Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Challengers: Week 17

This week was challenger-heavy in North America, as both the United States and Mexico held tournaments, in counter-intuitive surfaces (clay in the US, hard in Mexico). Europe also held its token clay tourney, as the race towards Roland Garros heats up and those who couldn’t make the main draw are trying to get into rhythm for the qualifiers.

*SARASOTA, USA($75,000): This tournament was marked by the presence of most challenger-ranked American veteran players. Bogomolov, Russell, Sweeting, Odesnik, and Witten were some of the names present, along with fellow international veterans Dancevic, Soeda, G.Lapentti, Dabul, Prodon and De Voest. However, it was the most experienced and talented of them all who ended up taking home the crown. James Blake, former No.4 in the world, swept Alex Bogomolov Jr. in the final with a 62 62 beating. He did it without dropping a set, and taking down top-seed Ryan Sweeting (’87) and 4th seeded Donald Young along the way. Blake now sits at 109 in the world, and with one more favorable showing he should be able to make the main draw of Wimbledon without having to play the qualifiers. Bogomolov Jr. can still celebrate though, as the final appearance pushed him into the top 100, where he sits at 91, a career high for him. American youngster Ryan Harrison was the biggest disappointment of the tournament, as he lost to veteran Amer Delic in R1.

*OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC (€42,500): Unseeded French veteran Stephane Robert won the title defeating Hungarian qualifier Adam Kellner 61 63 in the final. ¾ of the semi-finalists were French, as Robert took down ’89-born Benoit Paire and Kellner defeated veteran 8-seed David Guez. With the SF showing, Paire entered the top 100 for the first time, checking in at No.99, which is obviously a career high. All in all it was a very solid week for French tennis, as fellow ’89-born Jonathan Eysseric (fresh off a futures title last week) advanced 2 rounds before losing to Guez. The tournament also had the presence of current ITF No.1 Jiri Vesely (CZE), who received a WC but lost to experienced German Alexander Flock. Moreover, in a matchup that will repeat itself often in a few years, former ITF No.1 Uladimir Ignatik took down No.2 seed Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 64 26 63. Ignatik went on to the QFs, eventually losing to Kellner.

 *LEON, MEXICO ($35,000 +H): American veteran Bobby Reynolds showed why he’s an expert at the challenger level by taking home a new title this week. He defeated German Andre Begemann (who played college tennis at Pepperdine University) 63 63 in the final. Reynolds was the only seeded player to advance to the SFs, where he beat the tournament’s surprise, Canadian Vasek Pospisil (’90). Thanks to the SF appearance, Pospisil moved up to 257 in the world, his career high ranking. In contrast with the American success this week, Mexico’s only players were the 4 WCs, with Manuel Sanchez (’91) advancing to R1 with a victory of countryman Fernando Larrea. Sanchez went on to lose to Rajeev Ram in R2.  

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