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.
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
ATP announces five-week ATP Challenger calendar for 2021
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.
Stefanos Tsitsipas cruises past Kevin Anderson to reach the third round at the Western and Southern Open in New York
Last year’s ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas cruised past two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson 6-1 6-3 after 69 minutes to advance to the third round at the Western and Southern Open in New York.
Tsitsipas came into his match against Anderson with a a 2-1 lead in their three previous head-to-head matches in 2018. The young Greek player beat his South African rival in the Round of 16 in Estoril (6-7 6-3 6-3) and in the Rogers Cup semifinal (6-7 6-4 7-6 after saving a match point). Anderson scored his only win in the Round of 16 in Shanghai (6-4 7-6).
“I think the fact that I kept my serve very aggressive and I remained aggressive with my groundstrokes helped a lot and I am pleased that I was able to maintain my game throughout the entire match, the same intensity. It was an excellent first set. It was great”, said Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas broke four times and fended off three break points he faced. Tsitsipas broke three times in a row to win the first set 6-1. At 2-2 in the second set Tsitsipas went down 0-40 on his serve. Anderson hit a forehand return, but Tsitsipas recovered with a passing shot. Tsitsipas saved three break points to hold his serve at love in the fifth game and broke serve at 15 in the eighth game after Anderson made a double fault.
“The fifth game was crucial. Being able to come back there and maintain the focus that I focus that I needed to be back in the match and not be a break down, that was a very good effort from me. It was my fighting spirit that turned on and my service points there were incredible”, said Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas will face either John Isner or John Millman in the third round.
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