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Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! As a tribute to this special holiday, I’ve turned the Challenger Tennis site green. I do hope you like it.

So let’s have a look at Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 63 others lost points
Kenny de Schepper FRA 26 66 others lost points
Jiri Vesely CZE 20 73 Indian Wells R3
Alexandr Nedovyesov KAZ 27 78 others lost points
Dominic Thiem AUT 20 86 Indian Wells R3
Dusan Lajovic SRB 23 89 Indian Wells Q
Norbert Gombos SVK 23 164 Kazan QF
Farrukh Dustov UZB 27 166 Kazan SF
Albano Olivetti FRA 22 173 Kazan QF
John-Patrick Smith AUS 25 198 IW Q/Irving FQR
Andrea Collarini ARG 22 205 others lost points
David Souto VEN 21 214 others lost points
Lorenzo Giustino ITA 22 215 Spain F4 SF/F5 F
Ante Pavic CRO 25 229 others lost points
Kimmer Coppejans BEL 20 232 Turkey F5 QF/F6 F
Jarmere Jenkins USA 23 235 others lost points
Axel Michon FRA 23 238 Kazan R2
Jose Checa-Calvo ESP 28 239 others lost points
Daniel Cox GBR 23 243 GBR F6 QF
Emilio Gomez ECU 22 249 others lost points
Juan Ignacio Londero ARG 20 253 others lost points
Saketh Myneni IND 26 258 India F2 W
Daniel Smethurst GBR 23 270 Canada F1 W

The ultra-observant will notice that, in some cases, two different results appear on the “Why” axis of this week’s table. That’s because the ATP 1000 Native American Wells event runs two weeks* and so a double dose of results is accounted for in the ATP’s current rankings totals.

You also may have noted that a pair of 20-year-olds made semi-deep dips into the Wells this past week**. The Vessel, Jiri Vesely, put a scare into Andy Murray before succumbing in three sets in the third round, while The Denominator Dominic Thiem went out a trifle more meekly in R3 to Julian Benneteau.  All in all, a good and full-of-fruit two weeks for both, since they also got diplomas from ATP University yesterday.

ATP University Scholars

ATP University Scholars (back row, L to R: Bradley Klahn, Alejandro Gonzalez, Thomas Fabbiano, Alexandr Nedovyesov, Marcelo Demoliner, Marton Fucsovics, Jiri Vesely. Front row, L to R: Guillaume Rufin, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Guilherme Clezar, Dominic Thiem)

In interesting news of the more aged, 27-year-old father-of-three Farrukh Dustov has made a helluvan effort to push past a previous career high that was established nearly seven years ago in April of 2007. The 6’4” (193 cm) Uzbek with the booming serve has been hampered by injuries for the past three years, but is up nine spots to a new career high as a result of his Kazan Challenger semifinal showing.

Dust Storms His Way Into Three Straight Semis

Dust Storms His Way Into Three Straight Semis

After a two-loss start to 2014, Dustov has been the picture of consistency, reaching the semis of Astana, Cherbourg and Kazan in his last three tourneys. The 11-year pro still has his sights set on the Top 100, and at #166 is now one of the few Top 200 players whose professional ranking has eclipsed his ITF junior high mark.

One of the guys who has a two-week tally of results is JP Smith. The 25-year-old Aussie and former University of Tennessee standout had a good couple of qualifying weeks in Palm Springs and Irving — although he failed to capitalize on being up a break twice in the deciding set of his FQR match vs. Jimmy Wang in Irving — and thus finds himself up 21 spots in the rankings, breaking into the Top 200 for the very first time in his career.

JP Smith (photo courtesy of Aceland Tennis)

JP Smith (photo courtesy of Aceland Tennis)

Another rankings fortnight is now upon us, as the ATP 1000 Masters event in Miami gets underway today and takes us through the next 13 days, during which time the Rimouski, Panama City, Barranquilla and Guadalajara Challengers will also take place (as well as a zillion or so Futures events).

So we’ll see you again on the 31st of March with another stunning edition of the W.A.T.C.H. List.***

*really a week and 5/7ths

**In which case, bully for you.

***And maybe even publish another article or two before then. But no promises.

Another week, another W.A.T.C.H. List. So let’s see Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 64 others lost points
Kenny de Schepper FRA 26 67 Cherbourg W
Aleksandr Nedovyesov KAZ 27 79 others lost points
Dustin Brown GER 29 89 Cherbourg QF
Victor Estrella DOM 33 99 Salinas W
Blaz Rola SLO 23 128 Guangzhou W
Norbert Gombos SVK 23 166 Cherbourg F
Lucas Pouille FRA 20 173 Cherbourg QF
Andrea Arnaboldi ITA 26 177 others lost points
Albano Olivetti FRA 22 179 Cherbourg QF
Andrea Collarini ARG 22 207 Salinas F
Jarmere Jenkins USA 23 241 Australia F1 W
Emilio Gomez ECU 22 254 Salinas SF
Juan Ignacio Londero ARG 20 257 Salinas QF
Yasutaka Uchiyama JPN 21 273 Australia F1 SF
Jose Pereira BRA 23 277 Salinas QF
Borna Coric CRO 17 289 Croatia F2 SF
Andres Artunedo Martinavarro ESP 20 293 Portugal F3 W
Dennis Novak AUT 20 303 Egypt F6 W
Daniel Smethurst GBR 23 305 Great Britian F5 W

I do enjoy it when all the week’s CHamps make the List. It hardly ever works out that way, but all three of this past week’s events — the €64,000 Cherbourg Challenger, the $50,000 Guangzhou Challenger and the $40,ooo Salinas Challenger – have titlists on a career ascendancy.

Which is especially impressive in the case of 33-year-old Victor Estrella, who has had a breakout month after kicking around the Top 300 for the past six years or so, reaching the Top 100 for the first time and becoming the first Dominican Republican* to do so.

Sweet Victor-y (photo via naciondeporiva.com)

Sweet Victor-y (photo via Michael Monegro at naciondeporiva.com)

In Estrella’s past month he’s gone 12/2 at the challenger level, getting progressively better at each tourney. He made the semis in Dallas (losing to Steve Johnson) and the finals in Morelos (l. Gerald Melzer) before finally taking the Salinas title last week, increasing his ranking 38 spots from No. 137 on the 3rd of February exactly one month ago.

Meanwhile, Blaz Rola, more commonly known as my fifth Player to Watch for 2014, rebounded from a tough Indian Swing with a new coach — during which he went 2/3 at Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi – by grabbing the Guangzhou trophy. The 23-year-old Slovenian, by way of THE Ohio State University, continues to cut a swath through the rankings table, having begun the year at No. 185.

Rola Rocks His Way to the Guangzhou Title (d. Yuichi Sugita)

Rola Rocks His Way to the Guangzhou Title (d. Yuichi Sugita)

Cherbourg champ Kenny de Schepper has also come a long way from the days when we (sort of) watched him in the finals of the 2011 Great Britain F1 Futures event.

The Schepper in His Scotstoun Days - Head And Schoulders Above the Rest

The Schepper in His Scotstoun Days – Head And Schoulders Above the Rest

His win lifts the 6′ 8” (203 cm) lefty 17 spots in this week’s rankings, tying a Career High set September of last year.

Not to be overlooked is the man de Schepper vanquished in the final:

Norbert! Gombos!

Norbert! Gombos!

Because: Norbert Gombos!

Lastly, I don’t want to overlook the efforts of the last man on today’s table, Mr. Daniel Smethurst, as he’s had a truly tremendous 2014 campaign thus far. The 23-year-old Brit has gone 22/3 this season, making the finals of all 5 events he’s entered in 2014 and taking two titles.

So Good It Hurst

So Good It Hurst

I’ve been a Smethurst advocate since I saw him in worldbeater mode at the 2011 USA F2 Futures in Tamarac, FL, against another Challenger Tennis fave, Marcos Giron. At the time, I wrote: “I can’t really see how he’s not a Top 250 player already. He’s certainly got the ability.”**

Well, he’s now on his way.  Clearly ready to make the jump to the next level, he’s already proved his worth at challies, most recently with a singles semifinalist showing at the Champaign Challenger this past November. Can’t wait to see how he does from here.

*or Democrat, for that matter. /obvious joke that I’ve made before

**double negatives FTW!

Hola, Challenger Tennis fans! Apologies for the lateness of this week’s List, but I’ve been having some health challenges lately that have rendered writing sub-optimal of late. I have so many articles planned (and a couple half-written already), so please bear with me and hopefully this blog will bear more fruit sometime soon.

In the meantime, let’s have a look at Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week, shall we?**

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 65 others lost points
Aleksandr Nedovyesov KAZ 27 81 New Delhi F
Dusan Lajovic SRB 23 89 ATP 500 Rio Q/R2
Facundo Bagnis ARG 23 112 ATP 500 Rio Q/R2
Victor Estrella DOM 33 118 Morelos F
Blaz Rola SLO 23 151 New Delhi R2
Gerald Melzer AUT 23 153 Morelos W
Radu Albot MDA 24 160 New Delhi QF
Lucas Pouille FRA 20 184 New Delhi QF
Daniel Cox GBR 23 243 New Delhi Q
Adrian Sikora SVK 25 275 others lost points
Kyle Edmund GBR 19 276 Croatia F1 W
Emilio Gomez ECU 22 290 others lost points
Gabriel Alejandro Hidalgo ARG 23 314 Argentina F3 W
Dennis Novak AUT 20 332 Egypt F5 W
Nicolas Meister USA 24 339 Morelos QF
Oliver Golding GBR 20 354 Portugal F2 SF
Jason Jung USA 24 355 Morelos R2
Alexey Vatutin RUS 21 378 Astana Q
Markus Eriksson SWE 24 393 Spain F2 SF
Stanislav Vovk RUS 23 409 Portugal F2 W

The first player I’d like to talk about is Gerald Melzer, who is one of five 23-year-olds in the Top Seven of this week’s List (in addition to the amazing Victor Estrella, who is Achieving Career Highs a decade further into his career than all these whippersnappers, and Aleksandr Nedovyesov, who is 23 anyway per the Colette Lewis Collegiate Clause of 2014***).

He is also the younger brother of Jurgen Melzer, of course. And since Gerald is +42 in this week’s rankings while his older bro dropped two spots — in addition to the fact that Jojo has been sidelined with a shoulder injury and has yet to play in 2014 (he signed up to play in Acapulco but withdrew, and last played on the 9th of October, 2013) — I’m wondering when/if sometime in the future the Minimelz eclipses Melz the Maxi in the rankings.

"Yo, Bro, if you pass me in the rankings I'll shove this ball down your throat."

“Yo, Bro, if you pass me in the rankings I’ll shove this ball down your throat.” – /expert lip reading

So much so that I’m making it a contest. That’s right: either in the comments here or on Twitter, give me the exact date upon which you think Gerald will overtake Jurgen in the rankings (or “never” if you don’t think it’ll ever happen). The person who ends up having the best/nearest guess will get to choose my Twitter avatar that week.

What a prize! What a contest! So get to guessing.

Speaking of Austrian tennis… Dennis Novak, the forgotten (or heretofore unknown) Günter Bresnik-coached cog of the Gulbis-Thiem-Dubarenco machine, took the fourth Futures title of his career at the Sharm El Sheikh event and proclaimed himself “super happy”. He’s is now 3 ranking spots ahead of Dubarenco, so remember him!

The Number Two Novak Accepts His Bounty

Tennis’s Number Two Novak Accepts His Bounty

Novak also won Egypt F6 (SPOILER ALERT), so will be on next week’s List as well.  Oh, and if you’re confused by all of tennis’s Dennises, I wrote this oh-so-handy field guide so that you will no longer be baffled by the difference between Dennis Novak, Dennis Novikov and Dennis Nevolo. You’re welcome.

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Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part III)

Since my esteemed Players to View series was rudely interrupted by the weekend, just as it was picking up some e-steam, I’m hoping that I can quickly get back up to speed by profiling a couple of speedsters today.

No Relation To Alejandro or Santi, Who Spell Their Surnames G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z

No Relation To Alejandro or Santi, Who Spell Their Surnames G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z

You know, for all our talk in tennis about forehands, backhands and volleys, the game is mostly about movement. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your shots are if you can’t get to the ball first.

When I first started getting serious about the sport, both from a playing and viewing perspective, I was obsessed with shotmaking. But these days, there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a fleet-footed player glide and/or scrap his way around the court.

The two guys I’m profiling today are very similar players — not just fast, but fit, athletic and agile. Both righties in their early 20s, currently ranked in the mid-200s, they can crank serves and forehands (albeit a tad inconsistently) and are somewhat steady and even occasionally transitional with their double-handers.  Once they figure out how to be more imposing and less defensive off the ground, they’ll start to have some very solid results, I believe.

Until such time as they become ATP Tour-level regulars, treat yourself to watching them motor around the court on the HD livestreams. There’s hardly anyone better to watch at the challenger level, movementally. Also, if you play the game yourself, you’ll find a lot that you can ingest and incorporate into your own play.

Ben Mitchell

I’ve been watching Ben buzz about the baseline since late 2009, when he’d just turned 17 and was playing the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs. Shortly thereafter he made the Wimbledon Boys final as a qualifier, losing to Marton Fucsovics. I then got to see him blazing to the Bendigo Futures final in 2010, where he lost to Player to View Number OneSam Groth.

I won’t bore you with all his results since then, but he’s somewhat stagnated after a blistering 60/20 first-year-as-a-pro season as an 18-year-old in 2011, during which he won four Futures titles and rose almost 400 spots in the rankings to No. 214.

Ben Mitchell All Smiles

Now 21, he currently sits at #250, which — while no longer precocious — is still good enough for Top 20 in his age group. He’s weathered a nine-match losing streak in 2012 and a six-match loss streak in 2013 to steady himself and start to get some decent results again.

But however unbalanced his recent results may have been, Ben is hardly ever off balance during a rally, keeping a wide base and bent knees as he careens about the court, his center of gravity low and constant as he seamlessly shifts between big and small steps, posture upright throughout.

Though hardly ideal, this YouTube vid shows a little of what I’m talking about with regard to his fluid footwork:

Another video of somewhat dodgy quality, but this is a very good match Ben played recently against countryman Luke Saville:

If you do nothing else, go to 17:30 in the above vid and watch the scrambling Mitch does in the far court.

The next chance to watch Ben will be at the Guangzhou Challenger next week.

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This week’s W.A.T.C.H. List is pretty damn diversified, with players earning their points from ATP 500s and 250s all the way down to 10K Futures level. Something for everyone. My kind of List.

Interested? Well, then. Look below to see Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 66 others lost points
Jiri Vesely CZE 20 77 ATP 250 Memphis R2
Aleksandr Nedovyesov KAZ 27 92 Kolkata SF
Dominic Thiem AUT 20 99 ATP 500 Rotterdam Q/R16
Pierre Hugues-Herbert FRA 22 134 Quimper W
Yuki Bhambri IND 21 143 Kolkata R2
Blaz Rola SLO 23 152 others lost points
Hiroki Moriya JPN 23 166 others lost points
Marton Fucsovics HUN 22 173 Bergamo QF
Andrea Arnaboldi ITA 26 180 Bergamo SF
Albano Olivetti FRA 22 194 Quimper QF
Lorenzo Giustino ITA 22 223 Bergamo R2
Daniel Cox GBR 23 244 Kolkata R2
Adrian Sikora SVK 25 277 ATP 500 Rotterdam QR2
Jose Pereira BRA 23 298 Egypt F4 F
Stefano Travaglia ITA 22 305 Egypt F4 W
Gabriel Alejandro Hidalgo ARG 23 338 Argentina F2 F
Oliver Golding GBR 20 362 Portugal F1 W
Ivan Arenas-Gualda ESP 23 377 Portugal F1 SF
Federico Coria ARG 21 386 Argentina F2 SF

Though it’s usually not in my harsh and uncompromising nature to feature “others-point-losers” in these here below-the-table write-ups, I just want to point out that out of the last 15 W.A.T.C.H. Lists, Mr. Bradley Klahn has been on 8 of them.

And only twice because others lost points. Traralgon Challenger finalist, Yeongwol Challenger winner, Yokohama Challenger semifinalist, Maui Challenger titlist, West Lakes Challenger champ — what an amazing four months it’s been for the former three-time Stanford All-American.

The Bradth of Klahn - Bradley with the West Lakes Trophy

The Bradth of Klahn – Bradley with the West Lakes Trophy

Klahn now is firmly entrenched as the American #3 and is now only 69 ATPoints behind Sam Querrey for the #2 spot. He’s also advancing at such a consistent rate that he may soon be an ATP Tour-level player only, meaning he’ll no longer have a place on this site. *sniffle*

And third on this week’s List is another three-time All-American, this time from Oklahoma State, Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan (formerly Oleksandr Nedovyesov of the Ukraine, before he succumbed to the Kazakh Tennis Relocation Program), who was cold-cocked in the Kolkata Challenger semifinals by the Serbian lumberjack, Ilija Bozoljac.

Nedov Yes So Very Questionable Form Here

Nedov Yes So Very Questionable Form Here

It was still enough to rise another spot on the ATP carte du jour, career highdom achieved.  So, to professionally summarize the List so far: U.S. college tennis. Woot woot!

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