Go Soeda

Raonic, Haase Could Get Company From Compatriots in Top 100 in ‘12

It can be lonely in the top 100, especially if you’re Andy Murray, Ernests Gulbis or Jurgen Melzer.

They’re just three of the 21 players that are their nation’s sole representative among that ranking benchmark. But while some of them, such as Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis, might not be getting any company from their compatriots any time soon, there are some national number-twos who could be backing up or surpassing their higher-ranked countrymen in 2012. Here’s a look at five of them.

Izak van der Merwe

Second-ranked player from South Africa behind Kevin Anderson

Over the course of the past four years, van der Merwe’s year-end ranking has improved—from 302 to at the end of 2008 to his current, and career-high, 113. In 2011, the 27-year-old South African won two Challenger titles on hard courts, and made the finals of another. He also advanced to the quarterfinals at the ATP World Tour 250 event in Johannesburg, where his countryman Anderson won their “home” tournament. Solid results at the start of 2012 could land van der Merwe alongside Anderson in the top 100.

Vasek Pospisil

Second-ranked player from Canada behind Milos Raonic

If it seems like Raonic appeared out of nowhere in 2011, the opposite should be expected of Pospisil in the year ahead. Big things are expected from the 21-year-old, who improved his ranking by nearly 200 points over the year. His most impressive feat in the past year was lifting his country into World Group play for the 2012 Davis Cup. Improving his place in the standings could be his next big accomplishment.

Go Soeda

Second-ranked player from Japan behind Kei Nishikori

The veteran reached his career-high ranking in 2011—90—with his best ATP Tour-level result coming in Thailand, where he reached the quarterfinals out of qualifying. He played in the main draw of three of the four Grand Slams during the year, and also won two Challenger events. Soeda had a solid finish to the year with quarterfinal finishes in two of his last three tournaments, giving him something to build upon in 2012.

Thomas Schoorel

Second-ranked player from the Netherlands behind Robin Haase

It’s been quite some time since the days of Richard Krajicek, Jan Siemerink and Paul Haarhuis. But a Dutch renaissance appears to be in effect based on the play of Haase and Schoorel behind him. The 22-year-old Schoorel cracked the top 100 in 2011, before finishing at 133, based on strong Challenger results, winning two tournaments in a row on clay. He also picked up wins over perennial top-100 players Jarkko Nieminen and Jeremy Chardy during the year, and made the second round of the French Open.

Andrey Golubev

Second-ranked player from Kazakhstan behind Mikhail Kukushkin

Things didn’t exactly go as planned for Kazakhstan’s former number one in 2011. After winning his first career title at the ATP World Tour 500 stop in Hamburg and making the finals in Kuala Lumpur in 2010, Golubev—whose career-high ranking is 33—notched a 6-26 record in the just-concluded season. Most of those wins came during the summer on outdoor hard courts, a sign that he began to rediscover some of his form after a rough start. A good run in the beginning of ’12 could help him fully put the memories of ’11, and that lower ranking, behind him.

All Quiet On the Challenger Front

With Roland Garros qualifying taking place, this was a quiet week on the challenger circuit. The relatively weak draws allowed two players primarily competing on the futures circuit, George Bastl and Nina Bratchikova, to break through and score much needed challenger victories.

Yen Hsun-Lu of Taipei has had outstanding results on the challenger circuit this year, but has had problems closing the door in the final match. Last week proved to be no different as Lu reached his fourth consecutive challenger final at the $50,000 event in New Delhi, India, but lost 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the championship match to Go Soeda of Japan. Soeda has also been a strong performer during the Asian swings of the challenger circuit this year, winning events in Kyoto, Japan and Busan, Korea.

The $50,000 challenger in Fergana, Uzbekistan, featured two players competing in their first challenger final of the year. In the end, Pavel Snobel of the Czech Republic prevailed 7-5, 6-3 over George Bastl of Switzerland. Bastl, who is best remembered for beating Pete Sampras in the legend’s final match at Wimbledon in 2002, has slipped to No. 380 in the world and competes primarily on the futures circuit. However, his form this week brings him slightly closer to his previous top 100 form.

At the $25,000 event in Nagano, Japan, Erika Takao of Japan completed her return from injury with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Jin-A Lee of Korea in the final. Takao, who has been high as No. 128 in the world, used her previous experience to overwhelm Lee throughout the contest; Takao was competing in her 10th challenger final while this was the first for Lee.

At the $25,000 challenger event in Moscow, Russia, Nina Bratchikova prevailed in the all Russian final against Ksenia Pervak, coming back from 5-3 in the final set to win by a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 score. Bratchikova is also in the main draw of this week’s challenger event in Russia.

The men retain the spotlight this week as top seeded Yen-Hsun Lu will look to reach his fifth consecutive challenger final at the $75,000 event in Izmir, Uzbekistan. Robert Kendrick of the United States leads the way at the $50,000 event in Carson, California, while Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia leads the way at the $35,000 challenger in Karlsruhe, Germany.

On the women’s side, Angela Haynes of the United States is the top seed this week at the $50,000 challenger in Carson, California. Teodora Mircic of Serbia is the top seed at the $25,000 event in Togliatti, Russia, Kyra Nagy of Hungary takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Galatina, Italy, while Junri Namigata of Japan is top seed at the $25,000 challenger in Gunma, Japan.