Battle for Australian wildcard continues in Knoxville Challenger, Dan Evans the top seed - UBITENNIS
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Battle for Australian wildcard continues in Knoxville Challenger, Dan Evans the top seed

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Dan Evans may be the top seed, but it is the Americans who are most under the microscope this week (Image via Zimbio.com)

All American players in Knoxville will have an extra incentive to do well in this the second of three American Challengers that count towards the USTA Australian Open Wildcard race. The wildcard is awarded to the American who performs the best over the Charlottesville, Knoxville and Champaign events, with Reilly Opelka in pole position following his Charlottesville title.

 

That being said, there is still plenty at stake for the non-Americans. No one knows that better than top seed Dan Evans, who performed superbly in these events last year that helped him set up a terrific 2016 that has seen him take a place as a Top 100 player for the first time. He starts against the unpredictable Mitchell Kreuger, after Krueger returns to the American Challengers following an unsuccessful spell in the Australian events.

Evans section is littered with other potential pitfalls including Krueger. Peter Polansky’s return to form has seen him become a dangerous opponent at this level and he could meet Evans in the second round. Mackenzie McDonald is also in Evans section and the Charlottesville semi-finalist will need to beat Evans to replicate or improve upon that run in Knoxville. McDonald,a NCAA titlist is quickly climbing the rankings after winning the 2016 singles and doubles crowns.

Two out-of-form Americans complete the top section, Denis Kudla and Dennis Novikov are both desperately in need of a win to kick-start their late season form but one of them is guaranteed and early departure in Knoxville.

Jared Donaldson has the opportunity to take revenge against Henri Laaksonen if they both reach the quarter-finals. Donaldson went down to Laaksonen 7-5, 6-3 in the Charlottesville quarter-finals last week.

Last week’s Charlottesville winner Reilly Opelka is unseeded in Knoxville and a potential encounter with Stefan Kozlov in the second round waits if they beat Tennys Sandgren and Sam Barry respectively. Bjorn Fratangelo and Sam Groth also feature in Kozlov’s quarter.

The bottom quarter is almost completely American with only Brydan Klein and an undetermined qualifier not hailing from the USA. Tim Smyczek and Frances Tiafoe will be looking for strong weeks to boost their wildcard chances. Brian Baker and Michael Mmoh represent tough opposition in the quarter.

ATP Challenger

Roberto Bautista Agut reaches his second career final in Doha

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Roberto Bautista Agut reached the second final of his career at the Qatar Exxon Mobil with a 6-3 6-3 win over defending champion Andrey Rublev. 

 

Bautista Agut broke serve in the fourth game with a forehand winner to open up a 3-1 lead and held on his next service games to close out the first set 6-3 after 29 minutes. 

The Spaniard started the second set with an early break. Rublev broke straight back in the second game and won his next two service games to take a 3-2 lead. Bautista Agut saved two break points to hold serve before getting two consecutive breaks to claim the second set 6-3. 

Rublev was playing his first match this week after two walkovers. The Russian player claimed the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam last week. 

“It was very difficult to play tennis today, with the windy conditions, but I put a lot of pressure on his second serve and played really good tennis. I played a long match yesterday against Dominic Thiem, but I felt fresh and I had a lot of power on the court. This is one of my favourite tournaments. I played one of my best matches here in Qatar two years ago, and I hope I can win one more match tomorrow”, said Bautista Agut.

Bautista Agut set up a final against Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat Taylor Fritz 7-6 (7-3) 6-1. 

Basilashvili, who beat Roger Federer in the quarter final, rallied from one break down to win the tie-break of the first set 7-3. The Georgian player broke twice in the second and sixth games to close out the second set 6-1.  “To reach the final means a lot. I am playing well and I am relaxed. It’s great to play in front of a crowd and a nice atmosphere”, said Basilshvili. 

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ATP Challenger

Andy Murray defeated in the final of the Biella Challenger

The former world number was runner-up to the Ukrainian Ilya Marchenko. Both will feature in next week’s event in the same location

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Andy Murray - ATP Challenger Biella 2021 (Credit: Felice Calabrò)

Andy Murray suffered a surprising defeat in the final of this week’s tournament in Biella. Playing his second Challenger event in 16 years (the other one occurred in Mallorca in 2019 when, limping on a battered hip, he lost against Matteo Viola in the eighth of finals). Before today’s runner-up finish, he had played twice against his opponent, Illya Marchenko from Ukraine (N.212 in the ATP Rankings), both times at the Australian Open, in 2011 and 2017 respectively, winning both times.

 

But it was the Ukrainian who got off to a flying start, while the Scotsman looked a bit cumbersome and immediately lost his serve, giving a nice boost of confidence to his opponent, who broke his serve once more in the fifth game, taking a 4-1 lead. Murray couldn’t control his changes of pace, while Marchenko was pretty much spotless. The 6-2 score in his favour was the logical consequence, as confirmed by the numbers, which saw him win 83% of points on his first serve (against a meagre 53% for Murray), with no break points allowed.

In the first game of the second set, Marchenko immediately leapt ahead, breaking the Brit’s serve and even earning a chance for a 3-0 lead. Murray managed to stay close and started to play in a more conservative way, with great humility, in an attempt to reduce the number of unforced errors. Murray saved a match point at 3-5 with his second serve, exploiting Marchenko’s clumsiness with the backhand, but couldn’t do the same on the return, conceding defeat at the third match point. must defend with the second. Luckily for him, Marchenko is a bit clumsy in his preparation steps and puts up a not particularly difficult backhand. The former world number one will try to exact revenge in the same location starting tomorrow, as a Challenger 125 will take place once more in Biella, with players like Lorenzo Musetti (the seventh seed), Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ATP N.54) and Sebastian Korda (N.88).

Report by Massimo Gaiba; edited by Tommaso Villa

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ATP Challenger

ATP announces five-week ATP Challenger calendar for 2021

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The ATP has issued a five-week schedule for the start of the 2021 ATP Challenger Tour, which is scheduled to launch on 18th January with a 125-event in Istanbul. The Turkish city celebrates its 31st consecutive year on the Challenger Tour.

 

Turkey will host three consecutive tournaments at the start of the season. Istanbul will host a hard court tournament from 18th January. The tour will move to the seaside town of Antalya, the venue of two clay tournaments on 25th January 2021 and 1st February 2021. 

The week of 25 Januray will be the first of back-to-back Challenger events in Antalya and an indoor hard-court tournament in the French town of Quimper. 

France will host two more indoor tournaments, the 125-level tournament in Orleans (1 February) and the 28th edition of Cherbourg (8 February). 

Cherbourg will be held in the same week as hard-court tournaments in Biella in Italy and Potchefstroom in South Africa. Biella will also host a 125-level tournament in the following week on 15 February. Potchefstroom will host a second consecutive tournament on 15 February. Challenger-level tournaments will feature 32 singles players and qualifying draws with 16 players. 

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