Ivan Miranda

Dokic and Massu Take First Steps to Former Glory

Last week on the challenger circuit, two former top 10 players struggling with injuries and motivation took their first real steps to reclaiming their former glory, while two players on the men’s side continued their hot streaks on the circuit.

Jelena Dokic of Australia has had more than her share of personal problems. The former world No. 4 has defected from her family, switched nationalities several times, and attempted multiple half-hearted comeback attempts. However, it looks like that Dokic is serious this time around after winning her first event in six years at the $25,000 event in Florence, Italy, dominating Lucie Hradecka of Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3 in the final. The win moves Dokic up to No. 325 in the rankings (after just four tournaments) and she has contacted the All England Club for a qualifying wild card into Wimbledon.

At the $75,000 event in Zagreb, Croatia, Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden won her first title of the year by beating former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Severine Bremond of France 7-6, 6-2. The 24-year-old Swede, who has recorded high-profile scalps over Anna Chakvetadze and Marion Bartoli this year, used her aggressive groundstrokes to wear Bremond down throughout the match. Despite the loss, Bremond has been on a hot streak as of late with a 10-4 record on the challenger circuit in her last four events.

At the $50,000 tournament in Jounieh, Lebanon, players had to endure the fighting that has plagued the country, confining them to their hotel rooms and the tennis courts for the week. Anne Keothavong of Great Britain weathered her surroundings and won the first clay court of her career, defeating Lourdes Dominguez-Lino of Spain 6-4, 6-1. The win moved Keothavong up to a career high ranking of No. 102 and allows her direct entry into Wimbledon this summer. The last British player to get direct entry into Wimbledon was Samantha Smith in 1999.

In other results on the women’s side, Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium won the $50,000 event in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. Petra Cetkovska of Czech Republic prevailed at the $50,000 challenger in Bucharest, Romania, and Tomoko Yonemura of Japan won at the $50,000 challenger in Fukuoka, Japan. Ksenia Milevskaya of Belarus won at the $25,000 challenger in Antalya, Turkey, Yan Ze-Xie of China took home the winners trophy at the $25,000 event in Changwon, Korea, and Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia prevailed at the $25,000 event in Irapuato, Mexico.

On the men’s side, it’s been a while since we heard from Nicolas Massu. The former top 10 player and reigning Olympic gold medalist has been struggling with injuries, but took a step in the right direction by winning the $30,000 event in Rijeka, Croatia. His 6-2, 6-2 win in the final over Christophe Rochus of Belgium gives the Chilean his first title in over two years.

Ivan Miranda of Peru is continuing to ride his hot streak on the challenger circuit with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Carsten Ball of Australia at the $50,000 challenger in Tunica, Mississippi. Miranda has now reached the championship round in three of the last four challengers he has played. His experience clearly was a factor against Ball, who was competing in the first challenger final of his career.

Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil is a name that has repeatedly come up in this column, but it’s only a matter of time before he moves to the ATP Tour on a full-time basis. He won his fourth challenger title of the year (and third in a row) at the $42,500 challenger in Rabat, Morocco, rolling over Martin Vasallo-Arguello of Argentina 6-2, 6-2. Expect Bellucci to potentially do some damage at Roland Garros in just a few weeks.

In other results on the men’s side, Andreas Beck won the $42,500 challenger in Dresden, Germany, while Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia won the $30,000 event in Telde, Spain. Jiri Vanek also won the $42,500 event in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Fabrice Santoro of France highlights the challenger circuit this week as the top seed at the $75,000 event in Bordeaux, France, while Gael Monfis of France leads the way at the $75,000 challenger in Marrakech, Morocco. Several $50,000 events will also be contested this week; Robert Kendrick of the United States is the top seed at the one in Bradenton, Florida, Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei will lead the way in New Delhi, India, and Denis Gremelmayr of Germany takes top billing in Zagreb, Croatia. Oscar Hernandez of Spain is top seed at the $42,500 event in Aarhus, Denmark, while Santiago Ventura of Spain is the top seed at the $30,000 challenger in San Remo, Italy.

On the women’s side, Petra Cetkovska of Czech Republic is top seed at the $50,000 event in Saint Gaudens, France. Melanie South of Great Britain leads the way at the $50,000 challenger in Kurume, Japan, Tetiana Luzhanska of Ukraine is the top seed at the $25,000 challenger in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Jorgelina Cravero of Argentina takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Caserta, Italy. Finally, Renata Voracova of Czech Republic is top seed at the $25,000 event in Szczecin, Poland.

Verkerk Takes First Step On The Road To Comeback

Martin VerkerkIt’s rare that we start out with the futures recap, but one particular result deserves some attention. Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands is a name tennis fans would definitely file in the “Where Are They Now?” pile. The lanky Dutchman came out of nowhere to reach the French Open finals in 2003 and then disappeared just as quickly as he succumbed to a variety of injuries. However, rather than hang up his racquets, Verkerk has admirably swallowed his pride and dropped back down to the futures circuit. This week, he took a small step back towards reaching Court Philippe Chatrier once again as he won the $15,000 event in Montreal. In other Futures news, Rui Machado of Portugal extended his winning streak on the Futures circuit to 23 matches as he won his fourth title of the year at the $15,000 event in Albuiera. On the women’s side, teenager Lenka Jurikova of Slovakia won the $10,000 event in Ramat Hasharon.

Ekaterina Dzehalevich has already proven herself as a standout doubles player in winning the doubles title at the WTA event in Tashkent and reaching the semifinals n Bangalore last week. Today, she took her singles game one step closer to reaching the WTA level that her doubles game is already at. The Belarusian player won her first ever challenger title at the $50,000 event in New Delhi by beating Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 2-6 6-3 6-2 in the final. Having gone 0-4 in her previous challenger finals, Dzehalevich remained unnerved after losing the first set and used her aggressive baseline game to take the last two sets convincingly. Despite the loss, it’s apparent that Asia has been good to Wickmayer; she went 22-2 during the Asian swing last fall and racked up three challenger titles.

Las Palmas De Gran Canaria was the home to the first of two $25,000 events in Spain this month. Cheyenne Ewijk, a wild card entry from the Netherlands, came out of nowhere to win the first challenger title of her career; she beat Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium in a nail-biting 4-6 7-6 7-6 final. Ewijk, who has spent time training at Brenda Schultz McCarthy’s academy in the Netherlands, moves up over 200 spots with this win to land just outside of the top 400. For Flipkens, her performance this week marks another important step in her comeback from an injury which kept her out of action for over six months in 2007. Both Ewijk and Flipkens will compete in the main draw of the $25,000 event held next week in Tenerife.

At the $25,000 event in Kalgoorie, Yi-Miao Zhou of China swept through the draw before defeating Ellen Barry of New Zealand 7-5 6-2 in the final. The Chinese teenager has only played a limited schedule since she first started competing professionally in 2005 and this was her first tournament outside of China. Zhou will crack the top 400 for the first time in her career after this tournament. Despite the loss, Barry has been on a hot streak as of late; she won her first pro event at the $10,000 tournament in Hamilton last week last week and has now reached her first challenger final. Both girls will compete at the next Australian $25,000 event in Sorrento.

It’s been a long time coming for Ivan Miranda of Peru. Six years after winning his last challenger title (fittingly, at this same event in 2002), the 28 year old finally did it again at the $35,000 event in Salinas when he overwhelmed Diego Junqueira of Argentina 6-2 6-2 in the final. Miranda, whose ranking has slipped to #295 as a result of injuries and poor form, will look to use this tournament as a springboard to get back to the level of play which saw him just outside of the top 100 in 2003. Despite the loss, this was Junqueira’s first challenger final in two years and one of the best weeks of his career.

2008 has gotten off a great start for Marcel Granollers-Pujol of Spain. He qualified for his first ever Australian Open at the beginning of the year and then reached his first ever ATP quarterfinal recently in Acapulco. Granollers-Pujol has now won his first challenger title of the year by beating fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain 6-4 6-4 in the final. Granollers-Pujol moves into the top 200 with this win and looks to be a sure bet to continue progressing in the rankings with his fine form so far this year. The same can also be said of Gimeno-Traver, who won the first ATP match of his career last month in Vina del Mar.

The spotlight turns to the men this week with the $100,000 event in Sunrise. With a cutoff ranking of #71, this tournament could easily pass for an ATP event. Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, ranked #21 in the world, is the top seed in this event. The draws are also still being made for the $50,000 event in San Luis Potosi, as well as $35,000 events in Meknes and Sarajevo. On the women’s side, several $25,000 events are taking place this week. Iona-Raluca Olaru of Romania, fresh off pushing Ana Ivanovic to three sets in Indian Wells this week, is the top seed at the $25,000 event in Redding. Tzipi Obziler of Israel is the top seed at the $25,000 event in Tenerife, Yanina Wickmayer leads the pack at the $25,000 event in Noida, Anna Lapushchenkova of Russia will hope to make the local fans happy at the $25,000 event in St. Petersburg, and Monique Adamczak of Australia takes top billing at the $25,000 tournament in Sorrento.