At the $35K in Guangzhou, 20-year-old Belarussian Uladzimir Ignatik showed signs he might be closer to finally fulfilling his crazy potential, taking the title 6-4 6-4 over fourth-seeded (non-Bela)Russian Alexander Kudryavtsev for his second career challenger crown. Even more impressively, he laid a 6-2 6-0 semifinal smitedown on one of the Challenger Tour’s hottest players, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who had come into that match 20-1 in 2011 and had avenged his only previous loss of the year in the quarterfinals, beating Kyoto champ Dominik Meffert 6-3 7-6(3).
A Healthy Celebratory Toast From Your Guangzhou Challenger Champion
For his efforts, Ulad climbs 24 spots up in this week’s ATP Rankings ladder, perched on rung #174, which is still 20 points off his career high of 154 last August. Stebe, who also 3&3’ed 2nd seed Lukas Lacko in the second round, jumps 101 places to #234, thanks to his consecutive finals/semifinals showings in Kyoto and Guangzhou, respectively.
This jump wasn’t without its controversy, by the way. Turns out that the great Scot Colin Fleming, who’s been doing well to return to the singles ranks this year (more on this later), was serving for the match over Stebe in the first round, only to have the 20-year-old German take a MTO that left Flembo idling and cold on the sidelines and subsequently unable to close out the match. He may have been cooling his heels during the MTO, but after the match he was heated indeed. In fact, the disgruntled tweets of the Guangzhou Brit Contingent show how shoddy they all considered this move to be:
Escandalo! Happily, Colin was also able to qualify in Pingguo and then take out the sixth main draw seed there (Tatsuma Ito) on his way to the quarterfinals; heck, he might even make it onto the mighty Steven’s GB Rankings Table soon at this rate. So all’s well that ends well (or quarters well, at the very least). Incidentally, Guangzhou wasn’t a total Teutonic takeover this week, unlike in Kyoto last week; “only” 4 of the 8 quarterfinalists were German, and 2 of the semifinalists, with none making the finals.
Before I continentally drift over to Canada in this here weekly recap, I also wish to note that Kudryvtsev teamed with countryman Michail Elgin to take the doubles final over the flying Ratiwatana brothers – so a very nice tournament for Kudry, too.
From left to right: Elgin, Kudry, Ulad & Ratiwatana Bros
Young Ben Mitchell, the attitudinal antidote for many to Bernard Tomic insofar as promising 18-year-old Aussies go, should likewise get a textual shoutout here for beating two seeds in qualifying (#6 Phillip Oswald and #1 Sergei Bubka) before losing 3&3 to Sebastian Rieschick in the main draw. He zooms +88 to ATP #436 in this week’s rankings.
Another 18 year old (albeit Class of ’93), Brazilian wunderkind Tiago Fernandes, similarly made his way through qualifying, and then actually won a main draw round over Gianluca Naso 6-4 6-2 before succumbing to Meffert in R2. Meanwhile, Bubka reappeared in the main draw to take out top seed Go Soeda, who was no doubt reeling from the events back home in Japan, in the first round before bowing out very tamely (1&2) to Reischick in R2.
Moving right along (and not very quickly) to remote Rimouski, where the players fought not only each other and themselves on court, but tough travel and frigid Canadian conditions off court at the also-$35K and very-aptly-named Rimouski Challenger.
Photo by award-winning tennis photographer Samuel Groth
It was a semifinal circle of tennistical fifths, as the 1, 4 and 5 seeds (Bobby Reynolds, Frederik Nielsen and Fritz Wolmarans) all made the penultimate round. The only gate-crasher to this semi-symphony was that personable, intelligent and funny up-and-coming 20-year-old Canadian – no, not that one; I’m talking about the other one – Vasek Pospisil.
“Yes! He’s talking about meeeeee!”
Possibly buoyed by compatriot Milos Raonic’s rise of late, Pospisil not only posted impressive wins over 8th seed Sam Groth and three seed Matteo Viola before going down to Wolmarans, but he also posted a couple of impressively hilarious blog entries, peppering lines both outside and inside the court this week. Vasek also did well in the doubles, if by “did well” I mean “teamed up with Treat Conrad Huey and won the doubles title over David Rice and Sean Thornley” (which I do). So well done, son. (Parenthetical fun fact: Vasek’s dad’s name? Milos. Of course.)
Gregory Ouellette, who mine eyes last saw getting dismantled by Wayne Odesnik at the USA F4 Palm Coast Futures, also scored a couple of decent wins, taking out 7th seed Phillip Bester and Pavel Krainik on his way to a quarterfinal defeat at the hand of Nielsen. In the SF’s, the top-seeded Reynolds took out Nielsen 6-4 7-6(5), but the great Dane’s solid showing inched him up to within 11 spots of a career high ranking at #214.
Nielsen in the Great White North
In the end (spoiler alert!), South Africa’s Wolmarans took the title, eking out a 6-7(2) 6-3 7-6(3) win over Reynolds in the final, thanks in part to 25 aces against only 3 double faults, which was a very healthy percentage of his 64 aces served for the week. It was Wolmarans’ first career challenger title.
Reynolds and Wolmarans Demonstrate The Heretofore Secret Rimouski Handshake
Interesting goings-on at the 45K Rabat Challenger this past week, where none of the seeds made it to the quarterfinals. Top seed non-Scot Rui Machado was upset in the first round by the very Twitter-unfriendly Frenchman, Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy (his name alone is over 20 percent of one’s 140-character allotment). Second-seeded Jan Hajek (whose name tops the “Scrabble score per letter in name” charts) lost to eventual semifinalist Martin Klizan. And all the other seeds lost, too. Trust me. (Most notably, the sixth seed Benoit Paire, to the still-Swedish but now Tweetish Christian Lindell).
Those who did make the QF’s were an interesting assortment of recently struggling veterans and semi-bit-chomping newcomers. Both Ivo Minar and Peter Luczak scored a few for the grizzled, making it to the finals after lackluster starts to their seasons, while chompers such as Federico Delbonis, Pablo Carreno-Busta and Martin Klizan fell by the wayside. It was an interesting final matchup, as both competitors had reached their career highs in the low 60’s within months of each other in 2009, and their head-to-head coming in was similarly locked at 2 wins each. But Minar, who came into the event just 2/7 in 2011, beat out the popular 31 year-old Aussie, 7-5 6-3, to take his eighth career Challenger crown, which is seven more than his now-retired older brother Jan achieved (although they’ve probably stopped comparing by now). As with the Murrays and McEnroes and the Williamseses, it’s the younger sib who achieves more. Innnteresting. Someone commission a study on this phenomenon, posthaste!
Honorable mention for the whole Rabat shebang goes to Malek “You Can Call Me Al” Jaziri, who gave the Brits fits in their DC tie with his Tunisians, and made the semis before taking the “L” train via the Looch Express. “All That” Jaziri now sits at a career high of 275 at age 27 – not bad at all.
Events unfolded similarly at the $50K in San Jose (Costa Rica), in that the old guard prevailed and the young guns failed. Andrea Collarini, Denis Kudla, and Alexios Halebian all made the trip to the windy and altitudinous Central American country but failed to wind up in the second round (still – it’s a Challenger, a step up in class for all three, and Collarini and Halebian fell to the first and second seeds – nothing to be discouraged about). Meanwhile, no quarterfinalist was under the age of 23.5 (eighth-seeded Croat Franco Skugor), and the finals saw 28-year-old Giovanni Lapentti (aha! also a younger sibling!) win the “Sweatin’ With The Oldies” contest, 7-5 6-3, over 29-year-old fifth-seeded Russian Igor Kunitsyn. This marked Gio’s tenth career Challenger tourney triumph, which now outstrips older bro Nico’s Chal trophy total by a measure of four.
Incidentally, the event may be more lastingly famous for its legendary qual draw, which saw “all” five total entrants make it into the main draw. Jeez. Easiest and most-depleted qualifying draw ever. I think even the un-mothballed Reunion Island qual competitors could’ve romped in this draw. Yann Drieux, why didn’t you enter this one too?!
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, was the big money $100K event in Le Gosier, Guadeloupe, where all eight seeds were in the Top 100 – making it, somewhat, this year’s nearest substitute for the sadly defunct Sunrise Challenger event (someone refunk it, please!). But only top-seeded Jarkko Nieminen emerged from this seed scrum into the semis, and even he was upset, with sometimes-bearded bi-forenamed Frenchman Stephane Robert beating him 6-4 6-3.
The herein heralded Gastao Elias continued his excellent recent run, extending his record to 20/9 since the beginning of November with his latest semifinal showing, losing out to eventual champion Olivier Rochus (oh brother! Another younger sibling!), 3 & 3. The aforementioned Olivier netted his seventh challenger chalice, inching ahead of his retired older bro’s total by two, with a convincing 6-2 6-3 win over Robert in the final. But fear not, Robert fans: your man wreaked some doubular revenge on the pocket Rochus, teaming up with Riccardo Ghedin to take the dubs over the Belgian and his partner, Arnaud Clement, 6-2 5-7 10- 7.
That’s A Wrap: Rochus, Admirer, Ghedin, Robert, Admirer, Clement