Newport News

Written By: achangeofends - Jul• 12•10

I know tennis is supposed to be a gentlemen’s sport and players should remain unperturbed by a bad serve or a missed overhead and simply play through until the better player wins, at which point the loser will congratulate the winner and hide his disappointment. I do love the fact that Roger and Rafa have an incredibly gracious rivalry, unlike some of the more bitter rivalries of tennis past. There’s something truly remarkable about the respect and reverence that each player has for the other. However, sometimes I like to see the players get frustrated. I’m not talking about some obscene outburst (a la Serena Williams at the US Open 2009 or Victor Hanescu at Wimbledon 2010,) but sometimes it seems like a little racket throwing or a muttered obscenity can do a player some good.

On Sunday, I had a courtside seat for the singles and doubles final at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, RI. I watched the semi-finals on Saturday and was thrilled to see Olivier Rochus and Mardy Fish in the singles final, as I consider them extremely talented players whose games are generally underrated. I mean really, Olivier Rochus is only 5’6” and he’s 29 years old, but he still very nearly managed to take out Novak Djokovic in the first round of Wimbledon this year. Mardy Fish was once a top 20 player but has fallen by the wayside as younger Americans like John Isner and Sam Querrey have eclipsed veterans like Fish and Blake. The youngsters still have a way to go to push Andy Roddick out of the top spot though.

Fish seems to have taken Andy Roddick’s approach to revitalizing a tennis career and has recently dropped a shocking 30 pounds. I’ve never seen Mardy in person before this weekend, but he’s honestly looking a bit wiry, but he does seem to be sporting some nicely defined abs and the new slim look has mad his head appear less round. Anyway, this transformation does seem to have vastly improved his tennis. Fish was serving incredibly well in the first set, when at 5-all, breakpoint, he stopped play on a ball he clearly could’ve hit because he believed the linesman had called it out. Mardy looked flummoxed when the chair umpire declared “Game Rochus.” Once Fish realized that there had been no call and Rochus was only one hold away from taking the first set, he screamed, “No way!” and rounded on the man he believed made the phantom call. Fish wasn’t unjustifiably angry or threatening with the linesman. On the changeover, he repeatedly asked the man, “So you’re saying you didn’t make a single sound?” and telling him, “It’s ok. I already lost the point, you can say it.” As seemed inevitable an unconcerned Rochus held to take the set as Mardy openly berated himself for missing easy shots.

However, Fish didn’t let this call influence his play and came back even more focused to win the second set 6-3. This is why I enjoyed watching Fish criticize his own play. He was passionate. Newport may not be anywhere near a Grand Slam, but he was playing to win. He wasn’t being unsportsmanlike or insulting to anyone else on or off the court, he merely wasn’t happy unless he was putting everything he had into each point. Believe me, there were a lot of shots that other players would’ve let go that Mardy dove face first to hit. He ended up flat out on the grass more than any other player I’ve seen live.

Best of all, he didn’t disappoint the hometown crowd. I’m not sure there was a single Rochus supporter on center court yesterday, the obvious exception of his box. I always feel bad for the player when the audience so clearly favors his opponent. But Olli didn’t seem the least bit upset by the lopsided crowd. In fact, he didn’t really even seem to mind losing. He gave a lovely speech after accepting his runner-up trophy and check and convincingly congratulated Mardy on his victory. As I said earlier, I appreciated both gracious winners and losers and these guys epitomized both. Well, I’ve got to work tomorrow so I better wrap this up, but I’ll give you guys some more of my impressions from Newport throughout the week, including the hall of fame induction.

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