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Nine Challenger Storylines So Far In 2019

  • Posted: Apr 09, 2019

Nine Challenger Storylines So Far In 2019 recaps the first quarter of the 2019 ATP Challenger Tour season

With 37 tournaments in the books, the 2019 ATP Challenger Tour season is already off to a flying start. Storylines abound on the circuit, as fresh faces and established stars jockey for position in the ATP Rankings, while many players target a successful transition to the ATP Tour.

A current Top 50 star made his debut as tournament director in his hometown, and a bevy of new events made impressive debuts. The first quarter also featured a comeback for the ages, multiple teens bursting onto the scene and a staggering 12 first-time titlists. And of course, there were Hot Shots. Your jaws might still be on the floor.

In case you missed a moment or just need a refresher, here are the nine biggest storylines from the first quarter of the 2019 season on the ATP Challenger Tour…

The Youth Movement Continues
In 2018, it was Felix Auger-Aliassime, Ugo Humbert, Hubert Hurkacz, Jaume Munar and Reilly Opelka leading the #NextGenATP Challenger charge. And already in 2019, a handful of players have made their own statements in the ATP Race To Milan.

Humbert picked up where he left off last year, adding a fourth Challenger crown on home soil in Cherbourg. The 20-year-old Frenchman is up to seventh place in his quest to punch his ticket to Milan, having also reached his first ATP Tour semi-final in Marseille. Less than a year after making his big breakthrough on the circuit, it’s safe to say his Challenger days are already behind him.

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Humbert is one of five #NextGenATP winners thus far in 2019, and while he has established himself in the Top 100, the remaining quartet are still in search of that big breakthrough. The youth movement in France is well underway, with Humbert’s countryman Corentin Moutet up to No. 129 after claiming the crown in Chennai, India. The 19-year-old became the first teenager to win titles in three straight seasons since Evgeny Korolev in 2005-07.

Other titlists include Mikael Ymer, who notched his maiden crown in the island paradise of Noumea, as well as fellow 20-year-old Jeffrey John Wolf, champion in Columbus. Wolf put together a dream week to prevail at his home campus of Ohio State University.

The youngest winner thus far in 2019 was Italy’s Jannik Sinner. With his maiden triumph in Bergamo, he joined an impressive club of recent 17-year-old champions that includes Alexander Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios, Taylor Fritz and Denis Shapovalov. Appearing in just his fourth Challenger main draw, Sinner became the youngest Italian champion in Challenger history.


The Killer ‘B’s Lead The Charge
Barrere and Bublik blast off. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Thus far in 2019, no players have had more success on the ATP Challenger Tour than Gregoire Barrere and Alexander Bublik.

Barrere leads the circuit with 18 match wins, posting an 18-5 record. The majority of his success has come on home soil, lifting trophies on the indoor hard courts of Quimper and Lille and reaching the semis in Pau. Having also secured his first match win on the ATP Tour in Marseille, the Frenchman is making great strides in the ATP Rankings as well, soaring to a career-high No. 117.

Bublik, meanwhile, owns a tour-leading three titles. Champion on the hard courts of Budapest, Pau and Monterrey, the 21-year-old improved to 6-0 in finals in his young career with the trio of triumphs. It has been a long road back for the Kazakh, after suffering a fractured ankle at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last year. But the hard work is already paying off, having returned to the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings on Monday.

You Always Remember Your First
A grand total of 12 players have celebrated their maiden titles this year. To put that in perspective, there were only three first-time winners after the first quarter of the 2018 season and the 12th maiden titlist didn’t come until June.

In addition to Sinner, Wolf and Ymer, Korea’s Soon-woo Kwon tasted victory for the first time, as did Maxime Cressy, Kamil Majchrzak, Gianluca Mager, Matias Franco Descotte, Marcos Giron, Mitchell Krueger, Enrique Lopez-Perez and Steven Diez. The validation of years of hard work and perseverence, for 25-year-old Krueger and 27-year-olds Lopez-Perez and Diez, victory never tasted so sweet.

Graduating To The ATP Tour
Few players enjoyed greater success in 2018 than Auger-Aliassime, Humbert, Opelka, Juan Ignacio Londero and Christian Garin. A combined 13 Challenger titles saw them surge into the spotlight and eventually crack the Top 100. And as the calendar flipped to 2019, all five emerging stars have made seamless transitions on the ATP Tour.

Auger-Aliassime blasted to a career-high No. 33 in the ATP Rankings after reaching his first final in Rio de Janeiro and enjoying a ATP Masters 1000 breakthrough in Miami, advancing to the semis. Humbert scored his first Top 20 win over Borna Coric, en route to the Marseille semi-finals, while Garin reached his first final in Sao Paulo. In addition, Londero and Opelka both tasted victory for the first time, earning their maiden ATP Tour trophies in Cordoba and New York, respectively.

You May Also Like: Moving On Up: Challenger Stars Make Seamless Transition

Going Back-To-Back
Only two repeat champions featured on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2018, but the 2019 season has already included three back-to-back winners. A jet-lagged Taylor Fritz flew straight from Australia to Southern California and retained his crown in Newport Beach, prevailing in front of friends and family. Two months later, it was Barrere who triumphed for a second straight year at the Play In Challenger in Lille.

But no title defence was as dramatic as Pablo Andujar’s victory in Alicante. One year ago, the Spaniard kicked off his comeback from three elbow surgeries with a title at the Ferrero Challenger Open. And on Sunday, he not only lifted his sixth trophy in 12 months, but solidified himself inside the Top 100 with the repeat crown on home soil.

Comeback of the Year (so far)
The Andujar storylines were not limited to his triumph in Alicante. One week earlier, the 33-year-old registered an early candidate for ‘comeback of the year’ with his title run at the nearby Casino Admiral Trophy in Marbella.

Trailing by a set and a break to Benoit Paire in the final, he would mount a stunning comeback. Andujar rallied from a 4-6, 2-5 deficit, saving one match point to take the title. The match was a microcosm of the guile, grit and determination that Andujar has displayed throughout his year-long comeback.


Upset of the Year (so far)
It’s not often that a Top 30 star descends on the ATP Challenger Tour, but that’s exactly what happened at the inaugural Arizona Tennis Classic in Phoenix. Looking for match play and confidence, World No. 21 David Goffin entered the tournament in search of his first trophy since 2017. Just two weeks prior, 27th-ranked Kyle Edmund claimed the title at the Oracle Challenger Series – Indian Wells, and Goffin was targeting a piece of silverware as well.

But Salvatore Caruso had other ideas. In one of the biggest upsets in Challenger history, the 26-year-old Italian, ranked No. 168, stunned Goffin 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. It was the first Top 50 win in Caruso’s career, as he completed a magical semi-final run at the Challenger 125 event.

Phoenix, Cleveland, Pau, Da Nang debut
While the Challenger in Cherbourg, France celebrated its 26th edition and the RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas welcomed players and fans for the 21st time, four new events entered the fray in the first quarter of 2019.

One of the most important tournaments of the year is in Phoenix, which is held during the second week of the BNP Paribas Open in nearby Indian Wells. The affluent Phoenix Country Club staged the inaugural edition of the Arizona Tennis Classic, with world-class facilities greeting a world-class field of Top 100 players.

Professional tennis also returned to Cleveland, Ohio for the first time in 34 years, while ATP veteran Jeremy Chardy served as tournament director at his hometown event in Pau, France, one month later. And in Da Nang, Vietnam, the Asian nation welcomed Challenger tennis back after a one-year hiatus.

Hot Shots Galore
From Maxime Janvier’s over-the-shoulder pass in Pau to Jurgen Zopp’s behind-the-back half-volley in Drummondville and Akira Santillan’s dive in Zhangjiagang, it was a highly entertaining first quarter on the ATP Challenger Tour.

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Murray & Peers lose in first match together since 2015

  • Posted: Apr 09, 2019

Top seeds Jamie Murray and John Peers – playing together for the first time in more than three years – were knocked out of the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech in the first round.

Britain’s Murray and Australian Peers were beaten 7-6 (7-3) 6-7 (7-9) 10-6 by Denmark’s Frederik Nielsen and the Netherlands’ Matwe Middelkoop.

Murray and Peers split after reaching the ATP World Tour Finals in 2015.

Elsewhere, Germany’s Alexander Zverev reached the singles second round.

The top seed beat Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin 6-4 6-4 and will play Spain’s Jaume Munar next.

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'Never in doubt' – Match point down at 0-6 0-5, Moore comes back to win

  • Posted: Apr 09, 2019

When you’re losing 0-6 0-5 and facing match point, the chances are there is no way back.

But the old saying goes that winners never quit – and Tara Moore refused to give up when she found herself in that exact position on Tuesday.

In a show of extraordinary grit, the British number nine saved herself from being double bageled at 30-40 down, and went on to beat French third seed Jessika Ponchet 0-6 7-6 6-3 at the ITF World Tour event in Sunderland.

The greatest comeback in tennis history? Well, the 26-year-old said on social media that it had been “never in doubt”.

Moore has won nine ITF singles titles and reached the second round of Wimbledon in 2016.

She will face either Germany’s Yana Morderger or Romania’s Elena-Teodora Cadar in the second round in Sunderland.

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Vesely Ousts Fognini In Marrakech

  • Posted: Apr 09, 2019

Vesely Ousts Fognini In Marrakech

Djere, Verdasco make first-round exits

Czech Jiri Vesely recorded his biggest match win for nine months on Tuesday at the Grand Prix Hassan II with an impressive 7-6(2), 6-2 victory over second seed Fabio Fognini in one hour and 46 minutes. It was his second straight win over the World No. 18, nine months on from beating Diego Schwartzman and Fognini at Wimbledon in July 2018.

“As expected it was a tough match,” said Vesely, who will next play Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero in the second round. “Fabio is unpredictable and he can play Top 5 level. I got a bit nervous when he started playing unbelievably well at 5-1 in the second set. I’m coming back from a few injuries, so I still need to build my confidence [and] this is obviously a very important win.”

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Laslo Djere and Fernando Verdasco were also among seeded casualties at the ATP 250 clay-court tournament. World No. 103 Lorenzo Sonego lost five of his first-service points in a 6-3, 6-3 win over fifth seed Djere, while fellow qualifier Adrian Menendez-Maceiras recorded his first tour-level match win for 14 months by beating sixth seed Verdasco 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. In February 2018, the 33-year-old Menendez-Maceiras qualified and reached the New York Open quarter-finals (l. to Mannarino).

Elsewhere, seventh-seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber recovered from 0-3 down in the first set and 1-4 in the second set to defeat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, a Spanish qualifier, 7-6(4), 7-5.

Two Frenchmen — eighth seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Benoit Paire — also opened their campaigns with victories. Herbert struck 13 aces in a 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1 win over Italian Thomas Fabbiano, while Paire won the final three games of his 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia.

You May Also Like: Zverev, Nadal Ready For Clay-Court Swing

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Former Champ Granollers Upsets Fritz In Houston

  • Posted: Apr 09, 2019

Former Champ Granollers Upsets Fritz In Houston

Harrison dismisses 40-year-old Karlovic

Spaniard Marcel Granollers went a decade without competing in Houston. But you wouldn’t know it by how at home he looked on Monday evening. The 2008 champion upset fifth seed Taylor Fritz 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the second round of the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

“[It feels] very good. To come back here to Houston, of course for me it’s a good tournament. I have great memories here. I won in 2008,” Granollers said on Tennis Channel. “I came back after 10 years so I’m very, very happy to play in front of the crowd and play on this centre court.”

Granollers arrived in Texas with just one tour-level win this year, but he put on an entertaining all-court display, including a lot of drop shots, to oust the 2018 semi-finalist after one hour and 53 minutes. The 32-year-old, currently 112th in the ATP Rankings, is now 7-1 at this ATP 250 tournament.

“Taylor is a player who can hit very hard. He hits very hard from the baseline and I needed to change rhythm,” Granollers said. “If I hit good drop shots, I think it’s a good option against him and I think today it worked.”

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The Spaniard will next face Aussie Bernard Tomic or home favourite Denis Kudla.

In other action, American Ryan Harrison dismissed 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 6-4 in just 58 minutes. Harrison is hoping to achieve a career-best showing in Houston, where he made the quarter-finals in 2012 (l. to Russell). He will next play sixth seed Mackenzie McDonald or Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen.

#NextGenATP Norwegian Casper Ruud battled past Bolivian Hugo Dellien 7-6(7), 6-4. Earlier this year, Ruud lost just one game against Dellien in their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting in Sao Paulo, but he had to battle much harder this time, advancing after one hour and 41 minutes. Ruud will try to upset New York Open champion Reilly Opelka next.

Chilean Christian Garin also moved forward on Monday, defeating Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Garin will next face second seed Jeremy Chardy.

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An Update On Juan Martin Del Potro's Injury

  • Posted: Apr 09, 2019

An Update On Juan Martin Del Potro’s Injury

Former World No. 3’s doctor provides fans with an update on Del Potro’s knee

Juan Martin del Potro sat out four months after fracturing his patella last October. The Argentine attempted a comeback this February at the Delray Beach Open by, but the ‘Tower of Tandil’ has not competed since, recently implementing a ‘new regenerative treatment’ in the hopes that doing so, along with a special rehab program, will help speed up his recovery.

“The doctors say I need time if I want to be 100 per cent, but I don’t want to be home watching the tournaments on TV. I’ve done that before and it was really bad for me,” Del Potro said in Delray Beach. “It’s hard to win matches when you can’t move at 100 per cent.”

Del Potro’s team provided an update — but did not identify a target comeback tournament— on Monday, as Dr. Ángel Cotorro released a statement about the former World No. 3’s recovery:

“Juan Martin del Potro visited the Mapfre Clinic last week because of the fracture in his right knee cap he suffered almost six months ago. Since the beginning he was advised to take a conservative approach with his treatment. After participating in Delray Beach he began a regenerative treatment with Dr. Alejandro Rolón in Buenos Aires. He later had multiple medical tests done in Barcelona and considering his progress in the past few weeks, it’s been decided to implement a new regenerative treatment. Also, he will follow a specific rehabilitation program led by his physiotherapist, Diego Rodriguez, which will progressively allow the player to incorporate further training and compete on tour again in the near future.”

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