Yeah, I know this is a Challenger and Futures-oriented site. But one of the many things I’m interested in regarding the players who compete at those levels is how they do as they try to break through into the top tier (believe it or don’t, I continue following players’ careers even after they break into the Top 100). The place for them to start doing this, obviously, is the ATP 250 tourneys.  And unless they’ve scored a wildcard, they start reaching for that next level, usually, in the qualies. Ah, how I live for the quals – to me, it’s almost more interesting to see who can fight through to the main draw of an ATP event than it is to see who wins that actual event (yes, I know I’m strange).

This weekend (and all throughout the upcoming week), I’ll be covering the ATP Delray Beach event for both this site and for Tennis Panorama News, with an eye on the guys trying to ascend to the ATP Tour. To whet my appetite for the hi-falutin’ ATP 250 life, I thought I’d peek in tonight and get my bearings, having recharged my batteries all week (sorry, kids, but Meknes just put me right to sleep) (well, that and a cold/cold medicine).

For those who don’t know, Delray is the only event at which the pros and the old guys Champions converge: John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Todd Martin, Mark Phillippoussis, Aaron Krickstein, Jimmy Arias, and Mikael Pernfors all going at it, round robin-style, from Friday (i.e. tonight) through Tuesday, while the whippersnappers battle it out in a more straightforward kind of way all the livelong week. And for those who do know, feel free to skip this paragraph. Oops – too late. Psyche.

And if you resent me for making you read about the Champions Tour on a Challenger website, feel free to also skip the following pictures of a Mardy Fish-besocked Mats Wilander hitting tennis balls on Atlantic Avenue with two peeps from the crowd. (Please note: I left before John McEnroe showed up; I’m still smarting from his over the top tirades from last year’s event – I mean, I know that’s his shtick these days, but he was much worse than he ever was in his pro career.)

Please also note: they don’t play all the Delray matches in the street. This was just a one-off promotional thingamajig. They have an actual-for-real stadium for the other matches. True story.

And let the record show: Mats hit nothing but one-handed backhands, whether coming over or under the ball.

Anyway, the qual draw has just been posted and they’re starting off Saturday’s matches bright and early (aka 10am), so I better wrap this up this soon or forever hold my z’s. But: in case you’re wondering, I’ll be starting off with the Matt Ebden vs. 17-year-old wildcard Bjorn Fratangelo clash on Court 6 – I’m eager to see how the 2010 Easter Bowl champ fares against his sturdiest pro opponent (pro-ponent?) yet, in the 23-year-old Top 200 Aussie. I’ll try and bust over to catch some of Tim Smyczek vs. Igor Kuntisyn and/or Donald Young vs. Fritz Wolmarans, as time allows.

From the second-on matches, I’m kind of torn between covering Blaz Kavcic against Giovanni Lapentti or Jesse Levine vs. Marinko Matosevic. I’ll leave it up to your votes in the comments to decide, I think. Or to twitter. Or the highest bidder. (I wonder if Spadea’s ever made a rhyme as dope as that? Nah, prolly not.)

Jack Sock may be relieved to read that I will not be stalking him tomorrow, as I’ll be dividing my third-on attention between Sam Groth vs. Lester Cook and Peter Polansky vs. Jan Hajek. And egad/gadzooks (circle one on your screen), the final QR1 matches are ridiculously good. Harrison v. Dancevic, Farah v. Falla, Lacko v. Tomic – how will I choose? (Sorry, Izak and Alex – something’s gotta give.) I think I’ll go with Tomic vs. Lacko, but a lot depends on how the day unfolds. Stay, you know, tuned and stuff.

Now off to try to get some sleep, despite my preview-generated excitement. I’ll try to think of Meknes, if I have any trouble courting the sandman. (And by the way, fear not: I’ll be doing a Meknes tournament summary soon, in case you’re having insomnia issues of your own.) (Plus, I’m kinda kidding: three of the last four Meknes matches have gone to a third set breaker, after all.)

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