By Jill Neuharth
I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from the event this week in Newport. I had visited the summer playground of the rich and famous several times as a kid while growing up in nearby Connecticut. We toured the mansions (every last stinking one of them) and filled the cooler with fresh lobster to take home for dinner. Not once do I remember seeing nor even hearing a mention of tennis or the Hall of Fame, let alone anything nearly as refined. I recall a rather ramshackle party town filled with boarded-up businesses and weekend beach bums. The Navy pulled its huge fleet out of Newport in the 1970s with disastrous results on the local economy. I’m delighted to report this Phoenix has risen from its ashes and once again is the shining jewel of New England.
Nestled in among the remaining mansions on the famed Bellevue Ave. sits the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It looks much the way it did when it opened in the 1950s but I can see how we might have missed it during the Newport depression of the 80s. Interest in ownership and preservation of historic estates has been rapidly gaining popularity and the city has been able to invest millions of dollars in rejuvenating the harbor and Bellevue. Newport has steadily been drawing the rich and famous back to its shores by way of its newly-restored or constructed mansions as well as the thousands who anchor their pleasure yachts off shore. High end boutiques and Five Star dining have replaced the sleazy bars and cafes. The weekend party crowd still comes but it seems to have evolved into a troupe that enjoys tennis and sailing over keg parties on a fishing boat.
I’ve attended all of the summer ATP events in the U.S. and several of the European ones. I have to say that The Campbell’s Hall of Fame ranks up there as one of my favorites. Due to its surface, location and timing, this tournament will never attract the top players that you see at the other International Series events. What it lacks in star power is more than made up for in ambiance, accessibility and charm. This is the only grass court tournament left in the United States. The historic value of the site combined with the significance of the International Hall of Fame adds to the uniqueness of the tournament. The weather is usually mild as well as the crowds. It is a true opportunity to see world class tennis up close and personal.
Fabrice Santoro obviously agrees with me as this is his 2nd appearance and 2nd championship here in Newport. He arrived on Saturday, but due to his bye in the first round, did not play a match until Thursday. He enjoyed the five days off in Newport, mostly he says because “I’m not working too much at home.” The late start of course will mean that in order to win the event he will have to play 4 days in a row. He joked about that being a problem “you know, at my age.” At 35 he was the oldest player in the draw, and upon beating 24-year-old Prakash Amritraj, he joined Agassi as the only player over 35 to win a title since 1990. He might just have the opportunity to win it again next year. He plans to play a reduced schedule next season but agreed that if he won this event this year he would be back next year to defend. More than likely if he makes good on his deal to return in 2009 he will still be the oldest player in the draw. When one reporter asked him how he felt about it, Santoro laughed and replied, “like it or not, do I have a choice?”
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