Today I made an amazing discovery: it seems I have a website. Fancy that! So kindly allow me to make now make use this space, for I have amazing tales to tell. Namely, of the three young(ish) guns who each managed to snare their first Challenger titles this week. Two are from the class of ’89 and one is a ’90 vintage, which means: not one champion this week is over the age of 22. And all of them have quite interesting, uplifting and even mysterious back stories. Let’s meet them, shall we?
Our first first-time champ is 22-year-old Frenchman Maxime Teixeira, who made his extraordinary breakthrough at the 30,000 Euro Open Prevadies St. Brieuc Challenger,, winning 6-3 6-0 over his listless third-seeded countryman, Benoit Paire.
Teixeira’s story is kind of remarkable in that there is no story. At least, there’s no back story. You see, Teixeira’s emergence on the scene has been so recent (he’s won 9 of his last 10 challenger matches, but last week was not only his first Chal. final, but it’s the first time he’s made it past the 2nd round) and so out-of-nowhere that there’s really no decent information about him anywhere on the interwebs. And believe you me, I’ve googled the crap out of this guy for hours.
Let’s look at the (lack of) evidence: for one thing, according to the ITF site, he never played a junior match. OK, then. Also, before last year, he had only played a total of 29 pro matches between 2006 and 2009. So last year, after a 7/7 2009 campaign, he goes and posts a 50/21 record (mostly at Futures level) at age 20-21, not even playing his first challenger match until October, aka 5.5 months ago.
This year, he’s not only stepped up in class to Challenger events, but he’s upped his winning percentage too. Naturally. 25/6 for the year so far, yes sir. So who the hell is this mystery man? And how did he suddenly get so good? I spent altogether too much time using my best google fu know how (and know who), and – in lieu of finding anything about his history, as I was hoping to find – I at least was able to track down this Googily-translated French article, which at least has a few good quotes from the man.
Written around this time last year after a French pro league win over close friend (apparently) Kenny de Schepper, Teixeira says, “My goals are ambitious. I would like my ranking would allow me to play qualifying at Roland Garros next year. And in three to four years, I hope to become one of the Top 100.”
Ambitious?! Try outlandish, no? For someone ranked #705 at the time, with no pedigree to speak of? Well guess what: As a result of his play the past two weeks, Teixeira should find himself inside the Top 200 when the new rankings come out tomorrow. He’s a lock to make the RG quals as he’d hoped one year ago, and suddenly the Top 100 even seems within reach.
Incidentally, if you read the comments in the article I linked above, you’ll see the high regard in which this young man seems to be placed (at least among those inclined to read an article about him, haha). Which kind of makes me want to root for someone like him, a guy who’s “maximizing” his talents (so to speak) as opposed to a guy who’s throwing them away, like Paire.
Our next stop, on the brilliant red Barletta Challenger outdoor clay, features a feelgood young champ of the highest order. Namely: 21-year-old 488th-ranked Slovenian wildcard Aljaz Bedene, who beat another third seed, Italian Filippo Volandri – a man ranked 400 places higher than him – 7-5 6-3 to claim the winner’s trophy at the 42,500 Euro extravaganza.
Aljaz, you see, was one of my 2010 class of Players To Watch, after posting a 53/17 record in 2009 and rocketing from #1,659 to #303 in the world at the age of 19. Thusly jinxed by my endorsement (no doubt), he was bit quite viciously by the injury bug, and spent most of last year sidelined with a wrist injury. I clearly remember him wondering if he was even going to be able to make it back to on court – and I mean, like, ever.
But 2011 has come around, and with it here is Aljaz, not only healthy and hitting the ball again, but hitting the hell out of the ball in a way that makes me re-realize why I hyped him so much in the first place. Showing maturity, poise, and a willingness to come forward, Bedene was the class of the Barletta bash, outplaying guys with far greater experience and cred. Which was truly heartening, as there’s nothing worse for me than seeing young talents sidelined with illness/injury, having not yet had the chance to prove themselves, to see their ability come to fruition and make imprint their names on the game.
Bedene, whose surname apparently means “pathetic” or “miserable” according to the infallible Google translate, has been anything but this week, smiling his way to the winner’s circle and pointing out the girls in the crowd he’d like to especially thank.
Al-together tremendous stuff from Mr. Miserable, who – don’t laugh – is kind of the Juan Martin del Potro of the Challenger Tour (except shorter). Think about it: right-hander with a fiercesome forehand, sidelined by untimely wrist injury, comes back this year ranked four-hundred eighty-something and wins a title. Tell me you don’t see the parallel! Sure, Barletta is no Delray Beach, but Aljaz will still leap well over 150 spots when the new rankings come out.
And let the record show: Aljaz – along with his twin Andraz, and countrymen Blaz Kavcic and Grega Zemlja (“Greg Lamb” per google translate) – could be part of a Slovenian Davis Cup force that will threaten to make the World Group for years to come.
Lastly, we’re left with our Barranquilla Challenger champion, Mr. Facundo Bagnis, also age 21, who – like Teixeira – defeated a countryman to take his first challenger title; he came back to beat eighth seed Diego Junqueira 1-6 7-6(4) 6-0 to claim the $35,000 event – a result that will see him burst into the Top 200 for the very first time, at around #190.
p.s. Are you left wondering what happened in week 12, due to my website-updating negligence? Well, wonder no more: Dmitry Tursunov won Bath (two bedroom), Rui Machado munched Marrakech, Andreas Haider-Maurer crunched Caltanissetta, and Go Soeda purloined Pingguo titles. And there you have it.