The busy 2013 season may be over for the majority of the ATP elite, but the Challenger Tour is still going strong.
This week, there are six Challenger events taking place all over the globe, offering lower ranked players a chance to earn some extra prize money and points before heading into the off-season. And while the draws feature many new names, there are also plenty of well-known players hitting the courts.
Here is a rundown of this week’s Challenger tournaments, and a look at the main title contenders in each...
ATP Challenger Tour Finals, Sao Paolo
This is the most lucrative event on the Challenger tour, an eight-player competition that features a round robin format similar to that of last week’s ATP World Tour Finals. As well as pocketing a $90,000 cheque, the undefeated champion will receive 125 ranking points and enter 2014 as a player to watch on the main tour.
This year’s tournament is only the third edition of the Challenger Tour Finals, and the first to be held on outdoor clay courts. Russian veteran Teymuraz Gabashvili is the top seed in Brasil, followed by former top 25 player and 2007 Rome Masters semi-finalist Filippo Volandri. Also in action are Romania’s Adrian Ungar, who upset David Nalbandian at the 2012 French Open, and 20-year-old Guilherme Clezar, one of the tour’s promising up-and-comers.
JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
This $50,000 event has been a mainstay on the Challenger Tour since 1996, won by the likes of Justin Gimelstob, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson over the years. The top seed in 2013, Tim Smyczek, is already out, which gives second seed Jack Sock a shot at ending the week as the American number three. There is also a lot of British interest in the city of Champaign: David Rice, Joshua Milton, Daniel Smethurst and Edward Corrie all have chances to reach the quarter-finals.
Challenger Ciudad De Guayaquil, Ecuador
Played on outdoor clay courts, the Challenger Ciudad De Guayaquil dates back to 2005. Former world number six Nicolas Lapentti is the most notable former champion - the Ecuadorian’s younger brother Giovanni is competing for the title this year. Leonardo Mayer is the top seed and defending champion, but he’ll face a stiff challenge from the USA’s Wayne Odesnik.
Lima Challenger Copa Claro, Peru
The third Latin-American event of the week is one with a spotted history. The Lima Challenger was played in 2000-2001 before taking a six-year hiatus; it returned to the Challenger circuit from 2007-2009 and then again last year. Former French Open finalist Guillermo Coria won the inaugural event, and his compatriot Juan-Ignacio Chela triumphed the following year.
The 2013 edition features two top 100 players in Horacio Zeballos and Guido Pella. Zeballos became only the third player in history to beat Rafael Nadal in a clay court final when he edged the Spaniard in the VTR Open showpiece back in February. Pella made news when he beat Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki on the way to the semi-finals of the ATP250 event in Dusseldorf in May.
Keio Challenger International Tennis Tournament, Yokohama
On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Keio Challenger will take place for the ninth time in 15 years. The hard court event in Japan’s second largest city offers $7,200 and 80 ranking points to the champion.
Australian Open mixed doubles winner Matthew Ebden is the top seed, and former finalist Go Soeda will be gunning for a maiden title on home soil. The lone Brit in the draw, James Ward, lost his first round match to second seed Blaz Kavcic.
IPP Open, Helsinki
The IPP Open boasts the strongest Challenger field of the week, with six top 100 players competing for the indoor hard court title. It comes as no surprise that the most successful Finnish player of all time, Jarkko Nieminen, is making an appearance - the 32-year-old will be targeting his second title at the Tali Tennis Center.
Joining Nieminen are defending champion Lukas Lacko (who takes on Britain’s Daniel Cox in the opening round) and 2010 champion Ricardas Berankis. Alas, two men who made headlines at Wimbledon this year are already out of the tournament. Jamaican-German Dustin Brown, who beat Lleyton Hewitt at the All England Club, lost a three-setter to Henri Laaksonen, while Lukasz Kubot, a quarter-finalist in SW19, lost his first round match in straight sets.