Eric Prodon

Gabashvili Rolls On While Groenefeld Rebounds

While the top stars are preparing for the grass courts of Wimbledon, the challenger circuit remains on the clay courts. Last week showed one player on the men’s side continuing his prowess on the circuit, while another player on the women’s side took a small step towards gaining back her former top 15 ranking.

After an outstanding 2006 season which saw her reach a career high ranking of No. 14, Groenefeld suffered a nightmare 2007 season that included fitness issues and a high-profile feud with her former coach, Rafael Font De Mora. After taking most of 2008 off, Groenefeld showed that she is serious about getting her game back on track by winning the $75,000 challenger in Zlin, Czech Republic, dispatching Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia 6-3, 4-6 6-1, in the final. The win also puts Groenefeld back in the world’s top 300, with minimal points to defend for the rest of the year.

At the $75,000 challenger in Marseille, France, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium won her second challenger title of the year with a 7-6, 6-2 win over local favorite Stephanie Foretz of France. The win gives Flipkens the biggest title of her career and propels her just outside of the top 150 in the rankings.

While satellite results normally aren’t mentioned in this column, one result deserves a special accolade. Kimiko Date-Krumm, who reached a career high ranking of No. 4 in 1995, won the first singles title in her comeback at the $10,000 satellite event in Tokyo, Japan. The 37-year-old didn’t drop a set all week, storming through Shiho Akita of Japan in the final with a 6-3, 6-2 win. The win moves Date-Krumm just outside of the top 400 in the world rankings after just four tournaments.

In other results on the women’s side, Masa Zec-Peskiric of Slovenia won the $25,000 event in Campobasso, Italy, while Anna Tatishvili of Georgia won the first pro title of her career at the $25,000 challenger in El Paso, Texas.

On the men’s side, Adrian Ungur of Romania won the first pro title of his career at the $50,000 challenger in Sofia, Bulgaria, rolling over Franco Ferreiro of Brazil in the finals 6-3, 6-0. Ferreiro is still looking for his first title of the year, having lost his other final of the year at the challenger in Florianopolis, Brazil.

At the $35,000 event in Kosice, Slovakia, Lukas Rosol of Czech Republic also won the first challenger title of his career by beating Miguel Angel Lopez-Jaen of Spain with a 7-5, 6-1 victory in the final. The win moves Rosol within a few spots of breaking the top 200 for the first time in his career.

Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia continues to roll on the challenger circuit. The 23 year old won his third challenger title of the year at the $35,000 challenger in Milan, Italy, beating Diego Hartfield of Argentina 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the final. The win moves Gabashvili within striking distance of the world’s top 100, a place he has remained out of for almost a full year now.

The men host the biggest event on the challenger circuit this week as Jiri Vanek of Czech Republic is the top seed at the $125,000 event in Braunschweig, Germany. Eric Prodon takes top billing at the $35,000 in Bytom, Poland, while Bjorn Phau of Germany leads the way at the $35,000 challenger in Recanati, Italy.

Only one challenger will take place on the women’s side this week, as Nina Bratchikova of Russia is the top seed at the $25,000 event in Istanbul, Turkey.

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.

Date-Krumm Makes Inspirational Comeback in Gifu

Last week on the challenger circuit, a former top 5 player and the only college graduate mother on tour recorded impressive results, while two players on the men’s side broke into the top 100 for the first time this week with their tournament wins.

Twelve years after competing in her last professional singles event, Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan returned to the tour this week at the $50,000 challenger event in Gifu, Japan. The 37-year-old, who reached a career high ranking of No. 4 in the world, accepted wild cards into the qualifying draw of the singles event and main draw of the doubles event. Date surprised everybody by coming through qualifying and storming through to the finals of the singles draw. In Sunday’s championship match against Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand, she was up a set and 4-2 before Tanasugarn prevailed 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. However, Date won the doubles event with fellow Japanese player Kurumi Nara. Date will also play in the singles and doubles draws of the $50,000 event in Fukuoka, Japan next week.

At the $100,000 challenger in Cagnes Sur Mer France, Viktoria Kutuzova of Ukraine finally lived up the expectations placed on her as a can’t miss junior prodigy, winning the biggest event of her career with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Maret Ani of Estonia. The win also places Kutuzova back in the top 150.of the rankings. Despite the loss, Ani has been riding a hot streak as of late, having reached the semifinals of the WTA event in Estoril, Portugal last week.

At the $50,000 event in Charlottesville, Virginia, Alexis Gordon of the United States won the first title of her career with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Olga Puchkova of Russia. The 25-year-old Gordon is currently in her debut year on the tour, having finished college at the Univ. of Florida in May of last year. She also took time off in college to give birth to her daughter, Imani, who’s now three years old. Gordon moves up to No. 374 in the rankings this week and she says that her goal is to make the cut-off for the qualifying at the Australian Open next year.

In other challenger results on the women’s side, Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein won the $50,000 event in Makarska, Croatia and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand won the $25,000 event in Balikpapan, Indonesia. Jarmila Gajdosova of Slovakia won the $25,000 event in Gimcheon, Korea, and Augustina Lepore of Argentina won the $25,000 tournament in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico.

On the men’s side, Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil won the biggest title of her career at the $125,000 challenger in Tunis, Tunisia, beating Dusan Vemic of Serbia 6-4, 6-4 in the final. This is Bellucci’s third challenger title of the year and propelled him into the world’s top 100 for the first time in his career.

At the $75,000 event in Prague, Czech Republic, Jan Hernych of the Czech Republic beat fellow countryman Lukas Dlouhy 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the final. This was the first all-Czech final in the tournament’s history.

Stephane Bohli of Switzerland won the title at the $50,000 event in Lanzarote, Spain with a 6-3, 6-4 over Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei. This is the first challenger title for Bohli, having lost in all four of his previous finals. Lu has been a strong competitor on the challenger circuit this year, reaching the finals of a challenger in Busan, Korea last month and winning the title in Waikoloa, Hawaii last January.

At the $35,000 event in Rome, Italy, Eduardo Schwank of Argentina won his second challenger title in the tow with a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 win over Eric Prodon of France. The win also moves Schwank into the top 100 for the first time in his career.

Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden leads the way next week as the top seed at the $75,000 event in Zagreb, Croatia. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino is the top seed at the $50,000 challenger in Jounieh, Lebanon, and Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium takes top billing at the $50,000 event in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. Challenger events will also be contested next week in Bucharest, Romania, Fukuoka, Japan, Antalya, Turkey, Florence, Italy, Changwon, Korea and Irapuato, Mexico.

On the men’s side, Donald Young is the top seed at the $50,000 challenger in Tunica, Mississippi. Michael Berrer of Germany is the top seed at the $42,500 event in Dresden, Germany, Sergio Roitman of Argentina takes top billing at the $42,500 challenger in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez leads the way at the $42,500 challenger in Rabat, Morocco. Challenger events will also be contested next week in Rijeka, Croatia and Telde, Spain.