Five things to look forward to on the Challenger Tour in 2017
With the 2017 season little more than a week from starting, I preview five things that could make the 2017 Challenger Tour almost as enticing a prospect as the ATP Tour.
1. Casper Ruud. The young Norwegian made headlines when he won the Seville Challenger by defeating a number of clay veterans and Top 100 players. Still just eighteen, Ruud is likely an prospect that many ATP tournaments would be pleased to offer a wildcard to boost interest in young talents. Despite this, Ruud will likely look again to the Challenger circuit to solidify a consistent rise up the rankings. Given the wide availability of clay Challengers through most of the year, as clay is the young Norwegian’s best surface to date, we can expect to see a lot of Casper Ruud in the Challengers in 2017.
2. Familiar dominance. Is there is one thing that the Challengers have been able to offer over the last few years, it is the success and consistency of a few select names. Dudi Sela and Yen Hsun Lu are to the Challenger Tour what the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are to the ATP Tour. With more than forty career Challenger titles to date, Lu and Sela can be expected to continue their Challenger dominance in 2017 after both won titles in 2016.
3. Veteran players. With Tommy Haas claiming he is ready for a final comeback attempt under the watchful eye of Marcelo Rios, and with the likes of Mikhail Youzhny, Tommy Robredo, and Janko Tipsarevic filling out Challenger draws regularly in 2016, you could almost have a draw with ten former top ten players. Such is the level of Challenger play in the current age. Slightly younger veterans who have perhaps started to decline including the likes of Marcel Granollers, and Jeremy Chardy could find themselves more regularly participating in Challenger draws. It could be that high profile players such as Phillipp Kohlschreiber who endured an indifferent 2017 could find themselves playing in Challengers more often.
4. Surprising comebacks. Who would have thought that Florian Mayer would finish the year ranked at no.50 after such hard injury troubles? Almost no one. Yet the German veteran took the tour by storm, playing in Challengers and winning the Halle Open by shocking young German Alexander Zverev in the final. The Challenger circuit is often the first port of call for any player attempting a comeback from long-term injury. Often we do not know which player it will be until they announce it or their name appears in the draw, but it is always exciting to see well-known players make their first competitive steps in a comeback.
5. Graduation. Taylor Fritz, Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev. These are names that have largely moved on from the Challenger circuit (though I suspect we may see Taylor Fritz appear in a few to start the year). It is not a sad feeling seeing these youngsters move up. On the contrary, the Challenger circuit should welcome it. These players are testament to the usefulness and importance of the Challengers as a valuable stepping-stone in a player’s professional progression.Such is the nature of tennis that these and the likes of Frances Tiafoe and Hyeon Chung, who will hope to graduate in 2017, will always be replaced by other top young stars looking to make an impact. Casper Ruud is already featured here, but the likes of Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger Aliassime, and Alex de Minaur are just a few names that we might see more prevalent in the 2017 class.
Dominic Thiem To Return At Marbella Challenger, Joins Wawrinka In Stacked Field
Dominic Thiem will be joining Stan Wawrinka in making his return to action at the Marbella challenger next week.
Dominic Thiem will finally make his return to the ATP tour at the Marbella challenger next week.
The Austrian hasn’t played a tennis match since retiring at the grass court event in Mallorca last June due to a wrist injury.
Despite being scheduled to play at the Australian Open and at the Indian Wells-Miami swing, Thiem had to postpone his return as he wasn’t quite ready to compete in matches.
However now Thiem has decided to return as he will begin his clay court swing next week at the Marbella Challenger.
The former Roland Garros finalist took to Instagram to announce the news as he looks to climb back up the rankings.
The world number 50 will face tough competition with former Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka also making his comeback at the event in Spain next week.
At the blockbuster event there will also be the likes of Holger Rune, Pablo Cuevas, Jaume Munar and Lucas Pouille competing.
The winner of the event will receive 125 ranking points but much more importantly for Thiem and Wawrinka much needed match practice ahead of a busy European clay-court swing.
Thiem will be the top seed while Wawrinka will be unseeded with their being a possibility of the two heavyweights meeting in the opening round.
Play will start on Monday with Jaume Munar being the defending champion.
Roberto Bautista Agut reaches his second career final in Doha
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.
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
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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