Newport draw.
1. Steve Johnson
Johnson is going to have a lot of backing to be one of the few #1s to have success in Newport. He comes in with his maiden ATP title on grass this summer and a nice 4th round run at Wimbledon. Johnson is 3-2 in two trips through the main draw at Newport, losing in the 2nd round to Tatsuma Ito. This is a big test of concentration for Johnson. His quarter has some talent to it with wild card Stefan Kozlov, Benjamin Becker, Donald Young and Jared Donaldson. None should be on the level that Johnson has been playing at, but this tweener tournament sprouts plenty of motivational issues for players. Johnson has never been a model of consistency, so he needs to prove he can keep focused. The draw says semifinals at minimum, but the history of the top seed and Johnson’s possible lack of motivation could see him out earlier than expected.
2. Ivo Karlovic
Karlovic has made the final in back-to-back years in Newport, but has been unable to bring home the trophy. He is 10-5 all-time in Newport. He has a draw littered with potentially tough match-ups, but also one he could thrive in. His opener will be against Ryan Harrison or a qualifier. Vasek Pospisil, Jordan Thompson and John Patrick Smith are also capable sorts in this quarter. Karlovic likely has too much for any of them with a good track record here, so his chances of flopping early will be lower than most other seeds.
3. Gilles Muller
An interesting case study here with the big lefty looking a threat on grass, but 0-3 in his career at this tournament. Muller has not played here since 2012 though. This year’s 3rd seed played very will in the grass prep matches for Wimbledon, making the Ricoh Open final, the quarters at Queen’s Club and the semis at Nottingham. At Wimbledon, he was stretched to extra tennis in a 15-13 fifth set win over Santiago Giraldo. That seemed to empty the tank as he went out in straight sets in round two to Andrey Kuznetsov.
Seemingly, Muller may have over extended himself with too many matches in a short period of time. He’s had some time to finally rest though, which could make him more dangerous this week. Still, Muller should be on upset alert early. He faces Dennis Novikov or Victor Estrella Burgos in round two. Both are capable of pushing him.
4. Marcos Baghdatis
Baghdatis makes his debut at this tournament as the fourth seed. The Cypriot showed some good flashes on grass during this year’s Euro swing. He made the quarterfinals back-to-back in Halle and Nottingham, before a first round exit at Wimbledon courtesy of John Isner. He opens with Austin Krajicek or a qualifier. I don’t think he’s as prone as others to losing early, but check the match-up. Krajicek would probably be the easier out as the American has not found his footing this season. The qualifying pool has some depth to it and could provide a shock or two early this year.
5. Vasek Pospisil
The floundering Canadian is 1-2 all-time in Newport, having last played here in 2013. Pospisil is 5-16 in main draw matches this year on tour and just 1-4 on grass. His first rounder is against Marco Chuidinelli. That might get Pospisil out of round one, although put nothing past him at this point. Round two seems a likely ripcord moment when he faces one of two Aussies; John Patrick Smith or Jordan Thompson. Neither is in great form, but Smith is a 2015 Newport semifinalist and Thompson has good enough skills on this surface to contend against a struggling player like Pospisil.
6. Adrian Mannarino
The lefty from France made rhe quarterfinals in Newport last season and holds a modest 4-3 record at this event. He was a respectable 6-4 in the Euro grass court swing, including a win at Wimbledon and a hard fought loss to Novak Djokovic in round two. His draw is difficult however with James Duckworth first up and then potentially Sam Groth or a qualifier. Duckworth doesn’t have much in results this year, but has a serve conducive to sticking in matches on grass. He could nick Mannarino early if the Frenchman isn’t firing on all cylinders.
7. Dudi Sela
Sela is 4-3 at Newport in his career with two trips to the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2014. Sela was routed in the opening round at Wimbledon by David Ferrer, but did make the quarters at Nottingham the week prior. He has an unfortunate draw however that puts him on immediate upset alert. In round one, he draws Lukas Lacko. He did beat Lacko 6-3, 7-6 in Nottingham. Should he survive there, round two may be the bigger trouble spot, likely against defending champ Rajeev Ram.
8. Donald Young
Young finally got off the schneid at the All England Club with his first career main draw win at Wimbledon. Still, grass is not his favorite by a long shot. Young is just 6-18 in his career on grass. Throw in Jared Donaldson as his first round foe and Young easily could be one and done. Donaldson beat Young earlier this year on clay in Savannah and the grass in Newport should enhance the power Donaldson has in his serve. Consistency is the big issue for both, but this is a definite upset possibility.
Unseeded Danger Men
The history of non-seeds at Newport leads us to believe there is at least one who could be a semifinalist this year. Let’s take a look at those dangerous floaters in the Newport draw.
Benjamin Becker/Stefan Kozlov
The winner of this 1st round match could cause waves in the Steve Johnson quarter. A win pits them against Young or Donaldson and then a potential quarterfinal against Johnson. Even at 35, Becker still has the game suited to grass. The German is 3-3 on grass this season and could be a thorn in this draw. Kozlov could live up to his wild card status in the draw. The young American made the quarterfinals at the Ricoh Open this year, beating Steve Johnson along the way. The 18-year-old is a definite dark horse if he can escape a tough opening round.
It isn’t often that a defending tournament champ comes back as an unseeded player, but such is the case with Ram. The American veteran has had a poor 2016 overall at 9-12. Worse for him is the lack of a win on grass this season in main draws at 0-2. Las year at this time, Ram had at least put forth good showings at the Challenger level on grass courts and hard courts. This year, he has lacked consistency anywhere. Still, he thrives at this tournament (16-5) overall, but it should be pointed out that last year’s win was the first time since 2012 that he made it past round two. He’s got the draw to make a move this year again.
Dennis Novikov/Victor Estrella Burgos
Much like the winner of the Becker-Kozlov R1 match, the winner here could be in line to make a push for the semifinals. The winner gets Gilles Muller in round two and while Muller has played well on the surface this year, in a smaller showcase like this, his motivation could be questionable too. Novikov and Burgos both lack results on grass consistently at this level, but both are also usually tough outs on this surface no matter the opposition.
Groth is such an enigma. This season, he is a paltry 3-11 and has not been unable to find success on grass consistently. That seems odd to me with his massive serve and decent net skills. Consistency in reproducing his serve as seemingly been his biggest trouble this season. Still, he made the semifinals at Newport two years ago and most definitely could power through the quarter where Muller and Mannarino are the seeds. Mannarino crushed him at Queen’s Club though and would be a second round opponent if Groth escapes his 1st round match against a qualifier. Cue the enigma music.
First Quarter: Steve Johnson (1)
This all looks a little too easy to say Johnson will get through to the semifinals. It is one of those situations where everything points to it, except that Newport rarely goes to form. I am still looking at Becker or Kozlov to be a huge presence in this quarter.
Second Quarter: Gilles Muller (3)
This one also looks simple, right? Muller played reasonably well on grass until his earlier than expected Wimbledon loss. Perhaps though that is who Gilles Muller is. The 33-year-old vet has the big serve to flourish here, but could fall victim to more motivated players. Mannarino as the 6th seed in the bottom half seems more likely to make it through if a seeded player indeed does. That is unless he gets scalped in round one by Duckworth
Third Quarter: Marcos Baghdatis (4)
Baghdatis appears a bit safer of a shot in this quarter with an easier early draw and a beatable seed in the other half in Dudi Sela. Baghdatis’ biggest foe in this quarter could be returning champ Rajeev Ram, but Ram has had trouble getting it going this season. Certainly nothing is ever a lock at a 250 event, but the 4th seed looks like a probable semifinalist if he plays to the level that he has shown on grass in 2016.
Fourth Quarter: Ivo Karlovic (2)
It’s very difficult to go against Karlovic in this quarter. While there are players with talent and ability, most of them have difficulty seeing their serve hold up against the rocket arm from Croatia. With Pospisil as the seed opposite of him, Karlovic should feel pretty confident in this spot. At 37, this may also be one of the few chances that Karlovic has left to add a title to his collection.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
In a tournament where chalk normally does not prevail, one would be wise to look away from the top seed. Ivo Karlovic obviously looks the part of a finalist here with his track record at Newport. Baghdatis and Mannarino seem the other two seeds to me that look likelier to make those deep runs. If we’re thinking outside the box for a dark horse without a number next to his name, I still come back to the winner of the Becker-Kozlov 1st round match. With the easier draw, give me Karlovic to finally get the job done.