Monday, April 11, 2011

Challengers: Week 14

Challenger tennis action last week happened in Colombia, Brazil and Italy. All 3 tournaments had compelling stories, ranging from over-the-hill veterans on the comeback trail, to one of tennis’ future superstars making his first great run, to young veterans of the challenger tour making earning results that inched them closer to the “promised land”.

***The Brazilian tournament happened in Recife, and at first glance one can note that the cut-off was very low, meaning that players that usually can’t make the main draw had a chance at some serious points and ranking-improvement. This is very weird from a supply and demand point of view, especially with the shortage of challengers in South America and the incredible abundance of talent throughout the continent. The explanation can be found in the fact that the tournament was played on a hard surface, and that another challenger occurred a few miles north on neighboring Colombia. And since the Colombian challenger offered more price money, points and a friendlier surface (clay), most of the players within the ranking range decided to opt for the land of coffee (?).

With that said, the field in Recife was more than half filled by local players (17 to be exact), in what turned out to be almost an all-star display of the future of Brazilian tennis. Wild cards were awarded to Bruno Sant’Anna (’93), Tiago Fernandez (’93), Guilherme Clezar (’92) and Augusto Laranja (’92). Other young guns included Brazilians Fernando Romboli, Jose Pereira, Tiago Slonik and Daniel Silva, along with Tsung-Hua Yang, Gastao Elias, Facundo Arguello, Ilya Belyaev and half-Brazilian (and half-Swedish) Christian Lindell. The field also displayed a few wily veterans (Japan’s Ito, Ecuador’s Lapentti and Switzerland’s Chiudinelli, the top 3 seeds).

Experience prevailed as Ito, Lapentti and Julio Silva all made the semi-finals. However, the fourth one was a happy surprise for the locals, as 18 year old Tiago Fernandez advanced thanks to a favorable draw. He took down Tiago Lopez, Bruno Sant’Anna and Guilherme Clezar, before shocking Julio Silva and advancing to a final that he couldn’t play because of fatigue and back pain. He still was awarded 48 points which vaulted him to 380 in the world, obviously a career high and a very impressive placement considering his age. Meanwhile, Japan’s 22-year old Tatsuma Ito won his second challenger in Brazil in less than a year, and moves closer to the door step of the big guns, sitting at 135 in the world.

***Meanwhile, the Colombian city of Pereira hosted a challenger of their own, which featured most of the remaining top guns of the continent, and the token European clay-court veteran trying to make a run. The draw again was very interesting from a young-guns viewpoint. Argentineans Facundo Bagnis (fresh of a title in Barranquilla), Marco Trungelliti and Andres Molteni were present, along with Spain’s Javier Marti, locals Eduardo Struvay and Juan Sebastian Cabal and Brazil’s Joao Souza.

Once again experience trumped youth, and Paolo Lorenzi of Italy took the title beating Rogerio Dutra Da Silva of Brazil. However, Javier Marti of Spain made his first challenger semi-final and took Dutra Da Silva to 3 sets before losing 16 62 75. It’s also worth mentioning that Argentina’s Marco Trungelliti came all the way from the qualys to beat Leandro Mayer and Victor Estrella, before losing to Juan Sebastian Cabal.  This led 1990-born Trungelliti to his career high ranking of 357.

***Finally Monza hosted yet another Italian challenger, once again played on clay. Not many young players in this tournament to talk about, except maybe for Federico Delbonis (Argentina), Evgeny Donskoy (Russia) and the up and coming Kenny De Schepper of France. 3 Germans made the semi-finals (Andreas Beck, Julian Reister and Simon Greul) along with Italian veteran Alessio Di Mauro. Reister took the title, winning 63 on the third against the Italian, and jumping to a career high ranking of 100 in the world. The 25 year old was having a very sub-par year for a player of his ranking, but the win in Italian soil got him over the hill and into a club that includes dudes like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Congrutalations to him!

To wrap this up, there has to be a mention to Thomas Muster, who somehow keeps getting WCs into the Italian challengers, even though he can’t seem to win a set against his younger counterparts. It’s always fun to see a blast from the past like that, but if the results are not what you want, then I think it’s time to abort the mission and run back into retirement. Come on Muster, stop wasting people’s time and precious wild cards. Hey, here’s an idea for a change. Give your wild cards to Dominik Thiem, the future tennis star of your country. Just saying…

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