Archive for February, 2014


Hola, Challenger Tennis fans! Apologies for the lateness of this week’s List, but I’ve been having some health challenges lately that have rendered writing sub-optimal of late. I have so many articles planned (and a couple half-written already), so please bear with me and hopefully this blog will bear more fruit sometime soon.

In the meantime, let’s have a look at Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week, shall we?**

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 65 others lost points
Aleksandr Nedovyesov KAZ 27 81 New Delhi F
Dusan Lajovic SRB 23 89 ATP 500 Rio Q/R2
Facundo Bagnis ARG 23 112 ATP 500 Rio Q/R2
Victor Estrella DOM 33 118 Morelos F
Blaz Rola SLO 23 151 New Delhi R2
Gerald Melzer AUT 23 153 Morelos W
Radu Albot MDA 24 160 New Delhi QF
Lucas Pouille FRA 20 184 New Delhi QF
Daniel Cox GBR 23 243 New Delhi Q
Adrian Sikora SVK 25 275 others lost points
Kyle Edmund GBR 19 276 Croatia F1 W
Emilio Gomez ECU 22 290 others lost points
Gabriel Alejandro Hidalgo ARG 23 314 Argentina F3 W
Dennis Novak AUT 20 332 Egypt F5 W
Nicolas Meister USA 24 339 Morelos QF
Oliver Golding GBR 20 354 Portugal F2 SF
Jason Jung USA 24 355 Morelos R2
Alexey Vatutin RUS 21 378 Astana Q
Markus Eriksson SWE 24 393 Spain F2 SF
Stanislav Vovk RUS 23 409 Portugal F2 W

The first player I’d like to talk about is Gerald Melzer, who is one of five 23-year-olds in the Top Seven of this week’s List (in addition to the amazing Victor Estrella, who is Achieving Career Highs a decade further into his career than all these whippersnappers, and Aleksandr Nedovyesov, who is 23 anyway per the Colette Lewis Collegiate Clause of 2014***).

He is also the younger brother of Jurgen Melzer, of course. And since Gerald is +42 in this week’s rankings while his older bro dropped two spots — in addition to the fact that Jojo has been sidelined with a shoulder injury and has yet to play in 2014 (he signed up to play in Acapulco but withdrew, and last played on the 9th of October, 2013) — I’m wondering when/if sometime in the future the Minimelz eclipses Melz the Maxi in the rankings.

"Yo, Bro, if you pass me in the rankings I'll shove this ball down your throat."

“Yo, Bro, if you pass me in the rankings I’ll shove this ball down your throat.” – /expert lip reading

So much so that I’m making it a contest. That’s right: either in the comments here or on Twitter, give me the exact date upon which you think Gerald will overtake Jurgen in the rankings (or “never” if you don’t think it’ll ever happen). The person who ends up having the best/nearest guess will get to choose my Twitter avatar that week.

What a prize! What a contest! So get to guessing.

Speaking of Austrian tennis… Dennis Novak, the forgotten (or heretofore unknown) Günter Bresnik-coached cog of the Gulbis-Thiem-Dubarenco machine, took the fourth Futures title of his career at the Sharm El Sheikh event and proclaimed himself “super happy”. He’s is now 3 ranking spots ahead of Dubarenco, so remember him!

The Number Two Novak Accepts His Bounty

Tennis’s Number Two Novak Accepts His Bounty

Novak also won Egypt F6 (SPOILER ALERT), so will be on next week’s List as well.  Oh, and if you’re confused by all of tennis’s Dennises, I wrote this oh-so-handy field guide so that you will no longer be baffled by the difference between Dennis Novak, Dennis Novikov and Dennis Nevolo. You’re welcome.

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Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part III)

Since my esteemed Players to View series was rudely interrupted by the weekend, just as it was picking up some e-steam, I’m hoping that I can quickly get back up to speed by profiling a couple of speedsters today.

No Relation To Alejandro or Santi, Who Spell Their Surnames G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z

No Relation To Alejandro or Santi, Who Spell Their Surnames G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z

You know, for all our talk in tennis about forehands, backhands and volleys, the game is mostly about movement. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your shots are if you can’t get to the ball first.

When I first started getting serious about the sport, both from a playing and viewing perspective, I was obsessed with shotmaking. But these days, there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a fleet-footed player glide and/or scrap his way around the court.

The two guys I’m profiling today are very similar players — not just fast, but fit, athletic and agile. Both righties in their early 20s, currently ranked in the mid-200s, they can crank serves and forehands (albeit a tad inconsistently) and are somewhat steady and even occasionally transitional with their double-handers.  Once they figure out how to be more imposing and less defensive off the ground, they’ll start to have some very solid results, I believe.

Until such time as they become ATP Tour-level regulars, treat yourself to watching them motor around the court on the HD livestreams. There’s hardly anyone better to watch at the challenger level, movementally. Also, if you play the game yourself, you’ll find a lot that you can ingest and incorporate into your own play.

Ben Mitchell

I’ve been watching Ben buzz about the baseline since late 2009, when he’d just turned 17 and was playing the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs. Shortly thereafter he made the Wimbledon Boys final as a qualifier, losing to Marton Fucsovics. I then got to see him blazing to the Bendigo Futures final in 2010, where he lost to Player to View Number OneSam Groth.

I won’t bore you with all his results since then, but he’s somewhat stagnated after a blistering 60/20 first-year-as-a-pro season as an 18-year-old in 2011, during which he won four Futures titles and rose almost 400 spots in the rankings to No. 214.

Ben Mitchell All Smiles

Now 21, he currently sits at #250, which — while no longer precocious — is still good enough for Top 20 in his age group. He’s weathered a nine-match losing streak in 2012 and a six-match loss streak in 2013 to steady himself and start to get some decent results again.

But however unbalanced his recent results may have been, Ben is hardly ever off balance during a rally, keeping a wide base and bent knees as he careens about the court, his center of gravity low and constant as he seamlessly shifts between big and small steps, posture upright throughout.

Though hardly ideal, this YouTube vid shows a little of what I’m talking about with regard to his fluid footwork:

Another video of somewhat dodgy quality, but this is a very good match Ben played recently against countryman Luke Saville:

If you do nothing else, go to 17:30 in the above vid and watch the scrambling Mitch does in the far court.

The next chance to watch Ben will be at the Guangzhou Challenger next week.

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This week’s W.A.T.C.H. List is pretty damn diversified, with players earning their points from ATP 500s and 250s all the way down to 10K Futures level. Something for everyone. My kind of List.

Interested? Well, then. Look below to see Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 66 others lost points
Jiri Vesely CZE 20 77 ATP 250 Memphis R2
Aleksandr Nedovyesov KAZ 27 92 Kolkata SF
Dominic Thiem AUT 20 99 ATP 500 Rotterdam Q/R16
Pierre Hugues-Herbert FRA 22 134 Quimper W
Yuki Bhambri IND 21 143 Kolkata R2
Blaz Rola SLO 23 152 others lost points
Hiroki Moriya JPN 23 166 others lost points
Marton Fucsovics HUN 22 173 Bergamo QF
Andrea Arnaboldi ITA 26 180 Bergamo SF
Albano Olivetti FRA 22 194 Quimper QF
Lorenzo Giustino ITA 22 223 Bergamo R2
Daniel Cox GBR 23 244 Kolkata R2
Adrian Sikora SVK 25 277 ATP 500 Rotterdam QR2
Jose Pereira BRA 23 298 Egypt F4 F
Stefano Travaglia ITA 22 305 Egypt F4 W
Gabriel Alejandro Hidalgo ARG 23 338 Argentina F2 F
Oliver Golding GBR 20 362 Portugal F1 W
Ivan Arenas-Gualda ESP 23 377 Portugal F1 SF
Federico Coria ARG 21 386 Argentina F2 SF

Though it’s usually not in my harsh and uncompromising nature to feature “others-point-losers” in these here below-the-table write-ups, I just want to point out that out of the last 15 W.A.T.C.H. Lists, Mr. Bradley Klahn has been on 8 of them.

And only twice because others lost points. Traralgon Challenger finalist, Yeongwol Challenger winner, Yokohama Challenger semifinalist, Maui Challenger titlist, West Lakes Challenger champ — what an amazing four months it’s been for the former three-time Stanford All-American.

The Bradth of Klahn - Bradley with the West Lakes Trophy

The Bradth of Klahn – Bradley with the West Lakes Trophy

Klahn now is firmly entrenched as the American #3 and is now only 69 ATPoints behind Sam Querrey for the #2 spot. He’s also advancing at such a consistent rate that he may soon be an ATP Tour-level player only, meaning he’ll no longer have a place on this site. *sniffle*

And third on this week’s List is another three-time All-American, this time from Oklahoma State, Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan (formerly Oleksandr Nedovyesov of the Ukraine, before he succumbed to the Kazakh Tennis Relocation Program), who was cold-cocked in the Kolkata Challenger semifinals by the Serbian lumberjack, Ilija Bozoljac.

Nedov Yes So Very Questionable Form Here

Nedov Yes So Very Questionable Form Here

It was still enough to rise another spot on the ATP carte du jour, career highdom achieved.  So, to professionally summarize the List so far: U.S. college tennis. Woot woot!

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Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part II)

Part two in my epic mini-series, in which I altruistically point your eyeballs towards challenger-level players who are oh-so-well worth watching. If you need to know the methodology behind these selections, or just would like to (re)familiarize yourselves with the tennistical forces of nature that are the first two men in this series (said forces would be Sam Groth and Dustin Brown), here is Part I.

Now then. Every single damn day, it seems, my next subject makes me regret not choosing him as one of my Top Ten Players to Watch for 2014. After all, the dude has a 10/3 record on the year, with wins over Pablo Carreno-Busta and Somdev Devvarman among others. Plus a challenger title in both singles and doubles.  So I’m certainly not going to whiff on my opportunity to include him on my Players to View list.

I’m typing, of course, about…

Yuki Bhambri

Less than six months ago, this 21-year-old Indian lad had a ranking of #593. But then, after missing all of May and June with injury, he made the finals of the $120,000 Kaohsiung Challenger in heroic fashion, and posted a 30/6 record to finish his 2013 campaign, rising to #195 on the ATP Rankings Manifest.

And now, the Australian Open Boys and Orange Bowl champ of 2009 will be a career high ~#142 when the new rankings come out this Monday.

Someday I'll Stop Using This One Pic I Have of Yuki. But It Won't Be Today.

Someday I’ll Stop Using This One Pic I Have of Yuki. But It Won’t Be Today.

Blessed with a pure, natural-looking ball-striking ability and penetrating groundies which I’ve often compared to those of Marin Cilic, Bhambri needs only to shore up his serve before he becomes an ATP Tour-Level regular. And to stay healthy, of course.

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Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part I)

Recently, I had the nerve-wracking* pleasure of being on Amy Fetherolf and Jeff Sackmann‘s Margin of Error podcast, during which we discussed the ATP’s amazing new HD Challenger livestreams, Keith Crowley‘s important petition and ongoing efforts to increase prize money at tennis’s lower levels, and a bunch of other good stuff.

At one point, though, Jeff had the temerity — the sheer sac, man — to ask me to name, for the spectator just dipping his or her tennistical toes into challenger-watching waters, the five (seriously, Jeff: just FIVE?!) players a person should look out for.

More specifically, who are the crazy/good/weird players who’d consistently treat that spectator’s eyes to something special. Furthermore, these players shouldn’t necessarily be the next young, up-and-coming stars, many of whom I’ve already identified here.

Well, in my estimation, I totally whiffed on my answer to that question. I mean: have you ever walked into a grocery store without a list and immediately forgotten everything you’re supposed to get? That’s what happened to my brain there.

So, since I have a website that I occasionally even update, I thought I’d take advantage of that and give you a more considered answer to that question. Without further ado**, I give you the official Challenger Tennis Top Ten*** Players to View:

Sam Groth

Before I discuss the man so boldly listed above, I’m going to take you, dear reader, on a journey backstage at Margin of Error HQ. A special trip in which we peek behind the podcast curtain**** and take a look at what goes on behind the scenes.

Immediately after my inaugural podcastic performance came to a close but while everyone was still on the call, I started kvetching about how I’d totally choked the Top Five question. And five seconds after that, we came to a unanimous agreement that Mr. Samuel Groth really is Top Five on all of our lists.

Sam Groth Reacts To Learning He Made The Collective Margin Dwellers' Top Five

Groth Reacts To Learning He Made The Margin Dwellers’ Top Five (and/or to winning at the Champaign Challenger)

Confession: I’ve been a fan of this 26-year-old Aussie for aaaaages (kindly pronounce this with an Ozzer-bite in your vowels: “iiiiiges”). Like, since the only YouTube video of him was a through-the-back-fence shot of him taking serves while practicing on some side court. Like, since even before he beat Janko Tipsarevic in Nottingham quals in 2008.

But enough about me. Here’s why you should watch Groth:

1) A mammoth, monster, weighty, whopping, walloping first (and second) delivery. Currently the world record holder for fastest first serve at something like 800 MPH, give or take.

Land of the Grothed

Land of the Grothed

2) One-handed backhand, all-court game. Variety. He’s more than just a servebot, folks.

3) Color commentates his own matches as they happen. If there’s a more vocal player in all of pro tennis, I can’t think of him. In addition, he has several go-to verbal plays, most of which I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

But here’s a slight spoiler: I’d not only happily attend, but would pay money to happily attend, a one-man epic-length spoken-word opera performed by Mr. Groth entitled, “Towel, Please!”

The sheer dynamic range of emotion and pathos the man can inject into those simple syllables has to be heard to be believed.

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