Anderson Goes From Wild Card To Champion At Newport

Kevin Anderson and Hall of Fame great Stan Smith (photo: Hall of Fame Open/Facebook)

NEWPORT, R.I./WASHINGTON, July 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The last time Kevin Anderson played at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, he was 22 years old and just a year removed from college at the University of Illinois, where he starred for three years and was later inducted into his school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Fast forward 13 years to now and Anderson, who was playing in his 20th ATP Tour singles final on the same weekend that the Classes of 2020 and 2021 were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, put a career of accumulated wisdom and knowledge to good use against a hungry, young opponent in the up-and-coming Jenson Brooksby, appearing in both his very first tour-level final and in his first grass-court tournament as a pro.

As it happened, the eight-seeded Anderson, who accepted a wild card into the main draw, defeated tour newcomer Brooksby 7-6 (8), 6-4 in two hours and 11 minutes to garner his seventh career ATP Tour singles title and first on grass. It broke a two-year-plus title drought for the 35-year-old Anderson, a native of South Africa who now lives in Gulf Stream, Fla., with his wife Kelsey and their 22-month-old daughter Keira. His last tour victory came at Pune, India, back in early 2019. Since then, the former World No. 5, who has played in two Grand Slam finals, has endured a variety of injury setbacks that pushed him out of the Top 100.

“It’s been a pretty tough run with some injuries,” Anderson said during the trophy ceremony after his victory, with his wife and daughter in attendance. “But to be back here at the International Tennis Hall of Fame with such history, this couldn’t be a better week for me to start, hopefully, my comeback.

“I’m very motivated to get back. But it all starts with each match, and I was able to really grind it out.”

During his run to the title match, Anderson defeated Illya Marchenko, qualifier Sebastian Ofner, wild card Jack Sock and No. 1 seed Alexander Bublik. He survived back-to-back three-setters against Sock and Bublik during the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

While Anderson’s margin of victory over Brooksby was quite slim, the six-foot-eight-inch gentle giant made the most of his opportunities. He fired 16 aces, won 81 percent (44 of 54) of his first-serve points and saved all three break points he faced – all of them in the first set. Anderson, who won all 11 of his service games, broke Brooksby to begin the second set after saving two set points to win the 77-minute opening set in a 10-8 tie-break – and it proved the difference.

Now, following his triumph – the first South African since Neville Godwin in 2001 to win at Newport – Anderson will shoot from 113th to No. 74 in the ATP Rankings, and it guarantees him a berth in next month’s US Open main draw. He’s strung together five consecutive victories to improve his season win-loss record to 12-9.

During the trophy ceremony, Anderson thanked tournament chairman and International Tennis Hall of Fame CEO Todd Martin for giving him a wild card. “It definitely worked out for me,” he said. “The last time I was here was in 2008. It’s significant in a way. I was just starting my career, and I guess I’m towards the end, but definitely [am] very motivated to keep going.”

Meanwhile, Brooksby, who was also chasing the Top 100 after winning a trio of ATP Challenger Tour titles and reaching the final in a fourth earlier this season, will rise to a career-high 126th by reaching the Hall of Fame Open final. That’s pretty impressive considering the young, 20-year-old American from Sacramento, Calif., began the week ranked No. 152 and went on to enjoy a breakthrough week he’ll remember for a long time – dropping just one set en route to the final – not to mention earning the respect of his competitors and the admiration of the fans.

“It’s showing I’m doing a lot of things right, and I’m working hard and working smart,” said Brooksby after his semifinal win against Justin Thompson on Saturday. He became the second-youngest finalist in the 45-year history of the Hall of Fame Open. “I’m definitely enjoying how this year has been going so far, and this motivates me, even more, to keep pushing and keep going.”

In accepting the runner-up trophy, Brooksby said: “It’s amazing to get all the support from you guys, it gives me energy. It was awesome playing here and I hope to be back again and pushing for more of these results.”

Blumberg and Sock win first doubles title together

Wild cards William Blumberg and Jack Sock, both from the United States, won the Hall of Fame Open doubles title with a 6-2, 7-6 (3) victory over Austin Krajicek of the United States and Vasek Pospisil of Canada in one hour and 22 minutes.

Blumberg and Sock won 77 percent (27 of 35) of their first-serve point and outpointed their opponents 66-50. They dropped just one set all week and none since the first round.

The doubles title was Sock’s first since 2018 when he won the Nitto ATP Finals with Mike Bryan. “It means a lot,” he said. “It has been an unfortunate two years, 2019 with the thumb surgery and then with Covid hitting, it has been an interesting couple of years. A lot of time to reflect and regroup. I feel better physically and mentally and am very excited to be back on tour, winning matches.

“My confidence is high right now. Not many people believed in me a couple of years ago.. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of the second half of my career.”

Blumberg said: “It is an honor to play with Jack and in front of my family. So, that especially was just awesome. On top of that, to get a win, it has just been a great week.”

By the numbers