By Liz Curran

Orleans Open Challenger – Orleans, France

Skupski brothers looking to make it three in a row

Only four Brits featured in the main draw of this, the biggest Challenger tournament of the week and they were drawn against each other in the first round of the doubles.

David Rice and Sean Thornley were given the tough task of going up against the third-seeded Skupski brothers, Ken and Neal.

Ken is a doubles veteran, experienced at playing ATP World Tour events and Grand Slams.

Earlier this year, he split from his regular doubles partner Jamie Delagdo and has since formed a formidable partnership with his younger brother.

Before this tournament, the brothers held a 30 win – 4 loss record playing together this year, including two Futures and four Challenger titles including two of the latter already in September.

Rice and Thornley acquitted themselves admirably in Tuesday’s match, forcing a third set ‘Champions Tie-break’ before eventually losing 64 36 10-7.

The brothers from Liverpool had the next two days off and will play their quarterfinal against Germand pair Matthias Bachinger and Michael Berrer on Friday.

The form Ken and Neal are in you would not bet against a third consecutive title on the French hard courts.

Sibiu Open 2013 – Romania

Delgado looking to cement new partnership.

Jamie Delgado was the lone Brit in action at the Sibiu Open clay-court Challenger, playing the men’s doubles draw with Aussie Jordan Kerr.

Delgado and Kerr have only played three tournaments together before Sibiu, recording a 6-2 win-loss record and winning the a Challenger title in Istanbul two weeks ago.

The pair, seeded two, saw off Dutch pair Sander Groen and Boy Westerhof 63 61 in the first round on Wednesday.

They were only slightly more troubled in Thursday’s quarter-final against Serbs Nikola Ciric and Goran Tosic, winning 76(4) 63 to seal their place in the semi-final.

On Friday they will square off against Alexandru-Daniel Carpen and Mate Pavic for a place in the final.

Awaiting the winner are the top-seeded pair Rameez Junaid and Philipp Oswald who booked their place by winning their semi-final today.

Fergana Challenger – Uzbekistan

Alexander Kudryavtsev d James Ward 67(2) 63 64

James Ward, Britain’s no 3, travelled from the Davis Cup camp in Croatia to the Fergana Challenger in Uzbekistan.

He was seeded 2 however he lost in the first round in three sets to the Russian Alexander Kudryavtsev WR 280.

Napa Challenger, California

Tuesday 24 September

R1 Bradley Klahn(5) d Dan Evans 63 36 75

This week Dan Evans got a tough R1 draw against American Bradley Klahn at the Napa Challenger.

They met in the final of the Aptos Challenger in early August, just prior to the US Open, and Klahn came out on top overcoming a first set loss to win in three sets.

This week’s match saw the pair again go to three sets, Evans winning the second, but Klahn resisted Evans’ efforts and edged a win at the end of the third deciding set.

Playing early round challenger matches, not on the non-stadium court with only a handful spectators is a far cry from the heights and excitement of the US Open at Flushing Meadows and Davis Cup centre court action in Croatia for Dan Evans.

Even qualifying matches at the grand slams have more spectators and for a player like Evans, who loves an audience and the big stage, this is not generally an environment in which he produces his best performances.

There was some audible cheering and encouragement for Dan Evans at this match, especially towards the end, but in essence this is more like playing in your local park.

The only difference is that there is an umpire and there are ball kids (many of whom needed constant direction from the umpire about what to do and where to go “roll the balls to this end”).

Still these are the kind of matches where he needs to tap into his own inner motivation and grind out a win over the next few months in order to gather the points necessary to achieve his goal of elevating himself up out of the challenger level and firmly into the ATP main circuit and achieve direct entry in to the main draws of Grand Slams.

Evans’ performance was decent overall – he played some good tennis and pushed Klahn hard, especially in the second set where he grabbed two breaks to take the set 6-3.

He had the initiative of serving first in the third and held on to take it to 5-5 however when it came to the crunch Klahn was stronger and when Evans lost his serve at 5-5 Klahn showed great focus.

Evans had one break point in that final game which he failed to convert and finally, after several deuces, Klahn closed it out on his fourth match point.

Meanwhile, in the first round of the doubles, two matches involving all-British teams took place on neighbouring outside courts with mixed results.

Dan Cox and Josh Milton lost to the American pairing of Erik Elliot and Matt Seeberger 62 64.

Down a set and break in the second set at 4-5* the British pair needed a break to stay in the match.

Things were looking hopeful at 0-30 but in the end it came down to a deuce deciding point.

The Brits somewhat unconventionally appeared to spin a racket to decide who should receive.

The task fell to Josh Milton who upon losing the point, the set and the match threw his racket in disappointment.

The margins in doubles are especially fine nowadays with the deciding point and the match tie break ‘third set’ rule so you have to take your chances.

On the neighbouring, untelevised, court another Ed Corrie and Dan Smethurst took on Dan Evans’ earlier vanquisher Bradley Klahn.

Klahn and his New Zealand partner, Michael Venus, were seeded 3 but lost in straight sets 7-5 6-3 and it was the young brits who progressed to the quarter finals.

It’s good to see more British guys making the effort to qualify for and begin to make inroads into the main draws of challenger tournaments.

It’s not easy to step up to the next level but it’s essential for their development to leave the relative comfort of the futures tour and try and extend themselves.

Wednesday 25 September

Round 2 Tim Smyczek V (WR 105) d Dan Cox (WR 268) 61 61

Dan Cox was the only British player to make R2 of this new $50k challenger (his compatriots Dan Evans and Ed Corrie having fallen in R1, and Dan Smethurst and Josh Milton in qualifying).

He drew no 2 seed Tim Smyczek (pronounced Smee-check if you were wondering). Smyczek had entered as a wildcard and with a ranking just outside the top100.

He came into this tournament off the back of a great USO run where he had the somewhat unexpected glory of being the last American standing by the middle Sunday evening when he finally lost in R3 in a five set thriller to Marcel Granollers of Spain.

Dan Cox never really got a foothold in this match Smyczek was too strong throughout and Cox was unable to seriously challenge the higher ranked opponent producing too many unforced errors, almost certainly partly as a result of the quality of the opposition.

It got to the stage in the second set and a couple of breaks down where the hugely sympathetic USTA pro series commentator resorted to talking about the colour of Cox’s (pink) Nike shirt rather than the tennis.

Still he did gain one good R1 straight sets win this tournament over Australian Ben Mitchell (WR 245) 76(2) 61 so overall, whilst I am sure he will be disappointed that he could not push Smyczek harder today, I think this was a positive week given the step up in standard to challenger level.

This match took place on the ‘stadium’ court however stadium here means a little bit of main stand seating on one side, maybe 5 or 6 rows, and a few benches at the baseline.

I guess it’s better than no seating at all, which is the set up on the two outside courts 6 and 7, but still most qualifier matches at the USO had a better turn out.

I do wish that there was a way to encourage more people to turn up to watch and support the players in these tournaments.

Hopefully if this tournament has a good first year it will grow and attract more visitors.

Doubles

Donald Young / Denis Kudla d Ed Corrie / Dan Smethurst 62 62

The last British interest in this medium sized challenger tournament ended when the American pair of Young and Kudla beat Corrie and Smethurst in straight sets in a doubles quarter final match which lasted 47 minutes.

On paper this was the expected result, Kudla and Young being the much more experienced players at challenger level, and above, with singles rankings of 95 and 143 respectively.

This compared to Corrie, at 344, and Smethurst, at 403, who are just stepping up into this level of competition from the futures circuit.

Having gone down a double break early in the first set the British pair took more control at the end of the first set but were unable to use their deciding point opportunities to break back.

They started very brightly in the second set winning some great points to take the first two games but Corrie was unable to hold his serve to get them to 3-0 and thereafter, despite forcing more break points and deciding point chances, they couldn’t convert and they succumbed to the stronger pair 6-2.

The British pair maintained a positive attitude on court all through their match. They seemed to be very clear on their strategy of e.g. who received deciding points (no spinning of the racket for them) and they did play and win some good points.

So again I think that overall there are positives to take away from their performance at this tournament especially the first round win against the third seeds Klahn and Venus.

Next week sees Dan Evans playing again in Northern California at the Sacramento Challenger, one of the big $100k USTA pro circuit events, so we shall see if he can improve upon this week’s performance.

In terms of logistics and costs for players it’s helpful to have a number of tournaments consecutively in one area.

It makes economic, and meteorological sense and the weather does look rather fine over in California at the moment.

James Ward is currently listed as 13th alternate for the Mons Challenger in Belgium so is likely to have to play through qualifying to get into the tournament.

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