NEWPORT, R.I. – Defending champion Rajeev Ram beat fellow American Mackenzie McDonald, 6-2, 6-3, in the opening round of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships on Monday.
Ram, a two-time winner on Newport's grass courts — also in 2009 when he won his only other ATP title — needed just 65 minutes to get past the 21-year-old McDonald, making his tour debut.
The 32-year-old Ram won the first set in 33 minutes on a new-look center court area in the shadows of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
He said he enjoys coming back to Newport.
"For me, yeah, I've won two titles, they've both been here," he said. "I've played here every year since I've been a pro. A lot of things make it really special."
After last year's event, wooden bleachers at center court behind the south baseline were replaced by stadium seats. An electronic scoreboard was installed, which gave the players the option of challenging calls for the first time at the tournament, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Up 4-0 in the second set, Ram doubled-faulted twice in three points to lose the first of two straight games.
"That probably shouldn't have happened from 40-love up," he said. "Thankfully, I was up two breaks."
He won the match when McDonald hit a forehand return wide.
Ram feels better prepared to defend his title this year.
"It feels a little bit different than it did in 2010 when I was defending it," he said. "I feel a little bit more confident in my game and what I can do."
McDonald captured an NCAA singles and doubles title at UCLA before turning pro.
Top seed Steve Johnson, now ranked a career-best No. 25, received a bye and is scheduled to play his first match Wednesday.
In other first-round play, No. 8 seed Donald Young beat fellow American Jared Donaldson, 6-1, 6-3; Dudi Sela of Israel ousted Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, 6-3, 6-2; and Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland advanced when fifth-seeded Vasek Pospisil of Canada withdrew with a back injury.
The Hall of Fame Championships are played in conjunction with induction ceremonies into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Justine Henin, a former WTA world No. 1 and seven-time major champion, and Marat Safin, a two-time major and former world No. 1, are scheduled to be enshrined Saturday during a center-court ceremony.
Amelie Mauresmo, who was enshrined last year but missed the ceremony for the birth of her son, is also scheduled to be on hand.