Challenger Roundup: Weeks 7 & 8
$50,000 - Hard (Indoor)
(1)Michael Russell (USA) d. Jamie Baker (GBR) 6-1 7-6(4)
Frederic Niemeyer (CAN) d. Michael Ryderstedt (SWE) 6-3 6-4
(1)Michael Russell (USA) d. Frederic Niemeyer (CAN) 6-4 6-1
There is no player more boring to track in challengers than Michael Russell. You know he's going to win in straight sets. I'll say it - he's the Roger Federer of the Challenger Circuit, having won all 30 sets he's played at this level so far this year. Overall, he improves to 18-2 on the year, his only two losses being the AO five-setter to Hewitt and an "elimination round" loss in which he retired against Ryan Sweeting at Delray Beach on the heels of a long flight from his challenger win in Hawaii. Russell improves to #80, a career high. He might not get a chance to continue his challenger run since he'll get a lot of MD entries to ATPs now.
In other news, journeyman Frederic Niemeyer gets his first significant result of the year to move back into the top 300. At age 30, his chances of making an impact are slim. Jamie Baker, who qualified and won the right to lose to Michael Russell in the final in Waikoloa a few weeks ago, has another decent run before running into Russell again in the semis.
Donald Young, gritty, grinding youngster that he is, qualified and easily beat Ryan Sweeting in the first round which made much of MTF very nervous; however, the board was able to breathe easier when Young went down to Jesse Witten in the next round.
$100,000+H - Hard (Indoor)
(6)Ernests Gulbis (LAT) d. Mathieu Montcourt (FRA) 6-3 6-1
(q)Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) d. (8)Gilles Muller (LUX) 6-4 6-1
(6)Ernests Gulbis (LAT) d. (q)Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) 6-4 3-6 6-4
This must have been a massively interesting tournament to watch, featuring Mathieu Montcourt, Lukas Lacko, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Ernests Gulbis, Sam Warburg, Jonathan Eysseric, Jeremy Chardy, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Marin Cilic, representating a sizable chunk of up-and-coming talent (not to mention Mischa Zverev, Denis Istomin, and Adrian Mannarino, who went down in the qualies).
Anyway, talented young Latvian Ernests Gulbis takes his first title of the year in a fairly high-profile challenger, catapulting him into the top 100 at #97 He's the second-youngest player in the top 100, less than a month older than JMDP. He's already proven he can play at the ATP level after reaching the SF at St. Petersburg last October. Like most 18 year olds he'll be inconsistent, but don't be surprised when he shows up in the late rounds in some of the smaller ATP tournaments later this year.
Roger-Vasselin has been playing well since mid-2006. I don't know all that much about him (other than his bloodlines), but since he's only 23 there's time for him to make something of his career.
The generally inconsistent Mathieu Montcourt continues his good play as of late and establishes a new career high ranking of #146. Meanwhile, the sad waste of Gilles Muller's career takes the slightest of upturns with a SF showing - he even did a good job of disappointing the home crowd by dismissing young Frenchmen Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. By the way - now that Tsonga has played in four tournaments this year, he's due for a season-ending injury any moment now.