Monday, April 18, 2011

Challengers: Week 15

Last week, the challenger tour took players around the globe to 3 continents and two different surfaces. As per usual, there was a healthy mix of winning done by both members of the “young gun” class and the “blast from the past” armada. Here’s a recap of the action:

*Athens, Greece (€85,000 +H): This was one more of the countless European hard-court tournaments of the season. The draw had the presence of only 2 non-Euros (American/Filipino Treat Huey and Mexican Santiago Gonzalez), and 4 local wild cards (all of whom were defeated in the first round). No real surprises happened until Benjamin Becker (No.1) was upset by Swiss Stephane Bohli in the QF. The semis were very much expected too, as Dmitri Tursunov and Matthias Bachinger continued their great form in 2011. Both reached the final and were set to go against one another, except that the rain wasn’t planning on letting that happen without a fight. After the Sunday session was postponed, and with the forecast for Monday not looking much better, Tursunov decided to withdraw, blaiming it on a knee injury (from his official announcement on Twitter). With the “win” and the title, Bachinger took home 12,500 euros and enough points to crack the top 100 for the first time in his career.                                 

*Johannesburg 2, South Africa ($100,000 +H): As opposed to the action in Greece, this South African challenger saw a great run by the local players. Most seeds advanced throughout the draw, with the only major upset being young-gun and former junior star Greg Jones (Australia) beating ace-machine and Luxemburg’s finest Gilles Muller in a straight sets victory. It was a better than usual week for Jones, but he couldn’t get past Rik de Voest in the semis. De Voest met fellow South African Izak Van der Merwe, with the latter taking the title with a hard-fought 67 75 63 win. The 27-year old showed great form at home again (semis at Johannesburg 1 CH) and reached a career high ranking of 134.

                                          CREDIT: SATA (South African Tennis Association)

*Tallahassee, USA($50,000): This one was also another stereotypical American challenger, in which more than half the players were from the US and Canada. And as it was the case with the Greek challenger, the players that came into the tournament showing the best form were the ones lifting the silverware at the end of the week. Rainer Schuettler was the third German No.1 seed eliminated early this week (Dustin Brown in SA and Becker in Athens), paving the way for an All-American semi-final that featured the eternal young-gun (Donald Young), a former local superstar (James Blake), a challenger tour specialist (Bobby Reynolds) and a young veteran on the comeback trail (Wayne Odesnik). Donald Young put on a display of tennis and poise in beating the more experienced Blake. It is worth noting that Young bounced back after losing the second set 61, and closed the match with authority, 63. Moreover, the Illinois-native finished out the week by beating Odesnik in the final and re-entering the top-100 at the 98th spot. It is too early to tell whether Young has finally found a way to harness his immense talent, but he has already beaten Andy Murray this season as has risen about 50 ranking spots in the last 6 weeks.

*Blumenau, Brazil ($35,000 +H): This week’s Brazilian challenger was definitely a tale of 2 halves. After R1 was completed, the top and bottom of the draw could have not been any more different. At the top, No.1 seed Ricardo Mello was ousted in the first round as the Argentinean legion took over, comprising ¾ of the QF and 100% of the semi-finalists. There, Jose Acasuso, a former Davis Cup player who was once ranked 20th in the world, defeated 4  compatriots (Andres Molteni, Martin Alund, Leonardo Mayer and Diego Junqueira) to reach his first CH final since Tunis, almost a year ago. The bottom part much messier and entertaining as youngsters Javier Marti (‘92/Spain), Marcelo Demoliner (‘89/Brazil), Facundo Bagnis (‘90/Argentina) and Aljaz Bedene (’89/Slovenia) advanced. Although Bagnis and Marti were favored to advance because of their current form, fatigue kicked in and both were defeated. Demoliner continued his dream run by beating Bedene and reaching his first CH final. However, he could not match Acasuso’s talent and experience, dropping the final with a 62 62 score. Acasuso rose to 178 thanks to his victory and has his sights set on re-claiming his spot in the top 100.

                                             CREDIT: Cristiano Andujar / Divulgacao

*Rome, Italy (€30,000 +H): This challenger featured some of the best young-prospects in Europe (Ignatik, Stebe, Carreno-Busta, Klizan, Donskoy, Schoorel, Fabbiano) and likely the oldest guy on the tour (our friend and once-upon-a-time-great Thomas Muster, receiver of yet another pointless Wild Card). Although most of the youngsters were wiped out early, two of them kept fighting and landed in the final. Former Junior No. 1 Martin Klizan beat Simon Greul, top-seeded Andreas Haider-Maurer and Rabat-winner Ivo Minar to set up a meeting with Thomas Schoorel from the Netherlands. The Dutch wiped out veterans (Pashanski, A.Beck) and young guns (Carreno-Busta, Stebe) alike to set up the class of ’89 clash. At the end it was the less-heralded prospect who prevailed, as Schoorel took the title with a 75 16 63 win. Both achieved career highs this week, with Schoorel at 126 and Klizan at 153.

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