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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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*sings* It’s the most wonderful tiiiiime, of your daaaaayyyyyyy. *unsings*

It’s the hit that keeps coming. It’s the gift that keeps giving. That’s right: it’s time for this week’s W.A.T.C.H. List, where we see Who’s Achieved Their Career High (between #60-300ish, as ever) this week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 67 West Lakes W
Jesse Huta Galung NED 28 91 others lost points
Dusan Lajovic SRB 23 99 ATP Zagreb R2
Facundo Arguello ARG 21 112 ATP Vina del Mar FQR
Dominic Thiem AUT 20 113 others lost points
Daniel Evans GBR 23 123 ATP Zagreb SF
Victor Estrella DOM 33 132 Dallas SF
Yuki Bhambri IND 21 145 Chennai W
Hiroki Moriya JPN 23 167 West Lakes SF
Taro Daniel JPN 21 190 ATP Vina del Mar QF
Steven Diez CAN 22 193 Chennai R2
Albano Olivetti FRA 22 207 ATP Montpellier Q/QF
James McGee IRL 26 209 Dallas QF
Austin Krajicek USA 23 210 ATP Montpellier FQR
Andrea Collarini ARG 22 242 Argentina F1 W
Jarmere Jenkins USA 23 259 West Lakes QF
Grzegorz Panfil POL 26 279 others lost points
Yann Marti SUI 25 281 Turkey F1 W
David Rice GBR 25 283 GBR F3 W
Jose Pereira BRA 23 314 Egypt F3 SF
This Space Left Empty Intentionally

As with the List two weeks ago, this week’s cast of characters are a very geographically variegated variety, verily. Fifteen nations in all, of the twenty on the List, with only four countries with multiple career high achievers — the United States (3), Argentina (2), Japan (2), and Great Britain (2).

So there’s plenty of reasons for everyone to flag wave and chant and do whatever it is fervent nationalists get up to in the name of their tennistical fanaticism. RAH!

Individually, I’d like to focus on the ATP-level heroics of one Daniel Evans*, who somehow turned his missing the Maui Challenger due to “late”ness and being cast out from his Davis Cup team into a brilliant personal triumph, as he parlayed his main draw appearance as a skilled loser** into a semifinal showing, beating 27th-ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals and winning hearts and matches along the way.

Pro Evo - Our Man Strikes A Casual Pose In Oz

Pro Evo – Our Man Strikes A Casual Pose In Oz

For his efforts, Evo rose 23 spots in this week’s rankings and finally made good on a talent that’s been glaringly apparent for years and years. I myself have been bigging him up since his (two-loss) effort vs. Lithuania in Davis Cup 2010, and I know I’m way late to the party. But it’s (allegedly) because Evans is never late to any party*** that it’s taken him so long to make good on his talent.

Now, word is that he’s working hard and the results are evo-dent. I, for one, hope it continues.

Another guy I’ve been talking about for quite some time is India’s Yuki Bhambri, I watched him practicing three years ago at the ATP 250 Delray Beach and was struck**** by his clean ball-hitting, which I compared to that of Marin Cilic at the time.

Bhambri's Been A Thumper Again This Week

Bhambri’s Been A Thumper Again This Week

Now the 21-year-old is riding a seven-match win streak, taking both the singles and doubles titles at the Chennai Challenger as well as prevailing in two Davis Cup matches in India’s 5-0 triumph over Taiwan the week before.  After an injury-bedeviled 2012, the still-young up-and-comer is 48/16 since the start of 2013, with two Challenger and two Futures titles.

So up he comes, 29 spots to #145 on this week’s ATPecking Order.

“Has India found a new tennis star?” asks the Sportskeeda website. I, for one, say “yes.”

*since he didn’t get any press this week, at all.

**a term I much prefer over “lucky loser”

***there wasn’t one in Maui, apparently.

****not literally, thankfully.

Sup, peeps. And jeez, what an uninspired bunch on this week’s W.A.T.C.H. List, for the most part. Almost as uninspired as the Super Bowl, from which I’ve yet to recover.

But enough about me. Let’s have a look at Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs This Week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Bradley Klahn USA 23 80 others lost points
Jesse Huta Galung NED 28 92 others lost points
Dusan Lajovic SRB 23 101 Davis Cup – R1 L
Nick Kyrgios AUS 18 157 Davis Cup – R1 L
Matt Reid AUS 23 183 Burnie W
Tak Khunn Wang FRA 22 265 Egypt F2 SF
Juan Ignacio Londero ARG 20 268 Chitre R2
Jarmere Jenkins USA 23 278 Burnie SF
David Rice GBR 25 307 GBR F2 F
Jose Pereira BRA 23 322 Egypt F2 SF
Martin Vaisse FRA 26 324 Israel F2 F
Roberto Ortega-Olmedo ESP 22 330 others lost points
Joris de Loore BEL 20 360 others lost points
Dennis Novak AUT 20 364 others lost points
Wilson Leite BRA 22 371 others lost points
Yoshihito Nishioka JPN 18 377 others lost points
Christian Garin CHI 17 379 others lost points
Alexey Vatutin RUS 21 380 others lost points
Ivan Arenas-Gualda ESP 23 385 others lost points
Thanasi Kokkinakis AUS 17 399 Davis Cup – R1 L

Woof. What a bunch of others-points losers, by and large. Since there were only two Challengers last week — Burnie and Chitre — there were scant opportunities from which to scavenge ATPoints. And most who did well in those two tournaments didn’t gain enough to points to post a career high.

So we’ll ignore the OLPers, as ever.

Therefore, first on this week’s List are a pair of peeps who — sort of like kids on recreational soccer teams — got trophies (in the form of ranking points) just for showing up for their teams’ games. Since Davis Cup World Group participants receive 10 points win or lose, Dusan Lajovic, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis all were boosted to career high heights despite losing efforts on the world stage.

Although, it must be noted, none of said losses were anything to sneeze at. Lajovic took a set off of World No. 3 and Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka before falling in four. He also won a dead rubber* against Michael Lammer.

It Ain't No Laj - Dusan Celebrates His Win Vs. Lammer

It Ain’t No Laj – Dusan Celebrates His Win Vs. Lammer

Kyrgios went down to No. 9 Richard Gasquet and No. 30 Gael Monfils, and Kokkinakis was nak’ed*** down by the capable hands of No. 39 Julian Benneteau.

The biggest winner of the week was Aussie Matt Reid, who took the title at the $50,000 Burnie Challenger. The 23-year-old has come full circle from the time less than a month ago when he said that he didn’t “know how to win anymore.”

Do You Reid Me? Matt Reid Turns It Around

Do You Reid Me? Matt Reid Turns It Around In Burnie

He entered the tourney on a six-match losing streak and proceeded to win five matches, clinch the championship and attain a personal best ranking in the process. Not a bad effort. As ever, Aceland Tennis has all the details of that match and all things Aussie.

Lastly, a special mention goes out to former University of Virginia standout Jarmere Jenkins, who showed some scorching form in Burnie, making it to the semis before he burned out vs. Hiroki Moriya. Earlier last week I was pointed to this terrific Q&A with the erstwhile ITA National Player of the Year.

The Rankings Door Is Now A Jar (photo by UVA Athletics)

The Rankings Door Is Now A Jar (photo by UVA Athletics)

In the above-linked article Jenkins says, “Being an elite athlete is all about how well you’re willing to suffer.” In his remarkable 6-2 6-7(7) 7-6(13) quarterfinal win against Matthew Barton, in which he recovered from a double fault at match point in a second set that he eventually lost, Jenkins seemed to really put those words to the test, earning an eventual career high ranking in the process.

*my second least favorite phrase in tennis, just behind “Red Foo**”

**which is my second least favorite color of Foo, just behind brown

***pronounced “knocked down”, of course. Why? What were you thinking it was?

One On One With Rising Star Kyle Edmund

Ahead of his semifinal match on Saturday versus Isak Arvidsson, I caught up with my third Player to Watch for 2014, 19-year-old British up-and-comer Kyle Edmund, at the Midtown Athletic Club in Weston, FL. We talked about his selection for the upcoming Davis Cup clash with the United States. Also: tennis drills, lessons learned and life on the road.

As ever, he has a lot of intelligent things to say.

Challenger Tennis: Congrats on your Davis Cup selection, what is this — the third team for you?

Edmund: Thanks. Yeah, the other two, I wasn’t in the squad or team. I was just there as like a hitter. So that was obviously against Russia and Croatia, but this is the first time I’ve actually been named on the team, which is a great feeling for me. The only one who’s definitely gonna play is Andy [Murray], so the other spots are still sort of open to play.

Obviously, it’s Dom Inglot and Colin Fleming for the doubles, and then it’s between me and James Ward for singles. So the playing spots are still not 100 percent, but to be there and for Great Britain to be in the World Group — I think the last time we won a World Group match was like 1980-something, so it’s a long time. To be there is definitely going to be a great experience.

Challenger Tennis: For sure. Have you seen pictures of the court construction as it’s being laid down in Petco Park?

Edmund: Yeah, I have, I’ve seen a few. The last one I saw they actually did half the court, I think. I saw half the clay court — obviously they have to do the other half — but it looked really good. To be inside a baseball stadium on a tennis court, I mean, the stage is set to be really exciting and amazing.

The Petco Dance: Davis Cup Court Construction in San Diego

The Petco Dance: Davis Cup Court Construction in San Diego

Challenger Tennis: So are you here by yourself now or is there anyone from your team with you?

Edmund: I’m here with my coach, my tennis coach, and also with my fitness trainer. But they’re also involved, they’re actually fitness trainer for the Davis Cup, and my coach is a Davis Cup coach, so it works really well. They’re here, and then tomorrow — win or lose — we’re gonna go tomorrow night to San Diego.

So it works really well, them being here helping me and then traveling over to meet the team there.

Challenger Tennis: I know you don’t like specific ranking targets, but what specific drills are you doing to maybe help with footwork or focus and the things you want to improve?

Edmund: I’ve been with my coach two and a half years now, and definitely being with him, we’ve done a lot of what we like to call our “core drills” — drills that make me tick, make me feel good and help my game.

If I know that these drills are working well, then I know I’ll play pretty well. And it’s really basic stuff. It’s just like crosscourts, but then if I get a short ball I’ll come to the net, trying to be offensive.

Recently, we’ve done a lot of movement, so we’ll do like “two-two” it’s called, where he sends one corner, I’ll hit two forehands and two backhands and two forehands and keep going for like two minutes. But it obviously gets quite physical, side to side. And then we do just lines.

So for the first part of the session, we do a lot of drilling, a lot of numbers almost, get a lot of balls in play and then start maybe doing some more shorter stuff but it’s more aggressive. I like to use my forehand, so we’ll do a lot of stuff working my forehand, coming forward. And then at the end of the session we’ll do serve and return.

Edmund Serve

It’s a bit different now, playing tournaments; you don’t do long hours on the practice court. But certainly when I was training with Andy, we were doing three hours on court each day.

Challenger Tennis: So, basically, all your on-court time is with specific drills in mind as opposed to just hitting.

Edmund: Oh yeah, for sure. I’m not going to do something that I don’t feel is relevant to me.

Challenger Tennis: You’ve said a successful tournament is one that you take something away from, and learning something is the main thing. Is there a specific match last year where you learned the most, and maybe what specifically did you learn?

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