Tetiana Luzhanska

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.

Teenagers And Veterans Prevail On The Circuit This Week

Two world renowned junior players from the past prevailed on the challenger circuit this week, but their careers have taken completely different trajectories. Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic is immediately living up the promise that she showed in her junior career, while Gilles Muller of Luxembourg is struggling to find the consistency that allowed him to obtain the #1 junior ranking back in 2000.

At the $75,000 event in Monzon, Spain, Petra Kvitova rallied from a break down in the final set to win her first challenger title of the year, overcoming Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 2-6 6-4 7-5. Kvitova, who shocked the tennis world this year by beating Venus Williams in Memphis this winter, will crack the top 100 this week for the first time in her career. It may not be long before Wickmayer, who reached the finals at a $50,000 event in New Delhi, India earlier this month, joins Kvitova in that part of the ranks; she has just 15 points to defend between now and the end of July.

Kathrin Woerle of Germany won her first title of the year at the $25,000 event in Biarritz, France, routing Selima Sfar of Tunisia 6-1 6-3. With this win, Woerle moves back into the top 200 this week. Despite the lopsided score in the finals, Sfar can take some satisfaction in turning the corner with her tennis at this tournament. Coming into Biarritz, the 31 year old had lost in the first round of all eight tournaments she had played this year.

At the $25,000 event in Jackson, Mississippi, Soledad Esperon of Argentina won her first challenger title in three years by defeating Tetiana Luzhanska of Ukraine. The 23 year old Esperon dropped back to satellite events for much of last year in an attempt to revive her flagging game. The move has clearly paid off, as she showed off a harder serve and improved fitness to defeat Luzhanska, who was also competing in her first challenger final of the year. Esperon took to the court afterwards with fellow Argentine Maria Irigoyen to also claim the doubles title at this event.

The transition from juniors to the pros hasn’t been easy for Gilles Muller of Luxembourg. Despite reaching two ATP finals and scoring wins over top players like Andy Roddick, the lack of consistency in Muller’s big hitting game has ultimately been his downfall. However, Muller showed his determination to end these streaky ways by claiming his first title in four years at the $50,000 event in Humacao, Puerto Rico, defeating Ivan Miranda of Peru 7-5 7-6. Despite the loss, Miranda has started off his spring season in outstanding form, having won the last challenger event he played in Salinas, Ecuador.

It’s not often that you’ll see a player ranked inside the top 60 playing a $35,000 challenger event, but Albert Montanes of Spain apparently wanted an early start to the clay court season. He managed to get just that, living up to his billing as top seed in Monza, Italy, by defeating fellow Spaniard Alberto Martin 3-6 7-6 6-3. Martin, who has been as high as #34 in the world, failed to serve out the match in the second set and ultimately crumbled in the final set. Montanes is scheduled to compete in the main draw of the ATP event in Valencia, Spain this week.

The spotlight remains on the women’s side this week as they hold their first $100,000 event of the year in Saint Malo, France. Pauline Parmentier of France, ranked #48 in the world, is top seed at this event. Sunitha Rao is top seed at the $25,000 event in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and Kyra Nagy of Hungary leads the way at the $25,000 tournament in Bari, Italy.

On the men’s side, Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei is the top seed at the $75,000 event in Busan, Korea. Kevin Anderson of South Africa is top seed at the $50,000 event in Athens, Greece, and Benjamin Becker takes top billing at the $50,000 tournament in Tallahassee, Florida. Gustavo Kuerten will also continue his farewell tournament campaign this week at the $35,000 event in his hometown of Florianopolis, Brazil. Alberto Martin of Spain looks to continue his strong form from last week at the $35,000 tournament in Chiasso, Switzerland, while Sam Warburg of the United States is the top seed at the $35,000 event in Mexico City, Mexico.