There have been seven (7) (SEVEN!!!) challengers happening all around the globe this week, so there’s bound to be a bunch of interesting stories. Here are the best of them:
€64,000 Izmir Challenger (Hard, Acrylic) – Izmir’s been center stage for the amazing and continuing comeback of Irish(ger)man Louk Sorensen. After not playing a pro match between July 2012 and July 2013 (that’s a whole year — I did the math!), the 28-year-old started his ’13 campaign with three wins and three losses. Since then, he’s gone on a ten-and-three tear. This includes a six-match win streak at Izmir alone, where he’s run the gauntlet from qualies all the way to the final. Sunday he faces top-seeded Mikhail Kukushkin for the title.
Also worth noting is a good week of work from Izmir doubles champions Tennys Sandgren and Austin Krajicek. The second seeds took down the 4th-seeded team of Brydan Klein and Dane Propoggia 7-6(4) 6-4. It was the pair’s second challenger title together (2013 Tallahassee Chally).
€30,000 Kenitra Challenger (Red Clay) – Dominic Thiem took home the championship here, and his road to the title was rife with rubbernecking opportunities. For instance, I still don’t know what to make of the 20-year-old Austrian’s animal-caught-in-a-trap caterwauling in celebration of a big point during his 6-7(7) 6-0 7-6(2) Austrian Grudge Rematch with Gerald Melzer. Said match was contested with an intensity befitting a final, owing to the fact that most pro tennis-playing Austrians are upset with Thiem; he sat out their recent Davis Cup tie due to his not receiving what he felt is proper monetary compensation, you see*.
When Gerald beat Dom a couple of weeks ago at the Meknes Challenger, older brother Jurgen tweeted thusly:
And if that weren’t enough, then there was the actual final, where Teimuraz Gabashvili retired with Thiem serving just two points from the title. That’s right: with Thiem leading 7-6(4) 5-1 30-0, the Basher just quit. He had seen a trainer earlier in the set, but was not visibly injured. He’d just battled through many deuces in the penultimate game, before tanking the first two points on the D(en)ominator’s** serve. Made for a very surreal trophy ceremony a few minutes later, I must say.
$35,000 Campinas Challenger (Red Clay) – The title match here will be contested between unseeded Facundo Bagnis and Guilherme Clezar, but special mention must be made of 20-year-old American Bjorn Fratangelo making his first ever challenger semi-final here. So this is that special mention.
Seeing as the 2011 Roland Garros Boys Champion hadn’t had a main draw challenger win before this tourney, to go down to Brazil and get three main draw wins there (including one against an actual Brazilian) is an excellent effort. And when the new rankings come out on Monday, Bjorn will rocket past his career high of ATP #331 all the way into the Top 300. As you might recall, some idiots were just writing about the lack of young Americans posting career highs of late; hopefully this will shut them up.
€106,500 Szczecin Challenger (Red Clay) – This has been a standout week for pros who played U.S. college tennis, and Szczecin features standouts in both singles and doubles. On the singles court, 7 seed Oleksandr Nedovyesov (who, as Colette Lewis tweeted, was so good at Oklahoma State that she learned to spell his name without looking) will meet 8th-seeded Pere Riba in the final. This will be former ITA Player of the Year’s third challenger final of the year (won Prague, lost Samarkand).
UPDATE: Nedovyesov also won the final 6-2 7-5, coming back *0-3 in the 2nd set. His backhand is beautiful. And the Szczecin DJ was the simply the best. Better than all the rest. (Mostly because (s)he didn’t play that song.)
On the doubles side, former LSU Tiger standouts Ken and Neal Skupski have been on some kind of tear this year. The brothers took down the Italian duo of Arnaboldi/Gianessi 6-4 1-6 10-7 in the final to claim their fourth title together in the last two months (along with Recanati, Segovia and Petange).
$120,000 Kaohsiung Challenger (Hard Courts) – Sure, Yen-Hsun “Rendy” Lu won the tournament (spoiler alert), and it’s his 20th challenger title, but for my money (and I have none), Yuki Bhambri was the star of this tourney. Not only did he make both the singles and doubles final (with Chieh-Fu Wang***), but he also played those matches and his semi-final on the same day. And the score in the semis vs. Jack Sock was 6-7(10)(!) 7-5 6-3.
I mean, put yourself in Yuki’s shoes here for a moment. It’s Sunday afternoon, and you’re playing a semifinal that’s a rematch of the 2009 US Open Boys Round of 16 match (which you lost in straight sets). You lose the first set 10-12 in a tie(heart)break. You’re on the schedule two more times today. And what do you do? You gather yourself, win the next two sets, and keep on chuggin’. A lot of players would throw in the towel after losing 10-12 in the breaker, whether they had two more matches to play or not.
All in all, a remarkable effort for the 21-year-old, who’s currently ranked #477 in the world (well off his career high of 174). This challenger final placing will earn the Indian 75 ranking points, which will more than double his current point total and send him whooshing up approximately 175 places on the ladder and back into the Top 300.
* Remember, kids: you can’t spell “Thiem” without “I” and “them”.
** TM me, official Thiem nickname in perpetuity, all rights reserved.
*** yes, yes, I know — let’s try to be mature individuals here, OK?