The inaugural Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational, held on the historic grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame is in the books, having offered a one-of-a-kind experience for college athletes from around the nation and their families.
The tournament drew eight nationally ranked Division 1 teams from around the country for three days of competition. In addition, the event offered a unique opportunity for the student-athletes to be immersed in the history of tennis, with museum tours of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and also served up some added doses of team camaraderie at evening social events.
The teams that competed in the round robin event were:
University of Virginia, No. 1
TCU, No. 3
University of Michigan, No. 25
Princeton, No. 52
University of California, No. 2
Oklahoma State, No. 8
Georgia Tech, No. 16
Harvard University, No. 55
For many of the student-athletes, the tournament was their first time ever competing on the grass courts.
“It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it,” said Alexis Nelson of the University of California. “The footing is really different, but it was a really cool experience.”
Karla Popovic of California, who went undefeated through the weekend, said the change in playing surface resulted in a different strategy in her matches.
“The ball doesn’t bounce as it would bounce on a hardcourt, I made to stay low so I’d be ready for those balls that would bounce low, and using my slice a little more than usual was helpful.”
The tournament served as an introduction on several fronts. The Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational was the first collegiate event to be played at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and it was the first grass court national event in the history of the ITA. It was also the first broadcast by FloTennis, which exclusively live streamed all three days of play in Newport, and will stream a total of 15 ITA events in 2016-17.
The two-time defending NCAA team champion, the University of Virginia Cavaliers, had two players, Luca Corinteli and J.C. Aragone in Newport. Both admitted that it had been a while since they had played on grass courts, but relished the opportunity to play at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Corinteli, a senior. “It’s one of the tournaments that J.C. and I have looked forward to since the middle of summer when we found out we were playing it. You can sense the history and the atmosphere is unique and we’re lucky to be a part of it and fortunate enough to be invited to this event. Hopefully more guys from Virginia down the line can play and experience it.”
“The weather is unbelievable, the courts and really nice and the club is beautiful,” said Aragone. “The town also has a different feel to it; it’s a special environment.”
After the last ball was hit, Hall of Fame CEO Todd Martin, who played college tennis for Northwestern University, took a moment to reflect on the event.
“I’m very pleased,” said Martin. “It’s always interesting running an event that we’ve never tried before, and this was a different event from ones that we typically put on. The teams all loved the experience. We had a lot of fun off the court, and that goes a long way to creating a better experience. It was especially important for me that all of the kids could enjoy the museum and have a look around the Hall of Fame.”
Martin was impressed with the adaptability of the student-athletes that were faced with competing on an unfamiliar playing surface, but the moments that stand out for him actually took place off the court.
“Both of our dinners, to me, is what the collegiate experience is all about,” said Martin. “We had sixty to seventy people in a room a couple of nights, having a lot of laughs with one another, even though they were trying to beat up on each other during the day.”
In the women’s flights, Vladica Babic of Oklahoma State went 3-0 in the Billie Jean King fight. She topped Denise Starr of Cal 6-7, 6-3, 10-7 and Rasheeda McAdoo of Georgia Tech 2-6, 6-1, 11-9 the first two days, and concluded the event with a 6-1, 3-6, 10-8 win over Harvard’s June Lee. Another Cowgirl, Sophia Blanco, went 3-0 in the Chris Evert flight. Blanco bested Stephanie Lin of Cal 6-4, 6-0, Kenya Jones of Georgia Tech 1-6, 7-6 (5), 11-9 and Nika Besker of Harvard 6-3, 6-3.
Karla Popovic of Cal was undefeated (3-0) in the Stephanie Graf flight. She recorded a 6-1, 7-6 (7) win over Katie Stresnakova of Oklahoma State, topped Georgia Tech’s Luc Fabian 6-0, 6-0 and Harvard’s Annika Ringblom 6-0, 6-2. In the Monica Seles flight, Oklahoma State’s Lena Ruppert defeated Cal’s Maria Smith (5-7, 6-3, 10-4), Georgia Tech’s Lena Ruppert (6-0, 4-6, 10-7) and Georgia Tech’s Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer (6-2, 6-1).
On the men’s side, TCU’s Jerry Lopez was 3-0 in the Bjorn Borg flight. He defeated Virginia’s JC Aragone 4-6, 6-4, 10-8, Michigan’s Alex Knight 6-0, 6-2 and Princeton’s Tom Colautti 7-5, 6-2. Luke Gamble of Princeton posted an unblemished record in the John McEnroe flight, beating Michigan’s Carter Lin (1-6, 7-5, 10-3), TCU’s Reese Stadler (6-3, 7-5) and Michigan’s Jathan Malik 1-6, 6-3, 10-6).
Jimmy Wasserman of Princeton posted victories over Scott Martinson of TCU (7-5, 6-3), Kevin Wong of Michigan (6-1, 6-4) and teammate Payton Holden (6-2, 6-2). Gabe Tishman of Michigan was 2-0 in the Stan Smith flight, besting Gianni Mancini of TCU 6-2, 6-2 and John Carcione of Princeton 6-2, 6-3.