Challenger Tour – Players to Watch This Week

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The Challenger Tour is arguably the best tour to watch, as you get a mix of absolutely everything. You get the players who are making their way onto the scene for the first time, the regulars who live at the level, the players who are moving in between the ATP Tour and the Challenger Tour week the week, and the old guard either returning from injuries or just trying to cling onto a Top 100 ranking.

There are a number of players I will be keeping an eye on for different reasons this week. Here are a couple:

Gran Canaria 2 Challenger

Player: Carlos Alcaraz Garfia
Thoughts: He has all the tools to be a future world number 1, however Alcaraz didn’t have a great time of things in Melbourne. The hype went to another level when he qualified for the Australian Open, then knocked off David Goffin in the week before the grand slam. He won through to the second round, however a loss to Mikael Ymer and then a loss in qualifying in Montpellier, both from a set up, were a little disappointing. Back at home on the clay should do him the world of good. You may notice some slight value in his price from game to game, and part of that is due to his age. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, but he is in terrific shape given he is heading towards the Top 100 at the age of 17.

Player: Nicola Kuhn
Thoughts: When Kuhn made his way to a ranking of 174 in October 2019, it looked like he was on a steady rise towards the top 100. Fast forward to March 2021 and that remains the Spaniard’s career high, and he is no longer in the Top 200. The confidence isn’t quite there in his game at the moment, however a win over Steven Diez, who made the final of the Gran Canaria 1 Challenger, could give him a boost. Looks a decent price given Diez is coming off a full week and deflating final loss (although he won’t have to travel).

Nur Sultan 2 Challenger
Indoor Hard

Player: MacKenzie McDonald
Thoughts: The American has been able to boost his ranking back to the level of making these Challenger draws without needing to use a protected ranking, which is huge for him. Made the 4th round of the Australian Open on his protected ranking, and backed it up with a title in the Nur Sultan 1 Challenger last week. Will be hard to beat if fatigue doesn’t catch up with him.

Player: Tomas Machac
Thoughts: Looked to be struggling physically late in the tournament last week, however the Czech is one to watch this year. Rolled his ankle at the start of hard quarantine in Melbourne that made a tough task even more difficult. I won’t be betting on him this week, but the 20 year old has a bright future and is delivering solid results on all surfaces at this level.

Player: Kwon Soon-Woo
Thoughts: He has been busy over the last month, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit a wall of some sort this week physically. A prime example of a player that is pretty close to being too good for this level, but at times still finds himself a touch outgunned at ATP level. It will come for him, however Melbourne -> Italy -> Singapore -> Kazakhstan has been a big month for him.

St Petersburg Challenger
Indoor Hard

Player: Teymuraz Gabashvili
Thoughts: I am just mentioning him to basically say that hell will freeze over before I get involved in another match of his. If I do, the first person to link me back to this article wins a prize.

Player: Christopher Eubanks
Thoughts: Challenged title winner Alexei Popyrin as much as anyone in Singapore last week. Has the big serve and the tools to be a threat on the indoor, however things just haven’t quite clicked for the American. I will be watching him closely this week.

Player: Rudolf Molleker
Thoughts: Another player who just hasn’t quite kicked on since he burst onto the Challenger scene. May be known by people who watch higher level tennis as a player who took a set off Diego Schwartzman at the Australian Open in 2019, or as a Challenger winner at Heilbronn in 2018. His career high came as an 18 year old at 146. He is now 20 years old and 80 spots lower.

Player: Matthew Ebden
Thoughts: After a year away from the game, Ebden has looked decent in both singles and doubles since he lost in the first round of AO qualifying. He made the final of the Mixed Doubles at the Australian Open, and backed that up last week with a quarter final appearance in Singapore, losing to eventual champion Alexei Popyrin. This isn’t his first attempt at a run up the rankings through the Challenger ranks, however it may be his last given his age. I’d be surprised if we see him at ATP singles level outside of Australia, however he has already exceeded my expectations last week in Singapore.

Player: Andrey Kuznetsov
Thoughts: After playing, and losing, one match at Challenger level in January 2018, Kuznetsov put a pause on his career until August 2020. He used his protected ranking of 130 to get into the main draw of the US Open, and knocked off Sam Querrey in straight sets in the first round. He lost in the second round, but it gave the Russian a glimmer of hope on his return to the tour. It has not been smooth sailing since though, as due to Kuznetsov being unranked on his return, and not having a protected ranking that is super helpful at ATP level, he has had to move back and forth between the Challenger and ITF level. He did a great job of qualifying for the main draw here, and will be looking to make every post a winner as he tries to improve on his current ranking of 508.