NEWPORT, R.I. – Taking to the historic Bill Talbert Stadium Court on the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, Bowdoin College senior and defending NCAA Division III National Singles Champion Grant Urken knew he’d be in for a different experience.
“When coach (Conor Smith) told us we were playing (at the Grass Court Invitational), I was definitely excited about the opportunity,” said Urken, moments after he topped Jordan Pitts of Trinity (TX) 6-4, 6-4 in the Michael Stich Flight of the 2018 Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational on Friday morning. “Where else would you rather be? I’m trying to enjoy myself, as I’ve never played on grass before. It’s a wild experience, but I’m definitely happy to be out here.”
Urken said the biggest adjustment to the grass surface was overall movement.
“I feel like I’m on ice skates,” he said.
Being a defending national champion brings a sense of pressure, but Urken is trying to balance those expectations with approaching his final collegiate season with a fresh slate.
“There’s definitely some added pressure, but I’m trying to put that into perspective,” said Urken. “It’s a new year, new guys and it’s a fresh slate. I’m excited for the team and individual aspect.”
For Smith, the opportunity to bring his entire team to the International Tennis Hall of Fame was one he wasn’t going to pass up.
“Tennis is exciting and fun but being able to take in a place like the (Hall of Fame) and take in the history and all that goes along with it makes it a unique experience,” said Smith.
While Urken may be new to grass courts, he’s no stranger to collegiate competition. That’s not the case for Washington & Lee freshmen Taylor Garcia and Georgia Wright, who not only were playing on grass for the first time, but also making their collegiate tennis debuts.
Both Garcia and Wright picked up victories in their opening round matches on Friday, with Garcia besting Claire Honda of Chicago 6-2, 6-2, while Wright earned a 7-5, 7-5 win against Chicago’s Marjorie Antohi. Each match was part of the Helena Sukova Flight.
“Playing on the grass took some adjusting, considering I ate the grass on the very first point,” said Garcia. “It was really fun playing and my game did well on the grass.”
Added Wright: “The main goal was to have fun and be willing to adjust to the surface,” said Wright. “You can’t stress too much if you lose a point, because the ball moves in different directions, so you have to have fun with it because it’s a rare opportunity to play on grass.”
Garcia and Wright also teamed up in doubles and scored an 8-4 decision over Emory’s Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico and Stephanie Taylor.
Washington & Lee head coach Erin Ness was looking forward to getting to Newport with her players once ITHF CEO Todd Martin extended the invitation.
“I felt really honored and privileged to be a part of this event,” said Ness, who is in her seventh season as the Generals’ head coach. “It’s an amazing opportunity to put Division III athletics in the spotlight. No one is on scholarship, so we have the true student-athletes here, and I think it’s amazing what the (International Tennis Hall of Fame) is doing and we’re very thankful to be here and be a part of this.”
The 2018 Hall of Fame ITA Grass Court Invitational runs through Sunday, September 16, at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Matches take place on the historic Bill Talbert Stadium Court and on the additional grass courts at the Hall of Fame. For more information, visit the event page and be sure to follow the conversation on social media, using the hashtag #ITAGrassCourt.
Michael Stich Flight
Grant Urken (Bowdoin) def. Jordan Pitts (Trinity) 6-4, 6-4
Julian Gordy (CMS) def. Bernardo Neves (WashU) 6-3, 6-7 (8), 1-0 (7)
Jerry Jiang (Bowdoin) def. Ben van der Sman (WashU) 6-2, 6-2
Jack Katzman (CMS) def. Wilson Hamilton (Trinity) 6-1, 6-4
Arthur Ashe Flight
Wilson Lambeth (Trinity) def. Casey Morris (CMS) 6-3, 6-1
Radha Vishnubhotla (WashU) def. Alan Delman (Bowdoin) 6-3, 7-5
Konrad Kozlowski (WashU) def. Evan Fortier (Bowdoin) 6-1, 6-3
Jake Williams (CMS) def. Cameron Krimbill (Trinity) 6-4, 6-4
Helena Sukova Flight
Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico (Emory) def. Jamie Vizelman (CMU) 7-5, 6-3
Georgia Wright (WLU) def. Marjorie Antohi (Chicago) 7-5, 7-5
Daniela Lopez (Emory) def. Vinaya Rao (CMU) 6-3, 6-1
Taylor Garcia (WLU) def. Claire Honda (Chicago) 6-2, 6-2
Virginia Wade Flight
Defne Olcay (Emory) def. Nicole Semonov (Chicago) 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 (10)
Melissa Strome (CMU) def. Jessica Fatemi (Emory) 6-0, 3-6, 1-0 (8)
Lauren Yoon (Emory) def. Courtney Ollis (CMU) 6-4, 6-4
Annika Pandey (Chicago) def. Valerie Marshall (WLU) 6-3, 6-3
Pitts/Lambeth (Trinity) def. Gordy/Katzman (CMS) 8-3
Zhao/Wang (Bowdoin) def. Kozlowski/van der Sman (WashU) 9-7
Patel/Yang (Bowdoin) def. Williams/Simental (CMS) 8-6
Neves/Vishnubhotla (WashU) def. Hamilton/Krimbill (Trinity) 8-4
Wright/Garcia (WLU) def. Gonzalez-Rico/Taylor (Emory) 8-4
Rao/Strome (CMU) def. Park/Lee (Chicago) 8-5
Lopez/Cartledge (Emory) def. Rudin/Ellison (Chicago) 8-3
Vizelman/Ollis (CMU) def. Xu/Navarro (Chicago) 9-8 (2)