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A Last Look At The 2014 Hall Of Fame Tennis Championships

logo_bannerGiving tennis fans something to look forward to immediately following Wimbledon each year, the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport attracts some of the top ATP tour players… and some of the most tennis-savvy spectators around.

The tournament, held on grass courts, is the first stop of the summer swing for pro tennis in the United States, and it offers the only opportunity to see professional men’s tennis in the Northeast prior to the US Open.

Enjoy some of the photographs taken by Parcbench last week at the perfect tennis event…

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(2014 Singles Champion, Lleyton Hewitt)

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(Lleyton Hewitt)

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(Jack Sock)

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(Samuel Groth greets a fan)

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(Ryan Harrison)

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(John Isner)

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(Lleyton Hewitt and son)

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(Rajeev Ram)

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(2014 Doubles Champions, Chris Guccione and Lleyton Hewitt)

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(Jack Sock)

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Lleyton Hewitt Is The ATP Hall of Fame Champion (In Singles And Doubles)

LH_TuesWell, the third time was the charm for good ol’ Lleyton Hewitt. The former world number one defeated second seeded six-foot-eleven Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 6-7(4/7), 7-6 (7/3) to win the ATP Hall of Fame Championships. Hewitt finally captured the title on Sunday, although it took two-and-a-half hours. Hewitt earned $81,500 for the title and Karlovic earned $42,900 for being the runner-up.

As if that weren’t enough, the 33-year-old, alongside partner and fellow Australian Chris Guccione, defeated Jonathan Erlich (ISR) and Rajeev Ram (USA) in the doubles championship 7-5, 6-4.

In very windy conditions, the third-seeded Hewitt won his 30th career ATP title. It is his second of the season (after a January victory at Brisbane) and an eighth career ATP grass-court championship. After falling to John Isner (USA) in the 2012 Newport final and to Nicolas Mahut (FRA) last year, this week’s successful run was all the more satisfying, especially considering that Hewitt has undergone five surgeries in the past five years.

For Hewitt, the 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion, it was his second win in six meetings with Karlovic. “It was a tough match. I was really happy to get through,” said Hewitt afterward, adding that “it was nice to get rewarded today.”

When it was finally over, Hewitt fell to his knees and pumped his fists toward the sky. Within seconds, he was joined on the grass court by his three young children.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Dwight Yoakam’s New Version Of “Who’ll Stop The Rain”

dwight_CDDwight Yoakam – “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” (single)
*** ½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Reprise Records

Everything Dwight Yoakam sings is cool and effortless, and his latest single, a remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is no exception.

The Grammy-winning singer’s version of the CCR hit begins with a few guitar strums, followed by Yoakam’s instantly identifiable vocals. Eventually things kick off and the song expresses itself with a Rolling Stones groove. It’s a cover version that pays homage to the original by keeping things respectfully country-rock. At the same, Yoakam allows just enough of a yodel to finish off a note or two to make it all his own. Even better news: the song will appear on an album scheduled for release later this year on Reprise Records.

The single’s release is something of a return to the record label where Dwight Yoakam’s recording success began. Yoakam has recorded 28 albums under the Warner Bros. label umbrella, with his last being 2012′s critically-acclaimed 3 Pears, which spent eight weeks at the top of the Americana albums chart.

Yoakam (who had his first hit in 1986 with a remake of Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man”) has built a solid career out of making quality music on a consistent basis. He’ll join Eric Church’s ‘The Outsiders’ World Tour as a special guest this fall. That tour kicks off Sept. 11 in Bossier City, La. That tour will crisscross the U.S. and Canada through December, with 32 arena dates in the fall.

To preview or purchase this song on iTunes, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Garth Brooks performs at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Suppose Garth Brooks Attempted A Comeback… And No One Came?

Garth Brooks performs at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Garth Brooks performs at “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial” January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Five comeback concerts by Garth “I Love President Obama To Death” Brooks, were canceled recently in Dublin after authorities denied permits because local residents objected to the disruption so many successive concerts would bring. City policy says only three “special events” per year can be played at the stadium, and One Direction had already played three concerts at the venue this year. Brooks responded by saying he would play five of the concerts or none, presumably banking on the notion that he still somehow mattered in the 21st century. Nice try.

Now, possibly stinging from the sudden realization of his irrelevance, he is moving forward to try to renew his time capsule fame. Garth “I Love President Obama To Death” Brooks announced details of yet another return at a press conference recently. Expect a new album on RCA Nashville, due out in time for Black Friday, and a three-year world tour to follow. And why not? Nowadays, country music is the most popular genre around and Garth needs the attention. For country music fans who still think the 52-year-old, “aww shucks,” slightly insincere hat act has anything new to say, it is kind of a big deal. Heck, after all these years, they might even get an AARP discount on the concert tickets.

Brooks also announced a first: he’ll be making his music available digitally for the first time, but only via his own website. He still won’t be on iTunes. Or Spotify. Or Pandora. Or Beats. Or iHeartRadio. Talk about self-sabotaging a “comeback.” Hey Garth — whether your ‘80s mentality likes it or not — streaming isn’t just the future of music, it’s actually the present. If you want an audience to discover your music, you have to make it available to them in the places where they seek it.

But that’s not saying a lot. The music industry is still rolling along on flat tires, getting nowhere, slowly. The only album to even sell a million copies so far this year is the Frozen soundtrack, which sold 2.7 million units. Back when Brooks was making the video for “We Shall Be Free,” featuring cameo appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Martina Navratilova, General Colin Powell and Elizabeth Taylor, many top artists’s albums went platinum in their opening week.

Let’s hope we can expect some sort of artistic growth from Brooks as a result of his being away for the past decade. If anything, he should consider returning to the sound of his early albums. His last album, Scarecrow, released in 2001, was one of his worst.

Perhaps he’ll try broadening his fan base in other ways. Hey Garth — I hear George Strait might be free in the future. I bet he could sell some concert tickets.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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It’s Lleyton Hewitt Finals Day Here in Newport

12Welcome to Lleyton Hewitt Day at the ATP Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. The former world number one will appear in both the singles and doubles finals today (in that order). It’s his third consecutive singles final, and the crowd is likely going to be very supportive of the third seed as he faces second seed Ivo Karlovic. Alongside partner Chris Guccione (AUS), Hewitt (AUS) will face Jonathan Erlich (ISR) and Rajeev Ram (USA) in the doubles final.

If you’ve been lucky enough to attend the most rarified and elegant tennis event in the United States over the past few years, you’ve probably enjoyed watching Hewitt win a few matches. He has lasted in the draw to the end of the week for the past several years. You might have also have had the chance to watch his tennis-loving kids grow from babyhood to potential practice partner; Hewitt and his beautiful wife, Bec, always bring the kids to Newport. It is a sure sign that summer is in full swing when the Aussies turn the Casino veranda into a kid’s summer day camp. Kids, toys, new cans of tennis balls, new growth and freshly mowed grass… all bringing to mind the words of F Scott Fitzgerald: “That familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

And this year is no different. Enjoy this brief clip of Lleyton on the practice court earlier in the week, with his son (a future tennis star? — note that the kid wins the point)

Hewitt advanced to the final of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships by defeating US seventh seed Jack Sock, 6-1 6-2, on Saturday. That match was Sock’s first semifinal — quite an impressive showing for a player who, a week ago, won the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Doubles title (alongside Vasek Pospisil). Sock hung around Wimbledon just long enough to attend the Champions Ball, then he boarded a flight for Boston and came directly to Newport. After the 21-year-old Sock won match after match after match (including routing John Isner in the quarterfinal), the ever-energetic 33-year-old Hewitt proved too much of a challenge. Ivo Karlovic beat Australian Samuel Groth 6-4 6-4 in the other semi-final.

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Hewitt, who lost to John Isner in the 2012 final and to Nicolas Mahut in last year’s title match, will try for a third time today at the $474,000 (US) grass court tournament. Hewitt is seeking his 30th career ATP title… and his second of the season after a Brisbane victory at the beginning of the year.

Although Karlovic is 4-1 in career meetings with Hewitt (including eliminating the Aussie defending champion in a Wimbledon first round match in 2003), Hewitt beat Karlovic in the first round of the 2009 French Open. So here’s to Hewitt, who may just take home two more trophies today, proving that within a champion always lies just more invincible summer.

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(All photos © Greg Victor, Parcbench.com)

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Jack Sock Defeats John Isner In Newport’s Quarterfinals

Q26Well, there’s a first time for everything. And when you’re checking off accomplishments with the rapidity of American tennis player Jack Sock, it seems like there’s an achievement every week.

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21-year-old Sock logged his first victory over his friend (and tournament top seed) John Isner in Newport’s Tennis Hall of Fame quarterfinals on Friday. (They two players have had four previous ATP meetings.) The two players have been spotted practicing with each other throughout the week, which could explain why there was such camaraderie on the court, especially at a match this deep into the draw. Tennis fans were delighted to see that when Isner was introduced before the match, Jack Sock made a point to applaud him.

On the green grass courts, Sock displayed a relaxed style that reflected his having won the Gentlemen’s Doubles championship at Wimbledon last week (along with partner Vasek Pospisil). It’s amazing what having to figure out how to ship a Wimbledon trophy home will do for one’s confidence.

Sock took the match over the top-seeded Isner in straight sets, with a score of 6-4, 7-6(4) in just 88 minutes. Seventh-seeded Sock saved each of the three break points he faced against Isner, and he won 33 of 42 first-serve points.

But what made the match such a pleasure for the Newport crowd was that the high level of play was matched by an equally high level of sportsmanship. At one point, when Isner disputed a line call in Sock’s favor, Sock agreed with Isner and ceded the point. A wave of enthusiasm for the act of sportsmanship swirled around the wooden, horseshoe-shaped stadium. In Newport, a moment like that is highly regarded.

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Within a few games, the situation was reversed, with Sock disputing a call in Isner’s favor. Sure enough, Isner agreed with Sock and ceded that point. Now, they were even; it was something like “love-all” and it made for a swell atmosphere.

This didn’t mean that each player wasn’t trying hard to win, of course. Isner was hoping for a third Newport trophy, having won the title in 2011 (d. Rochus) and 2012 (d. Hewitt). But Sock has been on a tear this whole week. Clearly he is raring to get to the hard-court season, where expectations are high for Sock to perform well at next month’s U.S. Open in New York City.

And why not? Winning means being able to call Newport home for another day. It’s a perfect spot for lawn tennis in July. The venue is a well-run, attractive place to watch quality tennis (with every seat as close to the action as any tennis fan could dream of). The crowds are extremely tennis-savvy and there is much to do in town after the day’s matches end. As Sock said after the match, “This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. I love the city. I love the tournament.”

Sock will face former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt (who is making his third consecutive appearance in the final here) in the quarterfinal.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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A Pay Raise At The U.S. Open

1Let’s face it. For some players it’s all about the ranking. For others, it’s all about the titles and the trophy. And no doubt, for some (including more than a few tennis agents), it’s all about the check that comes with the ranking points and the trophy. For those players who don’t mind paying taxes, the 2014 U.S. Open is providing even more motivation than usual.

Last year, Rafael Nadal earned $2.6 million for winning the U.S. Open title. But that’s so 2013. This year, whoever wins the men’s and women’s singles title will take home a record $3 million.

The U.S. Tennis Association also announced that the total purse for the tournament will be $38.3 million. That is an increase of 11.7 percent from $34.3 million last year. Runners-up will get $1.45 million, an increase from $1.3 million.

Both the men’s and women’s doubles champions will earn $520,000, the highest in U.S. Open history. And — talk about motivation to make it into the tournament — any player who loses in the first round of singles at Flushing Meadows will make $35,750, an increase of $3,750.

The U.S. Open starts on Aug. 25. To visit the U.S. Open website, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Unforced Error: ESPN and the Wimbledon Doubles Coverage

espn-ball tumbsEver since Andy Roddick lost his “mojo,” the American sports media have been bemoaning the absurd notion that there are few reasons for American tennis fans to care about tennis, to buy tickets to matches or to tune in to watch tennis on television in the 21st century. They have practically declared that the current generation of American players don’t even exist… before those up-and-coming players even get to spread their racquet-gripping golden arms and fly.

Then, along came an event like the 2014 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Doubles Final, where three out of the four players vying for a championship trophy were from the United States (Jack Sock, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan) and the fourth was from Canada (Vasek Pospisil). When they won, Pospisil and Sock became the first pair to win a Grand Slam title in their first tournament together since Max Mirnyi and Lleyton Hewitt at the 2000 US Open. And, incidentally, Jack Sock (at 21 yrs, 285 days) became the third youngest man in the Open Era to win both a Grand Slam men’s & mixed doubles title. Wouldn’t it have been swell if, instead of whining about how there are no American tennis fans because there are no American top players, ESPN had shone the spotlight on these Americans… even if it was “only” the doubles?

On the second Saturday of Wimbledon, ESPN scheduled a tennis coverage window that extended for a whole six hours, as well as a one-hour “pregame show” at 8 a.m. ET. This seems reasonable, since the day’s order-of-play included several important matches. Yet, following an almost-over-before-it-began women’s final (that only lasted 55 minutes), ESPN could very easily have shown the Gentlemen’s Doubles final in its entirety. As if there was another reason to show it, the doubles final was being contested by one of the most popular doubles team of all time, the Bryan Brothers, Bob and Mike.
As if that weren’t enough to justify airing the tennis being played live on Centre Court, the Bryans were facing two other North Americans — Jack Sock (of the United States) and Vasek Pospisil (of Canada). Hello, ESPN marketing division — Saturday’s faceoff was a dream match made for your American audience.

Instead, ESPN decided to put the match on its live-streaming service, ESPN3. To make matters worse, ESPN’s decision not to show the men’s doubles final was accompanied by a decision to show a replay of the previous day’s men’s semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov. That’s right — they showed a match that had aired live the previous day. It’s not like viewers didn’t have a chance to see the men’s semifinal matches the day before. That was the fourth of July — a day that any self-respecting American tennis fan no doubt had Wimbledon playing while enjoying the day off. Worst of all — ESPN fell for the false assumption that any single’s match is preferable to any double’s match. That’s what I’d call ESPN: an Especially Stupid Programming Notion.

It’s a shame that ESPN did not take advantage of the opportunity it had to build future audiences for what is likely to be a return for America to the top of the international tennis game… namely, in the form of Jack Sock. Let’s hope that in future Grand Slam coverage, the emphasis for ESPN will be on the reason that most viewers tune in — LIVE action on the courts… especially in a championship match… and especially when there are exciting American players involved.

Photo: Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Photo: Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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(Photo: Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, fine examples of communication and clarity at Wimbledon)

JACK SOCK & VASEK POSPISIL into Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Semifinal

(Photo: Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, fine examples of communication and clarity at Wimbledon)

(Photo: Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, fine examples of communication and clarity at Wimbledon)

In the upset of the day at Wimbledon, Vasek Pospisil (CAN) & Jack Sock (USA) defeated second-seeded Alexander Peya (AUT) & Bruno Soares (BRA) 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 in the gentlemen’s doubles quarterfinal. And now it’s on to the semifinal for Sock/Pospisil, where they will face fifth-seeded Leander Paes (IND) and Radek Stepanek (CZE).

The question of today’s match seemed to be, “Is the court playable, or not?” If you asked the two opposing teams, I suppose you’d get two different answers. Pospisil and Sock had no problem tearing it up on the disappearing blades of British grass, while Peya and Soares felt less confident on the surface. Still, the nearly total scoreboard symmetry reflected what an even match it was. Not overly demanding physically, in the grand scheme of a Grand Slam, but certainly both teams were tested mentally by the conditions (and the approaching end of the draw).

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Two of the most exciting singles players of their generation, Sock and Pospisil fit right in at Wimbledon, not only with their explosive strokes, but also by obviously respecting the doubles game just as much as singles. For a team who have never played together before this tournament, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock seem an almost perfect pair. Let’s face it — they look like the kind of athletes that tennis whites were invented for. This is what tennis in July in an English garden should look like; two young gents in white, slugging it out with clever angles and a sensitive touch, ready for the necessary improvisation that a successful match on grass requires, all the while maintaining cool and projecting an image that the future of tennis is just fine, thank you very much.

With the powerful hands of Jack Sock and the incredible reach of Vasek Pospisil, the two Northern Americans quickly won the first set, 6-4. In the second set, Soares complained about the increasingly dry and slick condition of the court, citing the lack of grass and expressing concerns about potential injury. With Pospisil/Sock’s zero out of eight break points converted, and Peya/Soares converting one out of one, the second set went easily to Peya/Soares, 6-3.

In the all-important third set, Peya’s serve became more effective and Sock’s returns were lighting quick, with angles that one would expect from a Wimbledon quarterfinalist. In the occasional moment when Sock might have started to come down hard on himself (the result of having executed an unforced error), Pospisil cheered Sock on and kept the team focused on winning the third set, which they did in a tie-break, 7-6 (6). From then on, the Canadian/American team had the momentum. They easily won the fourth set, 6-4. In the end, the match went to the team that persevered… the team that communicated with clarity at each phase of the game… the team that just might win the next round on the sheer adrenaline of having reached a Wimbledon semifinal. As Shakespeare wrote, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”

Dream big, and play bigger, gentlemen. You’re almost there.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Jack Sock & Vasek Pospisil In Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Quarterfinals

JS_VP_rnd3After the USA vs. Belgium match, American World Cup fans may have evaporated as suddenly as they appeared, but loyal North American tennis fans still have reason to celebrate — the team of Jack Sock (USA) and Vasek Pospisil (CAN) have reached the quarterfinals of men’s doubles at the Wimbledon tennis championships. Jack Sock is the one of three Americans left in the doubles draw. He is in fine company there, along with the top-seeded duo — Mike and Bob Bryan.

As a team, Sock and Pospisil have matched each other’s on-court energy and enthusiasm perfectly so far this tournament. They’ve also been clear about what their individual responsibilities are, so that they continually improve their game with each other. With each successive match, they also seem to be refining their ability to communicate instinctively. The delays between their second and third round matches must have given them some very effective practice time. (The second-round Saturday match was postponed until Monday because of rain. The first three sets were played on Monday, until rain forced a second postponement.)

On Wednesday, Sock and Pospisil defeated Mate Pavic of Croatia and Andre Sa of Brazil 7-6(3), 7-6(3), 6-4 in a third-round match that lasted just over two hours. Sock and Pospisil won in less than 24 hours after they completed a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 second-round victory over eighth-seeded Rohan Bopanna of India and Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan on Tuesday. In the straight-set, third-round match the team of Pospisil/Sock (with an average age of 22.5 years) had fewer unforced errors and more winners than the pair of Pavic/Ra (whose age averages 28.5). Taking nothing away from their technique, the team of Pospisil/Sock has an easy-going, buoyant style on the grass. Their game is a gentle reminder of the long-standing history of the sporty art of lawn tennis. In other words, they make doubles look like the invigorating and satisfying game that it is (and that is often overlooked in Grand Slam coverage).

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Sock and Pospisil (the only unseeded team left in the men’s doubles draw) face the number two-seeded team of Alexander Peya (Austria) and Bruno Soares (Brazil) in the quarterfinals. The match that will take place today, Thursday. They will play second up on Court number 2.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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