Challenger Circuit: Clay rehearsal for Ward and Edmund as they try to impress ahead of Davis Cup Final - UBITENNIS
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Challenger Circuit: Clay rehearsal for Ward and Edmund as they try to impress ahead of Davis Cup Final

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Can James Ward convince Leon Smith he deserves to play as the second singles player in the Davis Cup Final?

Yes the main season may be all but over, with only the Davis Cup and ATP World Tour Finals for the very top players to look forward to, but that does not mean that some very high class tennis is still going on.

 

The Challenger Circuit is a place where young players trying to climb the rankings play, old-timers trying to stay in the big-time, and even top players trying to recover ranking points after long-term injury. This week sees James Ward and Kyle Edmund try and gain some clay court action ahead of the Davis Cup Final against Belgium. Find out below where they’re playing and who they might come up against.

Events this week, selected ties, and predictions:

Bratislava, Slovakia: Lukaz Rosol is the top seed, but the draw also features the likes of veterans  Mikhail Youzhny, Radek Stepanek, and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Young players to keep a look out for: Elias Ymer, Mikael Ymer, (they’re brothers) and Andrey Rublev. Blockbuster match-up : Stepanek vs (7) E. Ymer (Wednesday)

 

Mouilleron le Captif, France: If a Grand Slam were to be played on current ranking, Benoit Paire would be seeded (23). As it is, he’s playing a Challenger in France, where he’s the top seed. In fact all eight seeds are ranked in the top 100, with Adrian Mannarino, Lucas Pouille, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and  Marcel Granollers, very familiar names. Pouille will be looking to regain points dropped in Paris. Look out for: Karen Khachanov and Maxime Hamou.

There was an early win for second seed Mannarino, as he defeated Jonathan Eysseric 6-2, 7-6. Jan Mertl and Maxime Janvier join Mannarino in Rd 2 as other opening day victors.

 

Oritesi, Italy: Just the top two seeds ranked in the Top 100 here, in Ricardas Berankis and Evgeny Donskoy, but that doesn’t make for a less intriguing tournament! Third seed Rajeev Ram is still trying to ensure direct entry into next years Australian Open, and a good result here would aid that quest. Also, see if former Top 30 player Dmitry Tursunov can make an impact as a wildcard after battling injury the last few years. Look out for: Salvatore Caruso, who is a young Italian trying to climb the rankings.

Aldin Setkic caused the first shock of the tournament, defeating the flamboyant Dustin Brown, who was the fourth seed, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. No such problems for seventh seed Mirza Basic, who progressed after three sets against Yannick Jankovits.

 

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Clay runs just about all year either on the main tour and/or the Challenger circuit. This is good news for recognisable names such as Federico Delbonis, Diego Schwartzmann, and Guido Pella, who all excel on the red stuff. The real news in Buenos Aires though, is the presence of James Ward and Kyle Edmund, both trying to impress Leon Smith to back-up Andy Murray in Belgium. Edmund is the fifth seed, and starts with a clay veteran in Andre Ghem, whilst Ward has been handed a favourable tie against lucky loser Hugo Dellien, but could face Rogerio Dutra Silva in Rd 2. Should Edmund win, his opponent is already known, as Renzo Olivo defeated Tomas Lipovsek Puches 7-5, 6-2.

Potential shock: (1) Federico Delbonis vs Gastao Elias: Elias is a tough competitor on clay, and a nightmare first round match-up for Delbonis. There may be more than 80 places between them in ranking, but Elias has won two-from-two against Delbonis in the past, including an encounter on clay.

 

Kobe, Japan: Australia and Japan dominate this draw, with John Millman and Matthew Ebden the top two seeds. I’m predicting an early-ish exit for Ebden, who’s best results have come on grass. Perhaps the quarter-finals if he faces Konstantin Kravchuk or young Aussie Omar Jasika.

Look out for: Teenagers Omar Jasika and Duckhee Lee (Lee already won his 1st Rd match convincingly 6-3, 6-1 against Japanese wildcard Sho Katayama).

Blockbuster match-up: John Millman vs Duckhee Lee Rd 2 (Wednesday)

 

Knoxville, USA: The American Challengers have scarcely seen such competitiveness in recent years, but the likes of Taylor Fritz, Stefan Kozlov Jared Donaldson, Tommy Paul, Noah Rubin, Francis Tiafoe make the likes of Ryan Harrison and Bjorn Fratangelo look like veterans in comparison. A true goldmine of potential future talent this week, and that’s without discussing seeds Malek Jaziri, and Austin Krajicek.  Potential shocks (and there are truly too many to mention here): (1) Jaziri vs Kozlov,(Jaziri lost in Rd 1 of Charlottesville last week) and (3) Smyczek vs Paul.

Look out for: Noah Rubin – flown a bit under the radar compared to the likes of Fritz and co, but leapt up more than two hundred places in the rankings last week by winning Charlottesville Challenger (def. Paul). He starts with a tough match against second see Austin Krajicek.

 

 

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Auger Aliassime overcomes slow start to beat Seppi in Washington

The Canadian looked down and out early in the match but bounced back to avenge a loss he suffered at the French Open in June.

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Second seed Felix Auger Aliassime survived a huge scare in his opening match at the Citi Open in Washington.

The Canadian was on the verge of being upset by the Italian Andreas Seppi but battled back to beat him 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 59 minutes. Blasting a total of 25 winners and nine aces in the win.

 

“In my mind, I wanted to find a way to come back. To get that early break in the second really helped me a lot and I think I served a little bit better and I put more volume and height on my shot,” said Auger-Aliassime. “I was more patient and in the first set I was missing too quickly in the rallies so digging deep physically and mentally allowed me to come back nicely in the match and to finish strong in the third set. I am happy with the way things turned around for me today”.

It was the world number 88 with the better start to the match and after both players held their opening service games he had two chances to get the early break and took a 2-1 lead. After consolidating the break, the Italian set up another breakpoint with a stunning forehand winner, broke again for a 4-1 lead, and served out the first set.

Auger-Aliassime was keen on getting back into the match and wanted to avoid a second straight upset loss to the Italian. After holding serve in the first game of the second set he had two chances to take an early lead and broke for the 2-0 lead with a forehand up the line of his very own on breakpoint. That was enough for him to serve out the second set and send the match into a decisive third set to decide the winner.

It was the Canadian who repeated what he did in the second set holding the opening service game and breaking Seppi’s serve with a sublime passing shot. The Italian responded the next game by breaking right back but failed to consolidate the break as the world number 15 broke again with his powerful backhand winner.

At 5-2, the Auger-Aliassime found himself at match point and it took him five attempts before being able to convert and seal the match. Avenging a loss he suffered at Roland Garros.

After the match in his post-match press conference, the Canadian was asked if he had the loss to Seppi at the French Open in the back of his mind during the match.

” In a way yes of course because we played once and he beat me and as a player, you never want to go down twice in a row against a player but it happens but in my case, I really wanted to find a way to win that match and get revenge just for myself to try and get the win”. he said.

Auger Aliassime will now face the winner of the second-round match between Jenson Brooksby or Frances Tiafoe in the third round.

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National Bank Open Suffers Tripple Blow As Top 10 Stars Pull Out

Canada’s most prestigious tennis event will be missing some top names in the women’s draw but organisers remain confident the tournament will still be a hit.

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The tournament director of the National Bank Open says he is ‘still counting on exceptional players’ after a series of high-profile names pulled out of the women’s draw in Montreal.

 

Naomi Osaka and Iga Swiatek have pulled out of the event after competing in the Olympic Games. Osaka, who lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, lost to Marketa Vonmdrousova in the third round. Meanwhile, Swiatek fell in the second round to Spain’s Paula Badosa.

“I am sorry to be missing out on Montréal this year,” said Osaka who reached the quarter-finals in 2019. “Sending my best to all the fans there, the tournament and the staff. I hope to see you all in Canada next year.”

Former French Open champion Swiatek said her decision to not play in Canada is because she wants to have a break after an ‘intense’ first half of the season. So far this year the world No.8 has won 28 out of 35 matches played, winning two titles in Rome and Adelaide. She has played at the Canadian event only once in her career which was two years ago when she reached the third round as a qualifier before losing to Osaka.

“I am very sorry but this year I will not be able to play in Montréal,” said Swiatek. “The first part of the season was so intense that I need a couple of days off to rest and prepare for the next few months. I’m looking forward to playing in Canada in 2022.”

Sofia Kenin completes the trio of withdrawals from the WTA 1000 event. The American is still recovering from a foot injury that has sidelined her from the Tour since Wimbledon.

“I’m really disappointed to withdraw from the event in Montréal next week,” said Kenin. “While I’m making progress, my foot injury is not where I need it to be to play at the highest level. I feel another week of recovery and rehab is necessary. I want to thank Tennis Canada for all its efforts in holding the event during such challenging times. Best of luck to all the players.”

Commonly known as the Canadian Open, both a men’s and women’s event are held during the same week but in different locations. This year the women will be playing in Montreal and men in Toronto. Each year they alternate between the two cities. Last year’s edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tournament director Eugène Lapierre is confident this year’s women’s draw will still live up to expectations despite the absence of some top names.

“We are still counting on exceptional players in the draw, including the 2019 champion, our very own Bianca Andreescu, as well as World No.3 Aryna Sabalenka and two-time National Bank Open champion Simona Halep. Fans should expect a few surprises because the draw has so much depth. Anything is possible, and that means some exciting tennis is in store!” He said.

Sabalenka will be the top seed in the women’s draw. The main draw will start on Monday.

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Vasek Pospisil survives scare at Citi Open

The Canadian battled back from a set down in what was a tricky opening encounter.

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Vasek Pospisil was pushed to limits by qualifier Emilio Gomez in his opening match at the Citi Open.

The Canadian required three sets to beat the Ecuadorian qualifier 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 after two hours and 11 minutes of play. He hit a total of 10 aces en route to the second round.

 

” It’s always good to get through a tough one and I felt dialed in during the second set,” said Pospisil. “I was a little bit distracted during the first set but I am glad to get match play and getting the win is important so I am happy I got it done”.

The first three games of the opener went on serve and at 2-1 the Canadian had three chances to take an early break but the world number 165 saved all three and held serve. At 3-3, Pospisil played a poor service game and Gomez took full advantage by breaking him at love. That one break of serve was enough for him to serve out the first set.

The Canadian was determined to stay alive in the second and broke the Ecuadorian early to take a 2-0 lead and managed to turn it into a double break for a commanding 4-0 lead. Gomez got one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the world number 61 would serve out the second set to force a decider.

The third set started with three breaks of serve but it was the Canadian that was finally able to hold serve and consolidate a break. That break was enough for him to serve out the match and complete the comeback.

Pospisil will next face the young American Sebastien Korda in the third round who is the 12th seed this week in the American capital.

” It’s going to be a tough one because he is playing some great tennis this year and he is an up and comer and a great player,” he said of Korda. “I will have to play really well to win that one because he is a dangerous player so I will have to serve well and return well”.

Other results

It was a busy day one at the Citi Open being held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC with some thrilling matches. Kei Nishikori beat Sam Querrey in straight sets 6-4, 6-3 and Marcus Giron pulled a three-set comeback against Ilya Marchenko 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.

In the battle of the Belorussians, Ilya Ivashka beat Egor Gerasimov in straight sets 7-5, 6-4. Meanwhile, Jenson Brooksby avenged a loss to the South African Kevin Anderson by beating him in straight sets 7-5, 6-3.

Andreas Seppi needed three sets to dispatch Yasutka Uchiyama of Japan 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, Ricardas Berankis beat the American qualifier Mitchell Kreuger in straight sets 7-6, 6-2, and Daniel Elahi Galan beat another American Tommy Paul in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.

Finally, in the last match of the day an American favourite, Jack Sock advanced to round two after his Japanese opponent Yoshito Nishioka was forced to retire due to injury during their match.

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