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Challenger First-Time Winner Spotlight: Zachary Svajda

  • Posted: Oct 14, 2022

Challenger First-Time Winner Spotlight: Zachary Svajda

The San Diego native has fond memories of practising with Federer in 2019

This past week, American teenager Zachary Svajda staked his claim as the latest #NextGenATP star to watch on the ATP Challenger Tour.

The 19-year-old rallied from a set down to capture his maiden Challenger title in Tiburon, California, defeating countryman Ben Shelton in the final 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Svajda is the youngest American in the Top 300 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The two-time USTA Boys’ 18s National Championships titlist joins fellow San Diego native Brandon Nakashima (Quimper-2, February 2021) as the only American teenage Challenger champion in the past five years.

Following his title on home soil, which propelled him to a career-high No. 255, spoke with the California teen.

ATP Challenger Tour 

Zachary, congratulations on winning your first Challenger title. Can you describe your emotions?
It feels great to get my first Challenger title. The hard work has been paying off. I could’ve been out in the first or second round, I was down 1-5 in the third against Mmoh in the second round. I just came back, it definitely feels good and really special.

Sunday was your first Challenger final. Were you nervous?
Yeah, I was very nervous. I came out in the first set and Ben was playing lights out, it was really good from him. I knew I had to step it up and the nerves started to calm down.

Did the title come as a surprise to you?
It was a little surprising to myself. It didn’t really kick in until the next day, I was like, ‘Wait, I just won Tiburon, my first Challenger final!’ As the tournament went on and I got to the quarters and semis, I started to feel much more confident.

<a href=''>Zachary Svajda</a> won the all-American final at the <a href=''>Tiburon Challenger</a>.
Zachary Svajda is crowned champion at the Tiburon Challenger. Credit: Natalie Kim Photography

There are a lot of young Americans that are doing well right now on the ATP Tour and the Challenger Tour. Will you talk about how promising the future of American tennis looks?
The future is looking really good. There’s a lot of guys in the Top 100, and even outside the Top 100, on the Challenger Tour, guys like me, just building up. We kind of put each other up after a good win, we congratulate and say ‘Let’s keep it going!’ I’m close with Emilio Nava, Ben Shelton, and Brandon Holt. Every American, we put each other up, everyone is nice.

You played Ben Shelton in the 2021 USTA Boys 18s National Championship final. Is it fun to watch you and Ben’s growth and now 14 months later, competing in the Tiburon Challenger final?
It’s fun to see what Ben has done in the past year. He’s close to the Top 150. I knew Sunday was going to be much tougher than Kalamazoo, especially with the success he’s had in the past year. It’s cool to see two Next Gen Americans coming up in a Challenger final, you don’t see that too much.

You had a unique upbringing, where you didn’t play junior tournaments for four-and-a-half years and then won your first of two Kalamazoo titles at 16. Why do you think that path worked so well for you?
I took ages 10-14 off from tournaments. My parents didn’t really see the value of playing so much junior tennis. We were focussing on the process, getting better. The one thing I was kind of lacking was match play but other than that, it was an everyday process to get better. It looks like it’s starting to pay off for me.

How would you describe your game?
I feel like I’m a good ball-striker, good mover. Just solid from the ground, usually if I’m playing at my best, I don’t miss a whole lot. I’m still working on a lot of things, coming into the net, being more aggressive but I try to stay solid from the ground.

In your opinion, what’s the importance of the ATP Challenger Tour?
For me, getting a lot of matches. Especially like in Tiburon, where I was down in my first couple matches. Getting a lot of repetition in and also travelling, seeing new parts, all of it helps. Also, you see the ranking points start to really add up in the semis and finals.

How did you get into tennis? Is there a moment you look back on where you realised you wanted to be a professional tennis player?
I started when I was two. My dad got me into tennis. He played a couple of tournaments in college. I was always dreaming about being a professional. When I got my first ATP point at age 15 in Claremont, CA, beating the one seed at a Futures tournament, I was like, ‘Wow, I can hang with this guy!’ He was like Top 400 at the time, that’s kind of how it all started.

What is your biggest passion outside of tennis?
Growing as a person. Meeting new people, working on my social skills. Trying to learn off the court things, not just always tennis.

Who is your tennis idol?
Unfortunately he retired, but Roger Federer.

Were you able to watch Federer’s last match at the Laver Cup?
Yeah, I did, I watched all of it. It was very emotional. It felt like the world stopped for like a day or two.

Roger and I have some cool stories the past couple years. My first practice with him was at Indian Wells in 2019. I was super nervous, like the most nervous I’ve ever been. We practised that day, and then he asked me to warm him up for the round of 16, quarters, semis, and final, the year he played Thiem. It was amazing that he was requesting me.

When I won Kalamazoo in August, a couple months later, I went to the US Open and he remembered me. I was telling my parents, ‘I wonder if Roger will remember me!’ Sure enough, my first day walking on site, he was like, ‘Hey, Zach! Congrats!’ It was just cool that he saw my result at Kalamazoo and we hit a couple times. I remember that’s when I lost to [Paolo] Lorenzi in five sets when I was 16. One of the coolest things I’ll always remember was after my match, I was cramping, so tired. I went to the locker room and Roger just patted me on the shoulder and was like, ‘Good try, buddy. So close, keep it going!’ That felt so good coming from him.

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Challenger First-Time Winner Spotlight: Timofey Skatov

  • Posted: Oct 14, 2022

Challenger First-Time Winner Spotlight: Timofey Skatov

The 21-year-old is the first Kazakh Challenger champion this season

#NextGenATP youngster Timofey Skatov made his ATP Challenger Tour breakthrough this past week, when he lifted his maiden Challenger trophy in Parma, Italy.

The 21-year-old defeated Slovakian Jozek Kovalik 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-4 in the Parma Challenger final to become the first Kazakh Challenger champion this season. Skatov has reached at least the semi-finals in four of his past five Challenger tournaments and the title in Italy launched him to a career-high No. 152 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. spoke to Skatov following his title to learn more about the rising star.

ATP Challenger Tour 

Timofey, congratulations on winning your first Challenger title. Can you describe your emotions?
I was really happy when I won the tournament, I didn’t even expect to win it. I played just one Challenger final before and I lost it. This one was a bit surprising for me. Maybe because of that, I was more happy because when you are having tough times and then finally you win a Challenger, it feels good.

The final was just over three hours long, were you nervous?
I was more or less okay, I was feeling nervous but I was also feeling confident because the past few matches I was playing well. I was comfortable on court. There were some tough moments, especially in the first set, I was 5-0 up and then suddenly it was 5-4. For sure I was nervous though, in a three-hour match, you get tense.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned stepping up to the Challenger level?
Hard work always pays off. Especially this summer, it was tough for me, I was losing many first rounds. But I was always believing in myself. But then I got some wins which gave me some confidence and I just know you have to work, whatever it takes, doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing, you have to always keep the same attitude.

Has your success come as a surprise to you at all?
I was feeling that I was playing well and I was getting close to a final. A few times in the semi-finals, I was like, ‘Okay, this is really good’. But in my last semi-final, I said, ‘Now, the semi-final is not enough! The goal is to go full!’ In the end, I was playing really well for a month and at the end of those few tournaments, I got the win.

Kazakhstan's <a href=''>Timofey Skatov</a> is crowned champion at the Parma Challenger.
Kazakhstan’s Timofey Skatov is crowned champion at the Parma Challenger. Credit: Daniele Combi

You’re approaching the Top 150, was that a goal at the start of the year?
When I started the season, I didn’t think anything about that. Suddenly, two months ago, I said to myself, ‘It would be nice to finish the season in the Top 150!’ I was kind of thinking about it and I think it also helps me realise what I have to do to get to this point. It’s kind of funny that I’m at 152, the jump is near and I have many more tournaments to work.

How would you describe your game?
Before I started to practice at the Lozano-Altur Tennis Academy in Valencia, Spain, I was practising in Russia, playing with Russian players and we were playing crazy, where you do whatever you have in mind. Then I moved to Spain, where I started working with my coach, Jose Altur. He gave me some rules, like basics that I have to use, and the past three years I’ve really been learning about them.

Now, I’m trying to mix what I had from my youth and what I’ve learned in Spain, with a bit more control. Many times I play kind of different, I run a lot, I like it, sometimes it’s funny. It’s a mix of everything but for sure I’m not a big server.

In your opinion, what’s the importance of the ATP Challenger Tour?
It’s kind of a transition tour, from ITF to ATP. First, you get the experience, and then also you see how strong you are. The Challenger Tour is kind of like university, if you pass it, then you go to ‘real life’.

What is your biggest passion outside of tennis?
Before I would say football but now I don’t have much time, it’s really tough to say. I like fashion things, like clothes and shoes. If I have the opportunity in big cities, I like to go shopping.

Is there a moment you look back on where you realised you wanted to be a professional tennis player?
First, when I was like 12 years old, it was time to choose between more school and tennis. And then my first time I went to the USA to play the Orange Bowl junior tournament, I was really surprised to see many players playing much better than me. After that, I sat with my parents and my coach and I said, ‘Okay, I like tennis and I don’t like school!’

When I moved to Spain at 17, this was the point where I had to go away from home and become more like a man, and take more responsibility myself, like start practising and working harder than I was.

You’ve said that Roger Federer is your idol. What was your reaction to his retirement and did you watch his last match at the Laver Cup?
I didn’t see the match but I think everyone was expecting it when he didn’t play for more than one year. I was on Instagram and I suddenly saw a post from Roger and I saw, ‘To my tennis family…’ I was like, ‘Okay, he is saying bye-bye.’ It’s kind of sad but he played as long as possible.

When you’re at Challenger tournaments, do you get much time to sightsee? And if so, what’s a memorable spot you’ve been to while on the road?
When I played at the Seville Challenger, Sevilla FC was playing Barcelona and we went to see the match. Then a couple days later, on Tuesday, they were playing a Champions League game against Manchester City. So, I watched more football in two days than I have in the past three years.

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Felix Strengthens Turin Hopes With Florence Victory

  • Posted: Oct 14, 2022

Felix Strengthens Turin Hopes With Florence Victory

Canadian climbs to seventh in Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin

Felix Auger-Aliassime boosted his Nitto ATP Finals qualification chances on Friday in Florence, where he moved past #NextGenATP American Brandon Nakashima 6-3, 6-4.

In a dominant display, the Canadian fired 23 winners and won 90 per cent (35/39) of his first-serve points to set up a semi-final meeting with #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti at the UniCredit Firenze Open.

“I am very pleased with my level,” Auger-Aliassime said in his on-court interview. “It was a great two sets of tennis. I think I served well. I could have been better on the second serve, he was winning a lot of points. I had to stay very focused until the end because you never know, matches can change quickly.”

ATP WTA LIVE | Follow the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin In Real Time

With his 89-minute victory, Auger-Aliassime has climbed one place to seventh in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, moving past American Taylor Fritz, who lifted the trophy in Tokyo last week.

“There is still a lot of work to do to qualify for Turin,” Auger-Aliassime said. “The race is still very close, very tight. I am going to try my best to go all the way this week. But tomorrow already it will be another tough opponent. It won’t be easy to win any match. But with the way I am playing now I have more chances of qualifying [for the Nitto ATP Finals].”

The 22-year-old is aiming to make his debut at the prestigious end-of-year event, to be held at the Pala Alpitour in Turin from 13-20 November. Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic have all already qualified.

The top seed has now advanced to five tour-level semi-finals this season following his 42nd tour-level win of the year. Auger-Aliassime, who defeated Oscar Otte in his opening match at the ATP 250 event in Italy, lifted his maiden tour-level trophy on hard in Rotterdam in February.

Nakashima leaves Florence in sixth place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan. The 21-year-old is looking to qualify for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals for the second consecutive season after reaching the semi-finals last year.

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Musetti Soars Into Florence SFs

  • Posted: Oct 14, 2022

Musetti Soars Into Florence SFs

Wolf and Ymer seal semi-final spots

#NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti lit up the UniCredit Firenze Open Friday when he produced a stunning display to reach the semi-finals on home soil in Florence.

In front of a packed Italian crowd, the 20-year-old opened his shoulders to fire an array of winners past Mackenzie McDonald, advancing 6-3, 6-2 at the ATP 250 event.

Musetti lost just three games in his opening round win against Bernabe Zapata Miralles and played with confidence against the American, striking 23 winners to earn his 26th tour-level win of the season in 77 minutes.

The third seed, who has already qualified for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, will next face top-seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime or eighth-seeded American Brandon Nakashima in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Musetti is aiming to win his second tour-level title this week at the hard-court event, having triumphed on clay in Hamburg in June.

ATP WTA LIVE | Follow the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin In Real Time

In other action, Swedish qualifier Mikael Ymer defeated Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 6-2 to reach his third tour-level semi-final of the season. The 24-year-old, who is up to No. 79 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, fired 27 winners to improve to 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against Carballes Baena.

Ymer will next play J.J. Wolf after the American edged seventh seed Alexander Bublik 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in two hours and 14 minutes. With his victory, Wolf has advanced to his first tour-level semi-final and is up to No. 63 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

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Gille/Martin Reach Gijon SFs

  • Posted: Oct 14, 2022

Gille/Martin Reach Gijon SFs

Doumbia/Reboul advance In Florence

Sander Gille and Fabrice Martin reached the semi-finals at the Gijon Open on Friday when they downed Sander Arends and David Pel 6-4, 7-6(5).

In a tight clash, the Belgian-French tandem raised their level at the crucial moments, saving all three break points they faced to advance after 89 minutes at the ATP 250 event.

Gille and Martin, who upset top seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos in the first round, are teaming for the first time this week. The 31-year-old Gille has lifted five tour-level trophies in his career, while Martin has triumphed seven times. They will next play Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow.

In the other match in Spain, Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni moved past Nikola Cacic and Hugo Nys 7-5, 6-2 to advance to the championship match. Gonzalez and Molteni did not face a break point to triumph after 71 minutes.

ATP WTA LIVE | Follow the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin In Real Time

Doumbia/Reboul Advance In Florence
Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul overcame Nicolas Barrientos and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela 7-6(4), 6-2 to reach the semi-finals at the UniCredit Firenze Open in Florence.

In a strong serving display, the Frenchmen fired nine aces and won 91 per cent (30/33) of points behind their first deliveries to seal victory after 86 minutes. Doumbia and Reboul are aiming to win their first tour-level title as a team this week in Italy and will next meet Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

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Thiem Secures SF Berth In Gijon

  • Posted: Oct 14, 2022

Thiem Secures SF Berth In Gijon

Austrian next plays Rublev or Paul

Dominic Thiem moved to within two wins of capturing his first tour-level title since 2020 on Friday when he moved past fourth seed Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-3 at the Gijon Open.

The Austrian played with confidence throughout the one-hour, 34-minute clash in Spain, riffling his groundstrokes with heavy topspin and pace to advance to his second tour-level semi-final of the season. Thiem reached the last four on clay in Gstaad in July.

“From the first match on, I have felt great on this court,” Thiem said in his on-court interview. “A lot of control. A super nice atmosphere and I have enjoyed playing a lot since Monday. I am super happy that I am still in the tournament at the weekend and I can play another match. It is very important for me as I am trying to climb up the rankings. The semi-finals at an ATP [Tour] event is helping a lot.”

Thiem, who moved past Joao Sousa and Marcos Giron in his opening two matches at the ATP 250 event, is up to No. 132 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings following his 14th tour-level win of the year. He will climb back into the Top 100 if he wins the title in Gijon.

The 29-year-old will be aiming to reach his first tour-level final since the Nitto ATP Finals in 2020 when he next plays Andrey Rublev or fifth seed Tommy Paul on Saturday. Thiem’s last tour-level title came at the US Open in September 2020.

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