This week’s three challenger locales sound like exotic ingredients one would find in a chichi restaurant: “Could you have the chef add a little extra bergamo and caloundra, please? My palate favors those particular spices. But I beseech you: do hold the quimper. Everyone knows real men don’t eat quimper.”
Spicy or not, here’s the scoop on this week’s tourneys:
Bergamo, Italy (Hard, Indoor Play-It, €42,500 plus delightful hospitality, 90 pts/€6,150 to champion, last direct acceptance: Freddie Nielsen #294)
Returning champion Karol Beck is back to defend his title, but he’s already been knocked off the top-seeded perch by late wildcard entrant Andreas Seppi. Seppi has to face the tricky special entrant Dominik Meffert in the first round, who’s had some good results of late (Heilbronn quarters and Kazan semis, to be specific). The German also won their only meeting, on clay in Gstaad ’08. In that same section, would-be fifth seed and ATP Jo’burg finalist Somdev Devvarman withdrew and was replaced by lucky loser Alberto Brizzi, which is a good break for Uladzimir Ignatik, as the Belarussian was slated to play Somdev in the first round and now isn’t.
K.Beck, meanwhile, gets Estonian Jurgen Zopp at the other end of the draw, and would play the winner of the tough first round contest between ATP Jo’burg semifinalist Izak Van der Merwe and Heilbronn semifinalist Ilija Bozoljac, should he stop Zopp. Also in the bottom section, this match I’m watching right now between Andrej Martin and Martin Klizan, two Slovakians who were right next to one another on last week’s WATCH List, looks to be a tough one (though the focus on the webcam keeps changing because of the net between the court and the webcam). I’ll let you know my prediction for it as soon as the match comes to its completion. Much-lauded (in these parts anyway) Laurynas Grigelis got a wildcard and will play the other seed in this section, Olivier Rochus. Bottom section is packed, yo – with quality players and Slovaks (note: not mutually exclusive categories).
Third seed Simone Bolelli will make another likely-to-be futile attempt to make it out of his second section, because he’ll meet staunch opposition from either Kazan finalist Andreas Beck, or charming wildcard selection Joachim Johansson, playing his 21st match in his last 4 years and making comeback attempt #18 (give or take) in round two – nevermind the fact that Bolelli’s first round opponent, Dieter Kindlmann, beat him in their most recent meeting three months ago. Pim Pim, by the way, is being coached in this latest comeback by Magnus Norman, I hear. Funny that while Claudio Pistolesi is outside Italy coaching Robin Soderling, Magnus is coaching a charge who’s playing in Bergamo. The other seed in this section, Go Soeda, meets the winner of a Kazan first round rematch between eventual Kazanian champion Marius Copil and the guy he beat in last week’s first round, Alexander Kudryavtsev. Wow – Bolelli’s doomed, huh?
(but while we’re on the topic of comebacks… you, Dominik Hrbaty, on the sixth line of the draw. Don’t think I don’t see you there. Didn’t you retire, man? Like, twice now? And didn’t we make a big deal of it both times? What do you want from us, sir?)
Lastly, speaking of rematches… in the draw’s third quarter, fourth seed Gilles Muller and Jerzy Janowicz meet here in a reprise of their Courmayeur semi a few days ago, which Muller won in three. Patron saint of my Twitter page, qualifier Alex Sadecky meets still another C’yeur SF’ist (how many of them were there?), Matthias Bachinger, in another ¾ first round, while qualifier Dusan Lajovic meets Freddie Nielsen.
Quimper, France (Hard, Greenset Indoor, €30,000 plus gracious hospitality, 80 pts/€4,300 to champion, last direct acceptance Nikola Mektic #280) – Quimper comes in not with a bang, but a whimper, as its top five prospective entrants – Paul-Henri Mathieu, Daniel Brands, Julian Reister, Arnaud Clement and Andreas Haider-Maurer – all pulled out before a single ball was struck. This leaves Courmayeur champion Nicolas Mahut to wearily man the top-seed turvy tugboat, pulling the rest of the weakened field behind him. He shouldn’t have too much trouble with his qualifier-heavy draw section, however (all four qualifiers are in his quarter – how convenient!); the other seed in his quadrant is fellow Frenchman (and sixth seed) Augustin Gensse, who – despite being a frequent WATCH Lister of late – probably won’t give Nico too much bother on a fastish surface. The two have never met.
All that pulling out also means that Challenger tennis faves like Henri Kontinen and Amir Weintraub made it into the main draw. Kontinen plays Mr. P2H Himself, wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who – quite frankly – has the better website at the moment. They’ve not played previously. Weintraub faces a man very similarly aged (24) and ranked (279 to Amir’s 259), Frenchie Florian Reynet. They’re both at or near career highs in ranking, too, so I’ll be watching (i.e. scoreboarding that one very closely).
Conor Niland, who actually flew there, is the tournament’s second seed, and he plays the recently WATCH-listed Sebastian Rieschick, which could actually be tough, depending on what mood Richi happens to be in during the match (which can also be variable).
Flight of the Conor
The other seed in Conor’s section is David Guez, whom Niland has never played. Guez has an intriguing first-rounder against wildcard 20 year-old Jonathan Eysseric, also a recent WATCH-lister. Marc Gicquel and Nikola Mektic round out that quarter of the draw, which looks to be a tricky little section indeed.
The other seeds in the draw are  Josselin Ouanna and  Roberto Bautista-Agut (second quarter), and  Vincent Millot and  Olivier Patience (third quarter). For the sake of attempted brevity (ha!), let’s pretend I have nothing interesting to say about them.
In doubles, though, the first round match between Rieschick/Kontinen and Cluskey/McGee is one I’d be keen to see.
Caloundra, Australia (Outdoor Hard, Plexipave, $50,000 with absolutely no hospitality, 80 pts/$7,200 for champion, last direct acceptance Hiroki Kondo #310: ) – Like the Burnie tourney before it, this one is (probably literally) littered with people I like (there being no hospitality and such). Although I just bet that one of them, Sam Groth, will lose heartbreakingly at the hands of another (say, John Millman, for example). And afterwards the Mailman will lounge on rooftops with wine and Thai and Scrabble. Just a guess. (Legend, btw.)
Headliner Marinko Matosevic plays the blisteringly-hot di Wu, and based on the recent results trajectories of both, it wouldn’t shock me if the 19 year-old from China scored the upset. The winner of that match gets the winner of Tennis Australia’s Banned/Deported Bad Boy/Problem Child match between Nick Lindahl and Brydan Klein. I’m gonna guess Craig Tiley won’t be courtside for that one.
We interrupt this preview for a Slovakian “My Favorite Martin” Match Update from Bergamo: First-named Slovakian Martin melted down and had more trouble with his temper (which is surprising, since last-named Slovakian Martin is usually so hot-headed), but then Martin (last name) choked while serving for the match at *5-3 in what the Italian commentator called “a festival of errors” (but, you know, in Italian). First-named Slovakian Martin held his nerve together better (just barely) for the duration of the match, winning the third set TB 7-3. Klizan stayed on court to argue with ch/ump for about five minutes after the match, and they were still… discussing… when the feed was cut.