Challenger Roundup: Week 19
$25,000+H - Clay
(1)(WC)Florian Mayer (GER) d. (3)Werner Eschauer (AUT) 7-6(5) 6-4
Yuri Schukin (RUS) d. Tobias Summerer (GER) 7-6(5) 6-4
Yuri Schukin (RUS) d. (1)(WC)Florian Mayer (GER) 7-6(5) 7-6(3)
Yuri Schukin takes the title in Dresden, with a nice top 50 win over Florian Mayer in the final. It's Schukin's second challenger final and first title of the year. Mayer actually lost 25 points, so clearly he wasn't in this tournament for his ranking.
Tobias Summerer is a guy who I perceived to be having a better season than he really has because he's done well in qualifying for ATP and challenger events, but he hasn't really done much in main draws (though he had a nice win over Gulbis in Munich). This SF result is the first time he's advanced past the second round this year.
And of course you've got to tip your cap to Werner Eschauer, who just keeps plugging away. That's three titles, a final, and a SF in challengers this year and it's only May. After a brief slip he's back in the top 100.
Mas Palomas, Spain
$25,000+H - Clay
(4)Peter Luczak (AUS) d. (q)Hector Ruiz-Cadenas (ESP) 6-2 6-2
Santiago Ventura (ESP) d. (6)Pablo Andujar (ESP) 6-1 6-1
(4)Peter Luczak (AUS) d. Santiago Ventura (ESP) 6-7(6) 6-3 7-5
Mas Palomas saw a title battle of two challenger warriors that saw Peter Luczak emerge victorious. At age 27 Luczak is getting on in years and probably won't make an impact on the ATP Tour, but hey, winning tennis matches in the Canary Islands and getting a wild card and a whole lot of attention every AO isn't a bad gig either. That said, Luczak has suddenly had a pretty good year. He started off pretty unremarkably but after a second round loss to Ivo Klec in the Rabat CH, he's gone 20-3, with two titles, a final, and a SF. He's now ranked #128.
Santiago Ventura has also had a bit of a renaissance lately. Last year he looked absolutely finished and was out of the top 400 and playing futures in Spain to begin 2007. However, a few QFs in challengers and his tremendous SF effort in Valencia brought him back up the ladder. He's now back in the top 200 at #186. He's in form and a threat to take any challenger title on clay.
Andujar isn't yet 21 and is having a solid season that includes reaching the 3rd round in Barcelona (albeit by an early retirement win over JCF in the second round). He hasn't yet dominated, but is now firmly in challenger land at #156, a good 60 spots better at the start of 2007.
Ruiz-Cadenas is a bit older and has spent most of his time in the futures circuit in Spain. The problem with the Spanish circuit is that all the futures are minimum prize money/ranking points, so the only way to really bring yourself up to challenger ranking level is to spend a ton of time qualifying for challengers - you need more than one SF result to bring the ranking up. Ruiz-Cadenas is in that netherworld in the mid-200s range where players generally have half a year to break into challengers, or slide back into ITF territory if they lose in challenger qualifying too frequently.
Prague, Czech Republic
$100,000+H - Clay
Jiri Vanek (CZE) d. (7)Ivan Navarro-Pastor (ESP) 7-6(1) 6-2
(WC)Dusan Lojda (CZE) d. (2)Diego Hartfield (ARG) 6-4 5-7 6-4
(WC)Dusan Lojda (CZE) d. Jiri Vanek (CZE) 6-7(3) 6-2 7-6(5)
The biggest-money challenger of the week in Prague saw an all-Czech final with a surprise winner. It's not that it's shocking to see Lojda find success - he was a top junior - but to win a challenger with a relatively strong field like this was unexpected because he has mainly experienced solid but not stunning success at the futures level. He soars over 200 spots up to #292. He turned 19 in March, so he's still quite young. To put things in perspective, he's one month younger than Evgeny Korolev and several months older than Ernests Gulbis, Juan Martin del Potro, and Marin Cilic. So he's a good prospect, but he's not yet at the forefront of his generation - but keep a close eye on him, because these things can change (remember the Gasquet vs. Nadal debate?)
Vanek hasn't had a very good year thus far, so he needed this result. He hasn't fallen off the map completely, but his ranking will start to take a serious dive if he doesn't get a few more results like this. Ivan Navarro-Pastor has had a number of decent results and is very quietly on the verge of the top 100 for the first time. Hartfield won Tunica Resorts last year, so he loses a little ground to #98.
$35,000+H - Clay
Lukas Lacko (SVK) d. Benjamin Balleret (MON) 6-1 6-3
(4)(WC)Marin Cilic (CRO) d. (7)Christophe Rochus (BEL) 6-4 6-4
(4)(WC)Marin Cilic (CRO) d. Lukas Lacko (SVK) 7-5 6-2
Even moreso than in Prague, youth was on display in Rijeka. Former youth #1 Marin Cilic took his second challenger title of the year with a win over fellow young gun Lukas Lacko. Cilic moves up to #115 and could very conceivably start to make waves on the ATP Tour by the end of the year. Cilic, Gulbis, and JMDP were all born within a month of each other and are all still 18 - it will be very interesting to track their progress as they break into the upper echelons of men's tennis.
Lukas Lacko had a nice start to the year with a SF in New Caledonia and then he qualified for the AO. Since then he hasn't played much - only one match from late February to late April in which he retired, so I assume he had some sort of injury. After understandably scuffling a bit, he now looks to have found his stride with his best result of the season. The 19 year old moves up to #168 and is another interesting youngster to watch in 2007.
Tunica Resorts, USA
$50,000 - Clay (Indoor)
Pablo Cuevas (URU) d. Bobby Reynolds (USA) 6-2 6-0
(8)Juan-Pablo Brzezicki (ARG) d. Horacio Zeballos (ARG) 6-1 6-1
Pablo Cuevas (URU) d. (8)Juan-Pablo Brzezicki (ARG) 6-4 4-6 6-3
Pablo Cuevas is another relatively young player at 21 years of age. He was an accomplished junior, but rather than skyrocketing up the rankings has made slow and steady progress over the past three years. He's achieved two SFs and a title in his last four challengers, so he's hot at the moment. Now he's ranked #157 - he should be able to continue to move up.
Brzezicki has had a good year having moved up more than 100 spots from his 2006 year-end ranking. Bobby Reynolds ran out of steam against Cuevas after winning 8 matches in a row dating back to his title last week in Naples. After a year of poor form he's showing why he was a top challenger performer in 2005. Horacio Zeballos has successfully navigated the tough jump from the South American futures circuit to the top 200. It's his second SF at the challenger level this year.
And a random note: Donald Young reached the QF (l. Brzezicki) and is now ranked one spot below Guillermo Coria. I figure someone will have fun with that factoid.