Monday, April 25, 2011

Challengers: Week 16

This week was a rather quiet one in the Challenger circuit, as only 2 tournaments were played and both in the same surface, red clay. As the slow-courts season gets underway in Europe, many players try their hand in ATP qualifying, therefore generating less of a need for challenger tournaments. However, Italy had its token tournament, and so the Brazil, across the Atlantic Ocean.

*Santos, Brazil ($35,000 +H): South America is the part of the world where the supply of talent grossly outweighs the demand of tournaments. And because of being a rather “poorer” region economically, most South Americans have to wait their turn, only to flock the few tournaments that occur here during the year. This explains why this tournament was veteran-heavy, with a few youngsters making the draw, yet struggling to keep up with the, perhaps less talented, but infinitely more experienced counterparts. One can point to Ricardo Mello, Marcos Daniel, Eric Prodon, Nicolas Massu, Juan Pablo Brzezicki and Diego Junqueira as guys who have hundreds of challenger matches under their belts. This proved to be the case, as their experienced prevailed, except for a strange twist at the end. ’91-born Jose Pereira managed a R1 win and so did ’92-born Spaniard Javier Marti. Also, Slovenian Aljaz Bedene continued his hot-run with a QF appearance, before losing to eventual finalist Junqueira. 30-year old Junqueira had another good showing, beating fellow Argie veteran Brzezicki to reach his second challenger final of the year (and on the heels of a SF outing last week in Blumenau). At the top of the draw, No.1 Seed Ricardo Mello had to fight off the more talented (yet more inconsistent) Argentinean Leonardo Mayer but couldn’t get through the surprise of the tournament, 22-year old Brazilian Joao Souza. Souza had been having a subpar year, but managed to defeat Junqueira in the final to take the title at home and rise to the 148th spot in the ranking. The big-serving Souza is looking to regain the form that took him to the doorstep of the top 100 in late October of last year and this was definitely a step in the right direction.


*Napoli, Italy (€30,000 +H): Same country, different city, yet same result. Dutchman Thomas Schoorel is officially the hottest player in the challenger tour. This week he followed his Rome title by taking the silverware at Napoli, extending his streak to 10 matches. And he did it while kicking butts and taking names, especially those of the tourney’s top 2 seeds, Jeremy Chardy and Filippo Volandri, who he defeated in the final in straight sets. Schoorel now sits at a career high ranking of 117 in the world, about 40 points out the top 100. Among other interesting things that happened during the week was the gaping difference between the new Austrian guard (namely Andres Haider-Maurer) and the old guard (I’m talking about you, Thomas Muster!). Muster wasted yet another Italian challenger WC (losing to future Belarus star Uladimir Ignatik), while AHM made a run to the SFs, before losing to Volandri. On the other hand, Italian Wild Card Mateo Trevisan (’89, former Junior No.1) did make the most out of his opportunity, advancing to the QFs.


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