Adrian Cruciat

For Calleri and Garbin, Clay Season Is Not Over

Last week on the challenger circuit, clay-court specialists prevailed in the biggest red dirt events on the men’s and women’s side, while we also got a sneak peek of coming attractions for Wimbledon at the first grass court tune-up of the year.

The $150,000 challenger in Prostejov, Czech Republic, has always attracted a strong field and this year was no exception. Top-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic is ranked among the world’s top 15 and all the seeded players were ranked in the top 100. In the end, Agustin Calleri of Argentina used his clay court prowess to overwhelm Martin Vasallo-Arguello of Spain 6-0, 6-3. The win propels Calleri back among into the top 50 in the rankings.

Daniel Kollerer of Austria, known as “Crazy Dani” on the ATP Tour, has attracted an infamous reputation for his bad attitude on the court and was even suspended from playing ATP tournaments for six months. He’s finally starting to become known for his tennis, winning his first title of the year at the $50,000 challenger in Furth, Germany, with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia. This result takes some of the sting out of Giraldo’s Roland Garros performance, where he had match points to qualify for the main draw before losing to Frederico Gil of Portugal.

The $50,000 challenger in Surbiton, Great Britain, featured a top 20 entry in Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, but he withdrew from his second round match with an injury. Frank Dancevic of Canada, always a dangerous threat on the grass with his serve, won a hard fought 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 contest over Kevin Anderson of South Africa. Both Dancevic and Anderson are competing at the ATP tour event in London this week.

In other results on the men’s side, Michael Yani of the United States came through qualifying to win the $50,000 challenger in Yuba City, California, while Frederico Gil of Portugal won the $35,000 challenger in Sassuolo, Italy.

On the women’s side, Tathiana Garbin of Italy delighted the home crowd by winning the $75,000 event in Rome, Italy, rallying from being an early break in the final set to defeat Yvonne Meusburger of Austria 6-4, 4-6 7-6. This tournament also snapped a four-match losing streak for Garbin and a six-match losing streak for Meusburger.

At the $50,000 challenger in Surbiton, United Kingdom, Marina Erakovic of New Zealand continued her strong form by defeating Anne Keothavong of Great Britain 6-4, 6-2. Erakovic, who gave Jelena Jankovic a tough match in the second round of Roland Garros, could truly break through at Wimbledon on a surface which is tailor made for her game. Despite the loss, Keothavong has much to be proud about, becoming the first British woman to crack the world’s top 100 since Samantha Smith in 1999.

After coming close twice this year, Patricia Mayr of Austria finally broke through and won her first title at the $25,000 event in Grado, Italy, narrowly beating Jasmina Tincic of Croatia 6-4, 7-6. Mayr is now on track to compete in her first ever Grand Slam qualifying event at the US Open this summer. We could be hearing more from Tincic in the future though; this was only the fifth professional event she has ever played in.

Marseille, France hosts the top event on the women’s side this week as Martina Muller of Germany leads the way at the $75,000 event held there. Yvonne Meusburger of Austria is the top seed at the $75,000 event in Zlin, Czech Republic, Lauren Albanese of the United States leads the way at the $25,000 challenger in El Paso, Texas, and Ana Vrljic of Croatia takes top billing at the $25,000 challenger in Campobasso, Italy.

On the men’s side, Adrian Cruciat of Romania is the top seed at the $50,000 challenger in Sofia, Bulgaria. Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia is the top seed at the $35,000 event in Milan, Italy, while Eric Prodon of France leads the way at the $35,000 challenger in Kosice, Slovakia.

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.