By Jane Voigt
Newport, Rhode Island. — Although the courts are grass and the setting is circa 1930 at The International Tennis Hall of Fame, the tennis is not. Only a handful of players serve and volley, delicately displaying deft hands and artful tactics. Instead, the big bang of balls that strike polyester strings come off racquets from baseline-hugging men.
Defending Champion Nicolas Mahut (No. 4) dismissed Qualifier Luke Saville this afternoon, 64 62, to advance to the quarterfinals, remaining for the most part in the backcourt. His main concern: improving his first-serve percentage. Bounces are eradicated here, too, much more so than Wimbledon.
“You can’t compare these courts to the ones at Wimbledon,” Mahut told a small gathering of media. “It is different grass, different bounces. It is lower, but the courts are not really flat. The court is softer. But, we all know that so it’s not an excuse.”
This is Mahut’s 9th appearance at this ATP-250 event. He’s been here so much, he was asked if he planned to buy a house.
“Well I said I have my routines, going every day to the same restaurant, so she told me I could buy a house here,” Mahut said. Will he? “I need to win another tournament because it is quite expensive. I need to get more money.”
His favorite restaurant is The Clarke Cook House Restaurant. It’s French food, of course. Afterward, he always eats ice cream.
Mahut first traveled to Newport in 2004. He lost to countryman Fabrice Santoro in 2007, but in his eight other tries Mahut never advanced beyond the second round.
“I’m much better than yesterday,” Mahut admitted about his daily improvement. “Footwork is better.”
Mahut has a keen respect for the wind, which is prevalent in this seaside community. His tennis strategy today was simple.
“Monday was strong [wind]. It’s not as bad, but it’s still tough conditions,” Mahut said. “I have to stay focused, play really simple, try not to do great shot but just to put the ball in the court. I don’t play so deep, or so much angle.”
Mahut could meet Lleyton Hewitt (No. 3) in the final this year, as well.
The former No. 1 player in the world also advanced to the quarterfinals today, defeating Qualifier Ante Pavic of Croatia, 62 62. This is Hewitt’s third appearance, and third quarterfinal.
“I went out there with really good tactics today and executed them,” Hewitt said. “The ball bounces really low here so you have to be ready to jump on any short balls. Good footwork was so important.”
In addition to the tournament, this week brings high regard to Lindsay Davenport, Nick Bollettieri, John Barrett, Chantal Vandierendonck, and Jane Brown Grimes. They will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Bollettieri coached a few lucky youngsters on a side court, passing out priceless tips for a lifetime of tennis.
About grips … “Whatever grip you use, you want to go through the shot, past the body and finish up here,” he said, showing one girl how to catch her racquet at shoulder height.
About the grass … “It’s important to stay low to the ground on grass.”
About shot preparation … “Get your racquet back in position. No one does that better than Serena Williams.”
The big loop, which had been rote preparation for ground shots, seems to be out of date, according to Nick. “Not such a big wind up,” he reminded one junior.
Footwork, according to Nick, is of great import on any court. One little boy stood at the baseline with his racquet at his side. Nick poked a little fun, saying, “We’re not modeling here.” The youngster took Nick’s advice, getting in his best ready position.