Verkerk And El Aynaoui Continue Their Comebacks
Last week on the challenger circuit saw two veteran players defy the odds by winning events in the hopes of reclaiming their former top 15 status, while the world’s No. 1 junior player won her first challenger title on the women’s side.
After losing in the first round of a futures event in February, many could have argued that it would have been time for Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands to hang up his racket. However, the former Roland Garros finalist has refused to quit and his results have improved rapidly. After winning a futures event in Montreal last month, he won the $50,000 event last week in Athens, Greece with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Adrian Cruciat of Romania. The win gives Verkerk a feed-up into the qualifying draw of an ATP event this spring and he will request a wild card into Roland Garros later this month.
Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco is also continuing his improbable comeback this week, prevailing at the $35,000 event in Chiasso, Switzerland with a dominating 7-6, 6-3 win over top-seeded Alberto Martin of Spain. The win moves the 36-year-old back inside the top 250 and with minimal points to defend for the rest of the year, a return to the top 100 by years end is not unlikely.
Other challenger results on the men’s side include Go Soeda of Japan winning at the $75,000 event in Busan, Korea. Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil delighted the local crowd by winning the $35,000 event in Florianpolis. Dawid Olejniczak of Poland won the $50,000 event in Mexico City, Mexico, and Bobby Reynolds of the United States won the $50,000 event in Tallahassee, Florida.
At the $100,000 tournament in Saint Malo, France, Frenchwoman Stephanie Cohen Aloro won the biggest title of her career with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia. The 25-year-old took advantage of the rain delay late in the second set, rallying off three straight games from 4-5 down to win the match. Cohen-Aloro moved back into the top 100 this week with this result. Despite the loss, Kostanic has turned her year around in Saint Malo after a disappointing 1-6 record heading into the event.
Bari, Italy hosted a $25,000 event this week, and this year girls champion at the Australian Open, Arantxa Rus of The Netherlands, won the title with a hard fought 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over Alberta Brianti of Italy. In winning her first challenger title, Rus will also receive a feed-up into the qualifying draw of Strasbourg, which will be just the second WTA event of her career.
After dropping down to the satellite tour for much of last year, Soledad Esperon of Argentina is now playing the best tennis of her career. She won her second challenger title in a row at the $25,000 event in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla, routing Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria 6-4, 6-1. Esperon moves back into the top 200 this week and will contest her first Grand Slam qualifying event in two years at Roland Garros next month. Despite the loss, Karatantcheva has started her comeback from a drug suspension strongly, winning two challenger titles and reaching the finals of two others since January.
The spotlight stays on the men this week as Dudi Sela of Israel is the top seed at the $100,000 event in Paget, Bermuda. Benjamin Becker of Germany leads the way at the $50,000 tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Kevin Anderson of South Africa takes top billing at the $35,000 event in Cremona, Italy.