2014 ATP Challenger Tour Finals Preview and Picks
Chris De Waard, Tennis East Coast
ATP Challenger Tour
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Prize Money: $220,000
Entrants (ATP/Challenger ranking in parentheses)
1: Simone Bolelli (60/7)
2: Diego Schwartzman (77/7)
3: Victor Estrella Burgos (80/3)
4: Blaz Rola (81/11)
5: Andreas Haider-Maurer (84/9)
6: Joao Souza (90/4)
7: Maximon Gonzalez (105/14)
8: Guilherme Clezar (331/116)
As you can see some of the higher ranked players are missing, but a lot of those absences aren’t surprising. #1 Gilles Muller and #5 Go Soeda are far from admirers of clay, while #6 David Goffin hasn’t played the mandatory ten events to be eligible for this event. He is also ranked 22nd at the moment, of course, so he probably wouldn’t have entered anyway. #8 Albert Ramos-Vinolas and #10 Jan-Lennard Struff not competing might be a surprise, but then again, the schedule isn’t very convenient with both of them having played their last match in QR1 of the Paris Masters three weeks ago.
Victor Estrella Burgos
Round-robin match-ups to watch
Simone Bolelli – Victor Estrella Burgos
This is a heavyweight match-up between the two favorites to take down the title, there is a good chance we will see them face off in the final again. However, if they tire each other out too much, Schwartzman, who has an easier group, might take advantage. Estrella Burgos and Bolelli have never met each other, but you have to give Bolelli an edge here. Especially when they get entangled in backhand rallies I expect Bolelli to put a lot of pressure on Estrella Burgos’ defensive slices. Bolelli hasn’t played on clay since the first week of August, but he has time to find his rhythm since it will be the final encounter of the group.
Diego Schwartzman – Joao Souza
Schwartzman has had a great year, reaching six Challenger finals and winning four of them and climbing up to a career high ranking of #76. Souza has been less fortunate in finals, racking up a 1-3 record. However, he clearly had a great year, climbing fifty ranking spots to #90. They faced off once this year, in the final of the San Juan Challenger, with Schwartzman winning 7-6(5) 6-3. However, this tournament is played at the club where Souza grew up, so that might inspire him to make it a closer encounter this time around.
I have mentioned that Bolelli and Estrella are the favorites, but the competition isn’t too shabby. The last match Haider-Maurer played was in QR2 in Basel against Bolelli, with the Italian only barely scraping through: 3-6 6-4 6-3. Both players are very well-rounded, so a similar close encounter on clay wouldn’t be surprising. The wild card in this group is Gonzalez. It’s hard to predict what he is going to do. When is he on, he is as good as any of these guys, but he can just as easily have a bad day and become a walk-over. This happened at the Guayaquil Challenger last week, where he got hammered by Facundo Arguello: 6-4 6-0.
This group is likely to be unbalanced, with Brazilian wild card Clezar being ranked significantly lower than the other three. I expect Schwartzman to come through as the group winner, but the battle between Rola and Souza for the second spot is going to be really interesting. They met once this year, on clay, with Rola winning 3-6 7-6(2) 6-3. No doubt their match here will be just as close. Perhaps Souza’s home advantage can get him through this time.
2. Estrella Burgos
Bolelli > Souza
Estrella Burgos > Schwartzman
Bolelli > Estrella Burgos