It’s time for my beloved weekly series*, Sunday’s Challenger Champions! If it’s Sunday, then it must be time to take a look at this week’s titlists.
First and definitely foremost, almost-Argie Pablo Cuevas is one of the more popular champions in recent memory. The former ATP #45 has been injured for the past two years, didn’t play a match in 2012 and was considering retirement. But the current ATP #401 rolled into the $75K Copa Topper Buenos Aires Challenger and promptly rolled through the field.
Well, it wasn’t that easy. But he started off with a straight-set win vs. 4th seed Thomaz Bellucci and straight-setted and walkovered his way to the semi-final, where he met and beat 22-year-old Argentine (and frequent WATCH Lister) Guido Andreozzi 7-6(0) 6-0 6-3. Then it was onto the final, where he faced the fiery Argie, Facundo Arguello, he of the fearsome forehand and Gaudio-esque temper.
Arguello’s been on my W.A.T.C.H. Lists practically every week, so he’s up and definitely coming. And Arguello went up early 3-0*, his forehand seeming laser-sharp and -focused, but Cuevas rallied (literally, hurr hurr) to force a TB. (Along the way, fiery Facu violently bounced his racket right in front of a frightened ballboy, and also destroyed a courtside microphone, making me quite terrified that I ever referred to his hair as Muppet-like. Don’t Fac with Facu!)
Cuevas had the breaker on his racket, but double-faulted to 5-all. He got a set point on Arguello’s serve, but the Argie saved it with a wrong-footing forehand. The next set point was on Cuevas’s serve, and the Uruguayan made no mistake, opening the point up with a beautiful backhand down the line and finishing the point and the high-quality, ATP-level set with an inside-in forehand winner.
The next two sets weren’t as inspired, but the end was dramatic. Pablo went on walkabout in set two, with Arguello winning it 6-2. Cuevas went up an early break and led 4-1*. After a lengthy medical time-out for Arguello, the 21-year-old firebrand came out and held then broke and suddenly we were back on serve in the decider.
Tight from there until the very last point, where Cuevas broke to take the title 7-6(6), 2-6, 7-5 and fell to his knees in triumph. Since his mother is Argentinian, he was born in Argentina, and he trains in Buenos Aires itself, the crowd loved his victory.
Cuevas will leap back into the Top 250 with the win, and Arguello will rise to a career high ~#135 when the new rankings are released on Monday. It was Cuevas’s 7th Challenger title (in ten attempts), but his first challenger final since 2010.
At the Kazan Kremlin Cup $75K Challenger, former Oklahoma State University standout Oleksandr Nedovyesov continues his near-meteoric rise through the ATP ranks, claiming the $10,800 that comes with the title as well as the 100 ATP points to add to his ever-building cache. Other than a three-set struggle in round two against Belarussian Egor Gerasimov, Nedovyesov veritably breezed into the final, where he met hit-or-miss Kazakh blaster, Andrey Golubev.
The pair had met just 12 days previous, when the also-streaking-of-late Golubev won 6-2 7-5 in round one of Moscow’s Kremlin Cup Challenger. But Nedovyesov had none of that in the Kazan final. After both gents held, the Ukrainian 26-year-old staved off six of Golubev’s service game points, then converted on his first break point after five deuces to take a *2-1 lead.
Golubev broke back in the sixth game for 3-all, and both men fought off a break point in the each of their next service games before Nedovyesov finally broke through the BP defense, grabbing a *5-4 lead. The former ITA Player of the Year then lost a 40-0 lead in his serve-out game, fought off a break point, and converted on his fifth set point to take the first frame 6-4.
Then he was off to the races, breaking in the first, third and seventh games of the second set for a comprehensive 6-4 6-1 victory. Nedovyesov should find himself rocketing into the Top 100 tomorrow at ~#97.
Lastly but certainly not leastly, top seed Matt Ebden took the title at the $50K Melbourne Challenger in much the same fashion that led him to the final: a topsy-turvy three-setter. In the first and second rounds, the 25-year-old Aussie had lost the first set (to Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama and 17-year-old sensation Thanasi Kokkinakis, respectively) before pulling out the victory.
In the semi-finals, Ebden changed it up and lost the middle set, ultimately beating 8th seed James Ward 6-0 5-7 6-0 in what earned my Challenger Tennis Weird Score of the Day designation.
In the final, Ebden faced another 25-year-old, Japan’s Tatsuma Ito, who was the tourney’s sixth seed, and the always-erratic Ito countered Ebden’s steadiness with streakiness, alternately looking like a world-beater and the world-beaten.
Ito was broken in the very first game of the first set, which then went to serve until Ebden broke again to take the first stanza 6-3. In the second set, it was Ito jumping out to a quick start, leading 4-1* before Ebden evened the set at 4-all, thanks to uneven play from Ito. But then — surprise! — Ito broke into another tear, winning 8 of the next 9 points (and thus six of the set’s final seven games) to close out the second set 7-5.
Since I didn’t see the final frame, I’ll leave you in the good hands of our friends at Aceland Tennis, who were at the event and provided stellar coverage all week long. But for the sake of completion, I will tell you (SPOILER ALERT!!!) that Ebden did, in fact, win 6-3 5-7 6-3. The 80 points that come with the title is offset by 45 points from Ebden’s R16 showing at last year’s Basel ATP event, but the Aussie #4 should eke his way back into the Top 100 on the wings of this victory.
*I’m projecting and inferring a bit, since this is the first week.