Once again, you probably thought I’ve become such a Brisbaniac that I’d forgotten about the Challengers, right? Wrong! Allow me to smack you upside the head with my spectacular Sao Paulo Challenger preview.  Allegedly an outdoor hard court tourney (the weather is abysmal and they may have to move indoors), this $100,000 Challenger hosts a field of tremendous quality and depth, as one would expect from most 100K’s. Let’s take a look at the draw and break it down, OCD-style:

First Quarter: Top seed Ricardo Mello (ATP #76) has drawn a qualifier in the first round, as has 2011 Player to Watch Tsung-Hua Yang, whom Mello is slotted to meet in the 2nd round. Which is all well and good, except for the fact that Brazil F1 champion Gastao Elias lurks in the quallies and might have been granted enough meteorological reprieve to be firing at full strength in the main draw. Elias is a truly dangerous floater, and I feel that his placement in the draw might eventually factor in the outcome of this tournament. With three qualy spots in the top quarter of the draw, they’re likely to find this Portuguese party crasher in their midst. Teen phenom Tiago Fernandes also lurks as a potentially potent qualifier.

Have you never been Mello?

As for the only match whose participants are now known, I find Juan-Pablo Brzezicki vs. Joao Sousa (Portuguese “s” variety) an intriguing first round match. The 28 year-old Brzezicki is having a late career renaissance of sorts, playing well in the two Buenos Aires Challenger events last year, making the semis of one (l. Maximo Gonzalez) and the finals of the other (l. Diego Junqueira). Sousa, meanwhile, is coming off a 57-win season that saw the 21 year-old’s ranking rise from #443 to his current #244 (that’s almost 200 places, for you non-math whizzes). Can he continue his rise against the former Top 100 JPB in their first career meeting? We gonna see.

In a related story, I can’t see the name “Joao” without thinking of Flava Flav:

Is something wrong with me? (Please don’t answer that.)

Second Quarter: Joao Souza (Brazilian “z” variety) vs. Matteo Trevisan is another interesting first rounder. The sixth-seeded Souza (ATP #111) prevailed in their only previous encounter, 6-4 4-3 ret. in last May’s Alessandria Challenger, but Trevisan was a #1 world junior in 2007 who is a really good ball-striker. Now ranked #276, can the oft-injured (he retired from five matches last year) Italian start to make his mark in 2011? Some say he’s too short to make it in the big leagues. I say let’s wait and see what this season holds.

On zee next drawlines we find the popular Ecuadoran Giovanni Lapentti vs. Ricardo Hocevar (popularity undetermined). These two have a history, and that is: Hocevar leads their head-to-head 4-2, but little Gio has won the two most recent meetings, both last year, one on clay and one on hard courts. I’d look for Mr. Lapentti (G variety) to continue his winning ways here.  Daniele Giorgini and Guillermo Alcaide have a history as well, and it’s fairly ancient; Giorgini squeaked out a three-setter in 2005, which means absolutely nothing at in today’s terms. Alcaide had the better 2010, and is better on hard courts, so I’m expecting the Spaniard to come through this one. If he does, he’ll probably meet seventh seed Federico Del Bonis in the 2nd round. The 160th-ranked Argentine 20 year-old meets 650th-ranked wildcard Tiago Lopes in his first round.

Third Quarter: Paul Capdeville gets it started against last week’s Brazil F1 semifinalist, the talented-but-erratic Belarussian Uladzimir Ignatik. Capdeville had a mediocre 2010 but ended it with a Brzezicki-like bang, as he was a finalist at the Santiago Challenger in October (l. Fognini), and the champion of the Guayaquil Challenger in November. If he can continue that form in the new year, I’d expect the 8th-seeded Chilean to pull through his first meeting with Iggy, albeit in a close one.  On the next notches, we find Andrea Arnaboldi vs. Santiago Gonzalez. I’m gonna say I don’t give a rat’s ass about this match, because it’s partially true but mostly I want to piss someone off enough that they’ll yell at me in the comments section. Please use CAPS LOCK.

Andreas Molteni vs. WC Christian Lindell. Busy busy busy. Lots of subplots in this one. The 19 year-old “Swede” (for now) Lindell won their only previous match 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 at the Brazil F21 in August. He’s also reported to be switching allegiances to Brazil any minute now. Will it happen during this match? Probably not.  Fourth seed Maximo Gonzalez is still on the mend as he comes back from an awful broken leg injury last year. I’m not expecting the Spaniard Adrian Menendez-Maceiras to give much bother to the 58-ranked Argentine, who finished 2010 at a 13/4 pace and won the Montevideo Challenger and the Buenos Aires Challenger in consecutive weeks in October.

Wildcard Daniel Silva, one of the gazillion Brazilian Silvas (OK, three – but still: that’s a high amount of Silva in a 32-draw tourney), gets the other qualifier in the draw. Which is good for him, as long as it’s not Elias.  And finally (yes finally!), we have Julio Silva (you see?) vs. 2nd seeded Horacio Zeballos. It always surprises me to see Zeballos’ name in Challenger draws, which is silly on my part since his ATP breakthrough was relatively short-lived and he had a horrific 21/32 year in 2010. In my mind, the 25 year-old Argentine – who was once ranked as high as #41 – is an ATP tour-level player. And the usual hard court stalwart had a putrid 3/10 record on the hard stuff last year. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me if he lost early here. But it would.

The Onion is a-peeling

So there you have it. The idiotic ramblings of a madman, or a fascinating and insightful preview? You make the call! Of course, right now it’s raining and the forecast is for persistent precipitation all the livelong week. So all of the above is purely hypothetical, and there may not be a tournament at all. Manage your expectations accordingly, and approach all optimism with extreme caution.