July 14, 2002: The day Taylor Dent put himself and his father in the tennis history books

Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to relive a tennis event which happened on this specific day. On this day, July 14, 2002, American Taylor Dent joined his father as the only father-son duo to win ATP singles titles in the Open Era

14 July 2021
OTD 14/07 - Taylor Dent

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, July 14, in 2002, when Taylor Dent triumphed at the Hall of Fame Championships, in Newport, he and his father (Phil Dent) became the first father and son to win ATP Tour singles titles in the Open era. To achieve that feat, Dent, whose father had reached the Australian Open final in 1974, defeated James Blake in the final (6-1, 4-6, 6-4). 

The players involved: Taylor Dent and James Blake

  • Taylor Dent: the big-serving pro who had just broken into the Top 100.

Born in 1981 in Texas, Taylor Dent was the son of Phil Dent, a former professional tennis player from Australia, who had famously reached the Australian Open final in 1974. Coached by his father, Taylor, one of the few players of his generation to adopt a mostly serve-and-volley game style, made his Grand Slam debut thanks to a wild card at the 1998 US Open, and reached the second round (defeated by Marat Safin, 6-3, 6-1, 7-6). In 2001, he fired the fastest serve in Wimbledon’s history, at 144 mph. He broke into the top 100 for the first time in early 2002, and in July, he was world No 96.

  • James Blake: the professional tennis player from Harvard
James Blake
Panoramic

James Blake was born in 1979. After playing two years for Harvard University, he decided to start a professional career in 1999, and, in September 2001, he entered the top 100. Blake played a very aggressive game based on flat groundstrokes.  In 2002, he reached his first professional final in Memphis (lost to Andy Roddick, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5), and by July, he was already world No 32.

The place: The International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, Rhode Island

The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located in Newport, on Rhode Island. It honors both players and other contributors to the sport of tennis. The complex used to be the Newport Casino, where the first US Championships, which later became the US Open, were held by the USTA in 1881. Every year, in July, the Hall of Fame holds an ATP tournament on grass, which serves as a background to the Hall of Fame inductions. 

The facts: Taylor Dent was not aware of the history he had made until the next day

In July 2002, 21-year-old Taylor Dent was having his breakthrough year. He had started the season by reaching the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, in Melbourne, and soon after, he entered the top 100 for the first time. With his serve-and-volley game, he was particularly dangerous on fast surfaces, and it was no surprise that he reached the third round at Wimbledon as well (defeated by another big server, Wayne Arthurs, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6). 

In Newport, his powerful serve worked perfectly throughout the week. The American had changed his stance after having suffered from back injuries, but it remained a deadly weapon.  “I can’t serve it as big, but I am working on my volleys a lot and I don’t think I have to serve as big,” he said, according to The Los Angeles Times. “I think it’s a blessing in disguise, personally, just because I don’t have to rely on hitting un-returnables now to win my service game.”

Dent dropped only one set on his way to the final, where he faced another rising star, countryman James Blake, who had started 2002 as the world No 71, and was already No 32. Blake had survived a thriller in the semi-finals, where he edged Michael Llodra (6-4, 3-6, 7-5), but he had prevailed in his first meeting with Dent (2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in Memphis). This time, Dent won the all-American clash in three sets (6-1, 4-6, 6-4) to claim his first ATP singles title, which was already a milestone for him, but what he didn’t know while lifting the trophy, was that he had just left a print in tennis history. Thanks to his success, he and his father Phil (runner-up at the Australian Open in 1974) had become the first father and son duo to win an ATP title in the Open Era, but he only found out about it on the following day. 

“Actually, I had no idea. I didn’t even know afterward,” said Dent. “My dad called me the next day as I was fighting my hangover and he told me, ‘Hey, you put us in history yesterday.’ I thought that was pretty neat. Not many people get to make history.”

15 years later, Taylor Dent would still define this moment as “one of the proudest moments of (his) career as a pro player”. 

What next? Taylor Dent would win 3 more ATP titles while James Blake would become a top 5 player

Taylor Dent would add three additional titles to his list of achievements, all of them in 2003. In 2004, he would reach the semi-finals at the Olympic Games, but would be defeated in the match for the bronze medal by Fernando Gonzalez, 16-14 in the deciding set, after holding two match points. Dent would reach the fourth round at the US Open in 2003, and at Wimbledon in 2005, and would climb as high as world No 21 the same year. However, his career would be plagued by injuries. Despite his efforts and his numerous comebacks, he would never be able to play an entire season without injuries, and would eventually retire in 2010. 

To this day, Phil and Taylor Dent remain the only father-and-son team to have claimed ATP titles, although they could soon be joined by Petr Korda and his son, Sebastian

James Blake’s career would peak in 2006: he would obtain his best-ever ranking as world No 4 after claiming five titles, reaching the US Open quarter-finals (lost to Federer, 7-6, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4), and finishing runner-up at the Masters Cup (defeated again by Federer, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4).  Although he would never officially announce his retirement, James Blake would stop competing on the tour in 2013.

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