Week 1 Challenger Roundup: New Caledonia, Sao Paulo
Noumea, New Caledonia
$75,000+H - Hard
(4)Michael Russell (USA) d. (7)Noam Okun (ISR) 6-2 2-1 ret.
David Guez (FRA) d. Lukas Lacko (SVK) 7-5 6-2
(4)Michael Russell (USA) d. David Guez (FRA) 6-0 6-1
Russell had a run in the top 100 in 2001-2002, but has since struggled with injuries, IIRC. He rose over 100 spots to #144 last year, and now he's quite close to breaking into the top 100 once again at age 28 at #115. When healthy, he's always been a dangerous challenger player. He's not the kind of guy who has a ton of potential, but it would be nice to see him have a year of direct entries into ATP tournaments. In other news, youngster Lukas Lacko reaches the semifinals and is now in the top 200. If you haven't heard of the Slovakian Lacko, keep an eye out for him in the second half of 2007. Lacko wasn't the only hot prospect to turn up in Noumea, but Tsonga (he's back!), Chardy, Montcourt, Sidorenko, and Haase didn't have the start they wanted, as none advanced beyond the second round.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
$100,000+H - Hard
(4)Guillermo Canas (ARG) d. Rogerio Silva (BRA) 6-3 6-1
(2)Diego Hartfield (ARG) d. (5)Ramon Delgado (PAR) 7-6(6) 6-3
(4)Guillermo Canas (ARG) d. (2)Diego Hartfield (ARG) 6-3 6-4
Aren't players who miss a lot of time through injury or suspension supposed to have a period where they are rusty or mediocre? Apparently not Canas - who has gone 35-4 since returning to the tour in September, only losing to Alexandre Simoni, Chris Guccione (on clay!), Santiago Giraldo, and Daniel Kollerer. He's won his last 20 matches in a row, spanning four challenger titles. He's not playing the Australian, but he's on the Heilbronn CH entry list, so look for him to win another challenger and then head to the ATP Tour. He's now ranked 106.
Diego Hartfield continues his good form of the last year and it close to breaking into the top 100. I could see him settling in as a #60-80 ranked clay specialist type; he'll soon be 26, so if he's going to have a few years lurking on the ATP tour he better get moving.
One other interesting name is Diego Cristin (ARG) who had a ton of success on the South American futures circuit in 2006 and apparently has some decent weapons - he's got a ways to go but could emerge as a quality challenger player in 2007 and perhaps beyond in 2008. At 25 he is far too old to be huge prospect, but he could be something of a Robin Vik-style late bloomer (not comparing their games, just Vik's weird path to the top 100).