Bill Mountford – Dispatches From Newport, R.I, Part II

Vince Spadea “ain’t afraid a-ya” and the magical Fabrice Santoro have reached the other semifinal.  When these thirty-somethings square off, it will be a nice contrast to the first semifinal that I wrote about in the previous column.

Santoro, referred to as The Magician for his inventive ways of returning balls, is the defending champion.  At the age of 35, he has been battlin g on the ATP Tour for nearly two decades.  Remember that he was once a precocious teenager, and he played in his first Roland Garros main draw at the age of 16 in 1989.  Santoro is the defending champion, having beaten fellow Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the 2007 final.  He is certainly a crowd favorite in Newport.

A few weeks ago, Santoro achieved a unique career milestone when he lost to Andy Murray at Wimbledon.  He had played on the main stadium courts at all of the majors except for the Big W.  While he lost in three entertaining sets, it was nice to see another of the two-hander’s dreams fulfilled.

Vince Spadea, soon-to-be 34 years old, reached the Newport finals in 2005, losing a heartbreaker to Greg Rusedski after leading 5-3 in the 3rd set.  This loss would have haunted him, because Spadea has taken but one ATP Tour title in his 16 year career.  Considering that Spadea has played 344 tourneys as a professional, the fact that he has only garnered one title is a remarkable statistic.  His lifetime professional record stands at 304 wins against 343 losses.

The grass courts are playing plenty soft and the bounces are low and erratic.  It is like old-time grass court tennis.  I had the privilege of playing on these courts yesterday, as anybody can.  These are the only public grass courts in America, and one more reason that all tennis players and fans should pilgrimage to Newport at least once each summer.

I played against former University of Georgia Bulldog and current publishing magnate Randy Walker.  Thankfully, the book orders for his recently published The Bud Collins History of Tennis, are coming in more consistently than any of Walker’s service returns.

Saturday’s induction ceremony is shaping up to be another wonderful day for our sport.  There will be six speeches, including from John McEnroe and Monica Seles, and the usual flawless Newport summer weather.  Missing, however, will be Hall of Famer and MC extraordinaire Arthur “Bud” Collins.  The ageless Collins has been a fixture at every summer tennis event in Newport, Rhode Island since 1881, including the first US National Championships which were played at the Casino.

The colorful Collins is nursing a leg injury sustained in Paris (where was Billy Norris when he needed him the most!?!).  While the injury will keep Collins from playing barefoot on the grass courts this summer, a full recovery is expected.  Collins is the greatest player- or hacker- in the history of Lima, Ohio and his humor and grace will be missed at this year’s ceremony.  Get well soon, Bud.  Our sport needs you.

For Bill Mountford tennis instruction videos click here!