The 2021 Hall of Fame Open began Monday with five main draw matches taking to the freshly trimmed lawns of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
Starting just a day after Wimbledon, the grass ATP 250 holds a special place on the calendar and in every player’s heart. Newport’s rich history, elite hospitality, and coastal town charm attracts a star-studded field each year. This week marks the 44th edition of the tournament, with rising stars and famous faces alike taking to the grass.
“It's just a little more old-fashioned, and there's a lot of history here,” said Jenson Brooksby, a 20-year-old Californian making his debut in Newport. “It’s a really cool town to walk around, and it's the only grass-court tournament in America as well, so it's just a really cool place.”
World No. 37 Alexander Bublik leads the 28-player field that started off with eight Americans, including Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, Denis Kudla, Maxime Cressey, Tennys Sandgren, Mitchell Krueger, and Brooksby, two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson, and two former champions, Steve Johnson (2018) and Ivo Karlovic (2016).
On court on Monday, Brooksby opened play on Stadium Court with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy. It’s Brooksby’s second ATP-level win after stunning Thomas Berdych as a qualifier at the 2019 US Open.
Brooksby turned professional following one semester at Baylor University, where he never played a college match due to injury and COVID-19. He’s already up to No. 152 in the rankings, having won three ATP Challengers this year.
“I turned pro after , but you never know how you're going to start,” Brooksby said. “I knew I had the level, but it takes a lot more than just that to get results consistently. So  is definitely giving me a lot of confidence going forward that I know I can compete with the best.”
Brooksby will play Kudla in the second round after the World No. 104 upset No. 6 seed Johnson 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 15 minutes. Kudla is fresh from a run to the third round of Wimbledon as a qualifier, where he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
“Playing on Court No. 1 against Djokovic, it’s no Newport, though,” Kudla said on Stadium Court. “I love Newport.”
In the third match on Rhode Island’s main stage, Anderson topped Illya Marchenko 7-5, 6-3. Anderson is looking to get some momentum going after early losses in his previous three events. A former World No. 5, the 35-year-old is ranked outside of the Top 100 and on the comeback from undergoing knee surgery last season.
“It’s been a pretty tough couple of years where it’s just been stop and start,” Anderson said on court. “Injuries have gotten the better of me in certain moments. I feel like, for the last while, things are really trending upwards, so I’m really excited about that. It’s just trying to get as many matches as possible.”
Against Marchenko, Anderson converted on 100% (2/2) of his break point chances and saved 100% (5/5) of break points on his own serve. With his powerful serve and height (6’8”), Anderson is going to be a natural title contender in Newport even though he’s only played at the Hall of Fame once before, 13 years ago in 2008.
“Obviously, you have to take care of your service games,” Anderson said. “For me, that's the primary focus, and then trying to create as many opportunities on the returns as possible.”
In his first ATP-level win since February, Yuchi Sugita eased past 22-year-old Jurij Rodionov 7-5, 6-3 on Court 1. Sugita, a 32-year-old currently ranked No. 111, is gearing up for the Olympics next week in his home city of Tokyo.
Sugita will take on Jordan Thompson in the next round after Cedrik-Marcel Stebe was forced to stop during the first set. Thompson was leading 5-4 when Stebe, who started the match with a strapped left knee, retired with a left ankle injury. Like Kudla, Thompson is coming into Newport from a third-round run at Wimbledon (where he picked up impressive wins over Casper Ruud and Kei Nishikori).
“One more grass-court tournament left in the year, and it’s probably my favorite surface, so it’s definitely why I’m here,” Thompson said on court.
Monday also saw the qualifying event wrap up with Alex Bolt (def. Ryan Harrison), Sebastian Ofner (def. Ruben Bemelmans), Mitchell Krueger (def. Ramkumar Ramanathan), and Brayden Schnur (def. Ulises Blanch) booking places in the main draw.
Tuesday’s order of play will see, amongst other matches, 2016 Newport champion Karlovic take the court against Bernabe Zapata Miralles, No. 5 seed Sandgren face Joao Sousa, and former Top 10 member Sock open his campaign against Bolt.
Written by Nina Pantic