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THE LATEST FROM THE CHALLENGER TOUR


Image: Alexander Shevchenko.

While the eyes of the world were on Melbourne Park last week, there were other interesting results around the world on the Challenger Tour.


Over in beautiful Tenerife, Russian Alexander Shevchenko, defeated Austrian Sebastian Ofner, 7-5, 6-2. Shevchenko came into the tournament without a win this year, having lost in the first round in Canberra, and again in the Australian Open qualifying.


Ofner on the other hand, fought his way through to the final round of qualifying, before going down to German Jan Lennard Struff.


However, today was Shevchenko’s day. There wasn’t a lot in it in the first set, but in the second set, Ofner failed to capitalise on his 68% first serves, winning just 48% of those points. This allowed Shevchenko to get plenty of break point chances, and he took advantage of them, running away with the title.


It’s been a great week for the Russian, not dropping a set all tournament, which, considering he barely played any outdoor hardcourt matches throughout last year, was a rather surprising result. This should give him a nice boost towards the top 100, pushing him around 40 spots higher from his ranking of 157 at the start of the week.


Over in Thailand, for the third consecutive week in Bangkok, it was the 261st ranked, Sho Shimabakuro, from Japan, who was able to do what no one else has done this year, and that is defeat Frenchman Arthur Cazaux.


Cazaux was coming off 13 straight wins, having qualified for last week’s tournament, and won it. He then qualified for this event and made it through to the final. He will jump to around 229 in the world, having started January at 382.


But it was Shimabakuro who won his debut Challenger Tour final, on the back of a brilliant all-round performance. He didn’t face a break point on serve all match, winning 85% of points on his first serve, and was able to conjure up 10 break points of his own, converting three of them, which was enough to take the title 6-2, 7-5. He will also break into the top 250 this week.


The sole Australian contender, James Duckworth didn’t make it past the second round, going down to the eventual title winner in three sets.


In South America the tour visited Piracicaba, in Brazil, where it was 30-year-old Argentinian Andrea Collarini winning just the second Challenger title of his career, taking down Chilean Tomas Barrios Vera 6-2, 7-6.


Rain had been somewhat of an issue throughout the week, causing Barrios Vera to play half his semi-final on the same day, which may have had an impact on the final.

Nonetheless, it was Collarini who served almost perfectly in the first set, missing just one first serve. This meant he didn’t come under any pressure on his service games, and was able to break Barrios Vera twice. While the second set was far closer, it was again Collarini who pulled away at the end, taking the tie-breaker 7 points to 1. A successful week for the Argentine, who at 30 years old, will move to a career-high 186.


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