Nishikori Continues to Roll; Mattek Rebounds

The challenger circuit last week featured two flashy young players hoisting up winners trophies. Kei Nishikori’s intelligent game and speed allowed him to prevail in Bermuda, while Bethanie Mattek’s aggressive all court game (and fashion sense) saw her triumph in Alabama.

It’s safe to say that Kei Nishikori won’t be on the challenger circuit for much longer. The 18-year-old from Japan won his first ATP title this year in Delray Beach, Fla., and has now won the $100,000 event in Paget, Bermuda. In the final, Nishikori fought back from 1-3 down in the final-set tiebreak to beat Victor Troicki of Serbia 2-6 7-5 7-6. With the win, Nishikori moved to No. 99 in the rankings and became the first Japanese man to break the top 100 since Shuzo Matsuoka in 1996.

At the $50,000 tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, American Bobby Reynolds won his second challenger event in a row by defeating Igor Kunitsyn of Russia 6-3 6-7 7-5. He also won the tournament last week in Tallahassee, Fla. Reynolds also moves to a new career high ranking of No. 77 with his result.

At the $35,000 event in Cremona, Italy, Eduardo Schwank of Argentina won his first challenger of the year with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Bjorn Phau of Germany. The 22-year-old Schwank is also poised to move into a new career high ranking this week. Despite the loss, this was easily the best result of the year for Phau, who sported a 5-7 record coming into Cremona.

On the women’s side, Mattek of the United States won her first title of the year at the $75,000 tournament in Dothan, Alabama, beating fellow American Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 7-6. Mattek rebounded strongly from her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Maria Sharapova last week by winning the title without the loss of a set. Despite the loss, Lepchenko can take comfort in having another solid week in Dothan; she’s reached the final in three out of the last four years.

Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei was the heavy favorite to win the $25,000 event in Incheon, Korea, and she didn’t disappoint. The 22-year-old rolled over Yan-Ze Xie of China in the final with a 6-1, 6-1 victory. Hsieh has failed to win a match since coming out of nowhere to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open this year, but finally showed the form that got her to the second week of the first major of the event.

At the $25,000 tournament in Namangan, Uzbekistan, Ksenia Palkina of Kyrgyzstan became the first player from her country to win a challenger title with a 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 win over Maria Kondratieva of Russia. Palkina also reached the quarterfinals of the WTA event in Tashkent last fall.

The challenger circuit will be graced by the presence of a top 25 player this week, as Tatiana Golovin competes at the $100,000 event in Cagnes Sur Mer, France. Stephanie Dubois of Canada is the top seed at the $50,000 event in Charlottesville, Virginia, Evgenia Rodina of Russia takes top billing at the $50,000 event in Makarska, Croatia, and Aiko Nakamura of Japan hopes to satisfy her home crowd at the $50,000 event in Gifu. Events on the $25,000 level in Gimcheon, Korea and Balikpapan, Indonesia will also be contested. On the men’s side, Julien Benneteau of France is the top seed at the $125,000 event in Tunis, Tunisia, and Jiri Vanek of the Czech Republic leads the way at the $75,000 event in his hometown of Prague. Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei is the top seed at the $50,000 event in Lanzarote, Spain, and Italian Flavio Cipolla leads the way at the $35,000 event in Rome, Italy.