2016 Anning, Taipei, Tallahassee and Ostrava Challenger Recaps
Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
Top seed Yoshihito Nishioka didn’t sign up in time and had to play one round of qualifying first, but it didn’t help him to gain rhythm, as he lost 7-5 7-6(2) to Andrew Whittington in the first round of the main draw. Nishioka was the only seed with an early loss in this half. Seventh seed Mathias Bourgue beat Whittington 6-1 6-4 in the quarterfinal, while third seed Saketh Myneni beat eighth seed Arthur de Greef 6-1 6-3 to reach the semi-final. Unfortunately, Myneni came down with a right shoulder injury there, having to retire while trailing Bourgue 6-0 3-1.
In the bottom half fifth seed Alexander Sarkissian got upset in the first round by eternal youngster Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo (38), 6-4 7-5. Ramirez Hidalgo got close to beating another seed in the quarterfinal, when he faced second seed Jordan Thompson. It would turn into a nightmare match for Ramirez Hidalgo, as he missed five match points and saw Thompson take down the match in a third set tiebreak, 6-3 6-7(5) 7-6(9). Thompson went on to show how close to each other glory and agony can be, as he beat Aleksandr Nedovyesov 4-6 6-3 6-2 in the semi-final and Bourgue 6-3 6-2 in the final, winning his second Challenger title. And that wasn’t all, as the twenty-eight ranking spots he gained meant entry into the top 100 for the first time for the 22-year-old Australian, coming in at #90. Bourgue rose twenty-three spots to a career high #170.
The agony of Sam Groth continues, as the second seed lost 1-6 7-6(2) 6-4 in the first round to 29-year-old qualifier Yuya Kibi, ranked 445th. Top seed Ricardas Berankis is on a completely different path, reaching three finals in a row (winning two of them) and sitting on a career high ranking and continuing his good run here. Berankis didn’t drop a set on his way to the semi-final, beating fifth seed Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-4 7-5 to reach that stage. Eighth seed Konstantin Kravchuk beat third seed Tatsuma Ito 3-6 6-1 6-2 to set up a semi-final meeting against Liam Broady, whom the Russian beat as well, 6-2 6-4.
Berankis faced Daniel Evans in the semi-final, who beat Marinko Matosevic 6-3 7-5 to get there. Berankis was on a 13-match winning streak, but Evans ended it, beating Berankis 6-3 7-6(5) for a place in the final. There a hard-fought battle with Kravchuk followed, but Evans managed to come out on top and win his fourth title, 3-6 6-4 6-4. Another first time entrant into the top 100, as 25-year-old Evans rose twenty-six spots to #97. Impressive, especially given that he wasn’t even ranked inside of the top 750 just one year ago. Kravchuk repeated his result of last year and dropped one spot to #126.
An interesting draw in Tallahassee, as top seed Donald Young had a rematch with Daniil Medvedev in the second round. Medvedev got defaulted from their second round match in Savannah a week earlier, due to an alleged racial slur, while suggesting Young and the umpire were friends. No such thing this week, as Young beat him 6-4 7-6(5). Young faced his young countryman Frances Tiafoe in the quarterfinal, where Tiafoe showed he might have a lot more potential than former child prodigy Young, beating him 2-6 6-4 6-3. Another American who was promised a bright future but doesn’t seem to deliver followed next for Tiafoe, as he faced Ryan Harrison in the semi-final. And once again Tiafoe prevailed, 7-6(4) 6-4.
Young was the only seed to reach the quarterfinal, creating a lot of opportunities for lower-ranked players. One of them was Quentin Halys, a 19-year-old Frenchman. Halys beat James Ward 1-6 6-4 6-4 in the quarterfinal, after which he had less trouble with James McGee in the semi-final, 6-4 6-1. This gave us an interesting encounter between teenagers in the final, with Halys facing 18-year-old Tiafoe. The match turned out to be spectacular and gave us a taste of things to come in the future from these two, with Halys prevailing 6-7(6) 6-4 6-2 to win his first Challenger title. Halys reached a new career high ranking, rising forty-four spots to #158. Tiafoe repeated his result of last year and remained unchanged at #191.
Another tournament in which the seeds went out like flies in the early rounds, with only third seed Jurgen Zopp moving past the second round. Top seed Adam Pavlasek lost 6-3 7-6(2) to Yasutaka Uchiyama and second seed Blaz Rola 6-4 6-4 to Pedro Cachin, both in the first round. 19-year-old wildcard Zdenek Kolar rose to the occasion, beating Uchiyama 4-6 6-4 6-3 in the second round, Jordi Samper-Montana 6-3 3-6 6-3 in the quarterfinal and qualifier Marek Michalicka 6-2 6-1 in the semi-final. An absolute dream run.
A similar story would develop in the bottom half, with world #276 Constant Lestienne becoming the other finalist. Lestienne beat Zopp 6-4 6-3 in the quarterfinal and qualifier Stefano Napolitano 6-2 6-4 in the semi-final. A tournament of dream runs, with qualifiers Michalicka en Napolitano also qualifying for that term by reaching the semi-final. Lestienne’s experience prevailed in the final against Kolar, beating him 6-7(5) 6-1 6-2 to win his first Challenger title. Lestienne rose seventy-one ranking spots to a career high #205, while Kolar rose 133 spots to #354, also a career high.