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Year-End Top 100 At Stake In Final Weeks Of Challenger Season

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2018

Year-End Top 100 At Stake In Final Weeks Of Challenger Season

Players compete on four continents as season winds to a close

This week, the game’s elite are vying for the ATP World Tour’s biggest prize in London – the Nitto ATP Finals crown. Led by year-end No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the prestigious tournament marks the conclusion of the tour-level calendar. 

But the eight best players in the world aren’t the only ones battling for significant honours. The stars of the ATP Challenger Tour are jockeying for position in the ATP Rankings in the final weeks of the season. Coveted year-end Top 100 berths are at stake in tournaments across the globe.

This week, the latter stages are upon us at a pair of $150,000 events – in Bangalore, India and Houston, USA – as well as indoor tournaments in Champaign, USA and Kobe, Japan. The last clay-court event of the year is also being held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And critical ATP Rankings points will also be up for grabs next week as the season concludes in Pune, India and Andria, Italy.

So, why is this so important? As many players have already begun their much-needed offseason rest and relaxation, the frantic finish on the Challenger circuit carries great significance for those battling for Australian Open main draw spots and direct entry into many ATP World Tour events in 2019.

Storylines abound for those on the precipice of finishing the year inside the Top 100…

A two-week Indian swing in Bangalore and Pune caps the ATP Challenger Tour season

Pablo Andujar (Buenos Aires)
 In Buenos Aires, former World No. 32 Andujar looks to complete his comeback from three elbow surgeries. Ranked as low as World No. 1,824 on 12 February, the Spaniard lifted a Challenger trophy in Alicante, Spain and fourth ATP World Tour crown in Marrakech. Now at No. 99 in the ATP Rankings, he is into the quarter-finals at the Challenger de Buenos Aires presentado por Mostaza and is scheduled to compete on the indoor carpet courts of Andria next week. The 1,700+ spot leap to the Top 100 would be the biggest of the year.

Ivo Karlovic (Houston)
In Houston, Karlovic is bidding to complete a comeback of his own. The all-time aces leader and former World No. 14 is riding a Challenger surge in his quest to return to the Top 100. He would be just the third player aged 39 & older to reach the milestone at season’s end, joining Jimmy Connors and Ken Rosewall. The oldest titlist in Challenger history – in Calgary last month – he is into the quarter-finals at the Oracle Challenger Series Houston. Entering the week at No. 102 in the ATP Rankings, Karlovic is on the cusp of achieving his season-long goal.

View ATP Rankings

Bradley Klahn (Houston)
Also in Houston, Klahn is looking to complete a dream run to the year-end Top 100 as he bids for the title on the campus of Rice University. The American, who was sidelined for 21 months from 2015-16 after undergoing back surgery, finally returned to the Top 100 after last appearing in the club four years ago. Currently at No. 97, he joins Karlovic in the quarter-finals at the $150,000 event.

Reilly Opelka (Champaign)
Opelka is bidding to make his Top 100 debut a special one, needing to win the title at this week’s JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana to break into the club. The #NextGenATP American is on a hot streak after lifting the trophy in Knoxville last week and reaching the semis in Champaign. Opelka is in fourth place among win-loss percentage leaders (.744) on the ATP Challenger Tour this year. Having sat outside the Top 200 in May, he is up to No. 116 in the ATP Rankings.

You May Also Like: Challenger Q&A: Opelka Nears Top 100 With Knoxville Crown

Prajnesh Gunneswaran (Bangalore & Pune)
In 2018, Yuki Bhambri completed an impressive return to the Top 100 after recovering from an elbow injury. But it has been many years since another player from India (Devvarman in 2014) cracked the century mark. That could all change in the near future, with the season-ending two-week Indian swing underway. Prajnesh Gunneswaran is up to career-high No. 141 in the ATP Rankings and is into the semi-finals at the $150,000 event in Bangalore. He is projected to move up at least 13 spots and could rise even higher with the $50,000 event in Pune coming up next week.

Also In The Hunt
At No. 100, Thomas Fabbiano is squarely on the bubble, as is No. 101 Radu Albot, No. 103 Michael Mmoh and No. 104 Pedro Sousa. Albot and Sousa both had opportunities to move up this week, but suffered first-round defeats in Bangalore and Buenos Aires, respectively. Albot is in action at next week’s finale in Pune.

Also slated to compete in the final week of the season are No. 108 Lorenzo Sonego and No. 115 Paolo Lorenzi, both on home soil in Andria.

Note: In addition, Ugo Humbert will look to build on his current standing of No. 98 in Andria, as he bids for a first year-end Top 100 finish. However, the #NextGenATP Frenchman is guaranteed to start the 2019 season as low as No. 115 after ITF Futures points come off on January 1. He is a three-time winner on the Futures circuit this year. Starting in 2019, all points earned at the level will be applied to the newly formed ITF transition tour. Only points earned at the ATP Challenger Tour, ATP World Tour and Grand Slams will go towards a player’s ATP Ranking.

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Roger Won't Let No. 100 Get In His Head

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2018

Roger Won’t Let No. 100 Get In His Head

Federer through to the last four of the season finale for the 15th time

Entering Thursday at the Nitto ATP Finals, there was a chance Roger Federer would fail to reach the semi-finals at the season finale for just the second time in 16 appearances. But one impressive straight-sets win against fourth seed Kevin Anderson later, and the 37-year-old is through round-robin play atop Group Lleyton Hewitt.

Suddenly, a major milestone is within reach. If Federer wins two more matches, he will lift his 100th tour-level trophy, with Jimmy Connors (109 titles) the only other player who has achieved the feat.

“Personally I’m still not thinking of the number, 100. I won’t let that get in my head, make me go crazy because it should be something I’m excited about and not something I should feel extra pressure [to earn],” Federer said. “It’s just going to be hard to finish it. I’m happy I gave myself the opportunity. I’m happy that I’m raising my level of play throughout this week. This is what I hope to do. It’s exciting to be in this situation now, of course, no doubt.”

Just four days ago, the Swiss lost a round-robin match at the Nitto ATP Finals in straight sets for the first time, so he knows that he has to take it one step at a time. That is part of what makes this tournament so special; every match poses a major challenge.

“I think regardless of the numbers, this is a massive tournament for the players. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve loved being part of the Tennis Masters Cup, today [the Nitto ATP] Finals,” Federer said. “I’ve always tried to pace myself in a way… that I would have something left in the tank, that I would peak at this event.”

And Federer has gotten better with every match at The O2 in 2018. After an exchange of breaks in the first set against tournament debutant Anderson, Federer used his backhand slice well to throw off the game of the South African, who had not faced break point in the entire event. Federer broke him four times.

“I’m feeling great,” Federer said. “I’m very happy that I still have energy left in the tank. Mentally, I feel fresh.”

And Federer’s secret sauce continues to work. The second seed took a day off of practice after losing to Kei Nishikori on Sunday. And that strategy has not failed him since.

“Look, I’m a big believer in vacation. I’m a big believer in taking time off sometimes. When I go to work, I go hard, I go the right way, I go professional about it with my team,” Federer said. “I didn’t think of taking a day off, to be honest, after the Nishikori match. I thought, ‘What are we going to do? Where are we going to train?’”

But Federer’s team suggested taking a day off, and the Swiss heeded their advice. He did not practice on Wednesday after beating Dominic Thiem on Tuesday, and Federer says he doubts he will hit balls on Friday. Why change something if it’s not broken?

“It’s one of the first times I’ve done it like that,” Federer said. “I’m happy it’s paying off so far. But I’ve got to be very, very focused the moment I step on court for the practice, the warm-up. I think that’s key, as well.”

And Federer will look to remain focused regardless of his opponent in the semi-finals. Novak Djokovic leads Group Guga Kuerten after two matches, with Marin Cilic, John Isner and Alexander Zverev still hoping to advance. Federer, this year’s Australian Open, Rotterdam, Stuttgart and Basel titlist, is now 57-14 at the Nitto ATP Finals. And while he’s triumphed at the tournament six times, the Swiss seeks his first victory since 2011.

“I’m happy that this is another week like this. Didn’t look like it maybe 72 hours ago,” Federer said. “But I was able to come back and play good tennis.”

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Thiem defeats Nishikori but both go out in London

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2018

Austria’s Dominic Thiem kept his hopes of reaching the ATP Finals last four alive with a straight-set victory over Japan’s Kei Nishikori – but was later eliminated when Roger Federer won.

Thiem, who lost to Kevin Anderson and Federer in straight sets in his first two group matches, won 6-1 6-4.

It meant he had a slim chance of reaching the semi-finals of the season-ending event for the first time.

But Federer’s straight-set win over Kevin Anderson ended Thiem’s hopes.

The Swiss great advanced as the group winner, with South Africa’s Anderson – who was already assured of his place in the last four – joining him as runner-up.

Thiem’s finals wait continues

Thiem, 25, has been a regular fixture in the world’s top 10 over the past couple of years and, after reaching his first Grand Slam final at the French Open in June, came to the season-ending tournament looking to prove his credentials on a bigger stage once again.

But, before meeting Nishikori, he knew he faced an uphill battle to reach the semi-finals at the O2 Arena for the first time.

After performing well below par in his defeats against Anderson and Federer, Thiem upped his first-serve percentage to put pressure on Nishikori who, like in his loss to Anderson, made a significant number of unforced errors.

The second set was tighter as Nishikori rallied but another break for Thiem put him in command with a 4-3 lead.

Superb court coverage from the Austrian kept him in the point at 30-0 in what proved to be the final game, a brilliant forehand winner bringing up three match points.

And he needed only one, thumping down an ace out wide to seal victory.

“Whatever happens in the night match it is good to get a win here,” Thiem said.

“I wasn’t thinking about winning in two sets, I wasn’t playing good in my other matches, so I just wanted to show my real self and it was way better.”

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Nishikori out after spectacular start

Unlike Thiem, Nishikori knew he was already certain of elimination after his second defeat – no matter what happened between Anderson and Federer.

Since opening the tournament with a shock 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over Federer, the world number nine has looked a shadow of his usual self.

He managed to claim only another six games in his matches against Anderson and Thiem combined and, against the Austrian, made 42 unforced errors.

An indication of his troubles came when the usually serene 29-year-old smashed his racquet on the ground during a second set in which he failed to earn a single break point.

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Federer beats Anderson & reaches ATP Finals semi-finals in London

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2018

Six-time champion Roger Federer beat Kevin Anderson 6-4 6-3 to secure his place in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals for the 15th time.

Federer’s victory means he tops his group to boost his chances of avoiding world number one Novak Djokovic in the last four in London.

The Swiss, 37, looked out of sorts when he lost his first match on Sunday but bounced back with two successive wins.

South African Anderson had already won two matches to reach the semi-finals.

Top seed Djokovic is already through to the semi-finals and can clinch top spot in his group by beating Marin Cilic on Friday.

Alexander Zverev, John Isner and Cilic are battling for the other semi-final berth.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Jamie Murray and Brazilian partner Bruno Soares completed a clean sweep of wins in their doubles group by beating Henri Kontinen and John Peers 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 10-3.

  • Federer v Anderson as it happened
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Questions were asked about Federer’s form and state of mind after he lost to Kei Nishikori in straight sets on Sunday but he gave himself a chance of reaching the semi-finals by beating Dominic Thiem on Tuesday.

And after Thiem defeated Nishikori earlier on Thursday, the Swiss knew he needed to win only six games to join Wimbledon finalist Anderson in the semi-finals.

“I’m very happy, my first match was tough and I never got going, but with my back against the wall maybe it’s easier for me to play,” said Federer.

“Kevin’s had a great year, but it’s been a fun group and I’m very happy to be in the semis.”

Group Lleyton Hewitt
P W-L Sets Games
Roger Federer 3 2-1 4-2 33-25
Kevin Anderson 3 2-1 4-2 32-22
Dominic Thiem 3 1-2 2-4 26-30
Kei Nishikori 3 1-2 2-4 19-33

Federer had three break points on Anderson’s formidable serve in the seventh game of the first set and secured the break when the world number six double-faulted.

Surprisingly Federer shanked two shots to lose his serve in the next game but the Swiss broke again to love as Anderson temporarily lost his range.

Federer had to save three break points at 5-4 but held his serve to take the set – much to the delight of the majority of the fans inside the O2 Arena.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner looked back to near his best in the second set, playing nearer the baseline and moving his opponent around.

And Federer went on to get a small measure of revenge for his Wimbledon quarter-final defeat at the hands of Anderson by wrapping up victory in one hour and 16 minutes.

“These round-robin formats are not straightforward, we’re used to it being you lose, you leave, you don’t hang around,” added Federer, who is aiming to win the 100th title of his career.

“Maybe it was difficult for Kevin having already qualified, whereas with Thiem winning it was maybe easier for me.

“But I’m happy I’m still alive and hope I can play a good match the day after tomorrow.”

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