So, how are you enjoying that offseason?
It’s a trick question of course, because the tennis season is FAR from over. This week in Sao Paulo, Brazil eight of the finest tennis players in the world are battling it out on fast hard-courts to see who will be crowned the Champion of tennis.
Okay, so much of that statement is hyperbolic. For any sane person, the tennis season is over. But there is an event this week that gives out prize money and ranking points to ATP players. They’re just not eight of the best players in the world. They’re not even the eight best players in the Challenger circuit. But there are eight of them. The event is in Brazil. And there will be a Champion. Here’s what you need to know:
- This is the 2nd Annual Challenger Tour Finals event. In theory, the event features the top 7 ranked guys who have played in at least 8 Challenger events in 2012. In actuality, since the event is so late in the season and so strange, it just features 7 guys who have won a Challenger title this year.
- Thomaz Bellucci, who won an ATP title and only played in one Challenger this year, is a Wildcard at the event. He’s the big star in Brazil who will put the fans in the seats! If your event needs Bellucci to survive, is it really an event at all?
- The event features mainly clay court specialists, but will be held on somewhat fast hard-courts.
- The event offers $220,000 in prize money, plus bonuses if you win the event without losing a match. This is more money than the year-to date earnings of five of the participants, and more money than than the career earnings of three of the participants.
- The odds that Bellucci will win this tournament like he’s supposed to without losing a single match are approximately the same as me winning the Power Ball Lottery.
- The format of the event is similar or the exact same as that of the ATP World Tour Finals. Two groups of four who play round-robin style, then end up in the semis and the finals and so on. (At least I think this is how it works. I’m struggling a bit because the Challenger Tour Finals website, twitter, and facebook are all in Portugese and there is no translate option. I mean, come on, you guys. I know I’m a hopeless American who doesn’t know any other languages and should hate myself, but really. Help me help you. HELP ME, HELP YOU.)
You can read more about the Challenger Tour Finals from two friends of The Changeover who specialize in all things Challenger, Tennis Alternative and Foot Soldiers of Tennis. But for now, let’s meet the eight guys who will be the cure to your tennis boredom this week:
1. Thomaz Bellucci
YTD Prize Money: $568,569
Career Prize Money: $2,600,123
2012 Challenger Titles: 0 (1 ATP title)
Look, I’m not going to go on a diatribe about how ridiculous it is that Thomaz Bellucci is in this event–mainly because Unseeded and Looming already did a great job with that. I will say that I actually enjoy Thomaz a lot, for many reasons. I wrote about him earlier in the season for OnTheGoTennis. I will say that when I think of the Challenger tour I think of less-than-miraculously-talented guys working their butts off to maximize their potential and doing their best with what they were given. I will say that when I think of Thomaz Bellucci I think of exactly the opposite.
2. Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo
YTD Prize money: $220,829
Career Prize Money: $2,042,646
2012 Challenger Titles: 2 (Tunis and San Luis Potosi)
Ramirez-Hidalgo is rather old and pretty much the definition of a journey-man. He’s been grinding away on the ATP Tour since 1998, but has very few shining moments off of the Challenger Tour. In 2006 he made the 4th round of Roland Garros, beating David Ferrer along the way. That year he made it all the way to No. 50 in the rankings, but that’s about it. He once led Federer 4-0 (then 5-1) in a 3rd set in Monte Carlo before hitting a bad tweener and thus cursing himself and sealing his fate.
He also wears his shirts really funny.
3. Guido Pella
YTD Prize Money: $72,102
Career Prize Money: $133,168
2012 Challenger Titles: 3 (Salinas, Manta, and Campinas)
The not-pictured Argentine with the most awesome name in tennis has had a career year. Besides winning three Challengers, he also qualified for his first Grand Slam Main Draw by defeating the infamous Lukas Rosol in the final round of the US Open qualies. “Running Forehand” also documents that he has a sister that plays tennis, and they both won a title during the same week! Pretty sweet.
He has a fabulous twitter account where he showcases his obsession with “WOW Facts of Life” such as ” Justin Bieber can solve a rubix cube in less than two minutes.” The more you know.
Also, he’s pretty excited for today.
Arranco mañana contra belucci a las 9 pm duro match pero voy con todo!!!!
— Guido Pella (@guido_pella) November 26, 2012
4. Adrian Ungur
YTD Prize Money: $167,790
Career Prize Money: $490,553
2012 Challenger Titles: 1 (Sibiu)
Adrian Ungur took a set off of Federer this year at Roland Garros and is also married to a former WTA player. He has a great back-hand and seems like a stand-up guy. He’s Romanian and he won a Challenger title this year. You now know everything I know about Adrian Ungur who took a set off of Federer this year at Roland Garros.
5. Paolo Lorenzi
YTD Prize Money: $285,324
Career Prize Money: $914,805
2012 Challenger Titles: 2 (Cordenons and Medellin )
Lorenzi has great hair. He also had the best year of his career on at age 30, which is awesome. He was in the main draw of every Major this year, although he lost in the first round each time. He is especially known for losing meekly to Djokovic on center stage at the Australian Open and at the US Open–he only won two games per match. However Foot Soldiers of Tennis broke down why we should look beyond the beatdowns in a must-read Lorenzi profile:
“So this gave time to look at Lorenzi’s shots, which have the vague hint of a juddering DVD about them. His game is not languid, or fluid – it’s not built on nature’s gifts. It’s a thing much more of sweat and grind, and sometimes about as pretty as those qualities would suggest. It doesn’t stop him hitting winners from time to time, getting surprising pace on his serve, or winning a fair number of matches. Pretty though, it isn’t.
Lorenzi also once took a set off of Rafael Nadal on clay in front of his home crowd in Rome, and there’s even a video to prove it.
6. Victor Hanescu
YTD Prize Money: $245,229
Career Prize Money: $3,449,838
2012 Challenger Titles: 3 (Timisoara, Banja Luka, Szczecin)
I don’t really know what to say about Victor Hanescu, except that it’s cool that the former No. 26 is still grinding away on the Challenger tour. But he’s been on the ATP tour forever and ever but the only thing I can remember him for is this:
“For the first time in my career, I’ve started to work more on the mental part of the game, which brought me a lot of confidence and success.”
I mean, he’s 31. He spit on people for heaven’s sake. Maybe someone should have mentioned that he work on his mental state a bit earlier in his career?
7. Aljaz Bedene
YTD Prize Money:$108,616
Career Prize Money: $180,410
2012 Challenger Titles: 4 (Wuhan, Kosice, Barletta, Casablanca)
Bedene is a fire-cracker of a player who, along with taking four Challenger titles this year, also made his first ATP quarterfinal in the fall. He also had his appendix removed this year, so it’s been a mixed bag. He’s very close with fellow Slovenians Zemlja and Kavcic, and according to ATPWorldTour.com his nicknames are “Benki”, “Benko”, “Ali” or “Ai”. Pretty awesome.
He recently got a twitter, and you should definitely follow him there.
The venue is nice here for the ATP challenger tour finals but the court is very fast but I like it. Maybe I serve and volley too?
— Aljaz Bedene (@AljazBedene) November 24, 2012
It actually takes all spins and slices well but is just very fast. Serving will be important and skills too. I am lucky as I am good at both
— Aljaz Bedene (@AljazBedene) November 24, 2012
I am modest too! Seriously I am looking forward to starting. Today I practise with Lorenzi and again tomorrow. Now I must stretch. Ciao
— Aljaz Bedene (@AljazBedene) November 24, 2012
@martina can I tempt you in to playing mixed with me at the grand slams next year? Pretty please??!!
— Aljaz Bedene (@AljazBedene) October 6, 2012
8. Gastao Elias
YTD Prize Money: $58,547
Career Prize Money: $144,598
2012 Challenger Titles: 1 (Rio De Janeiro)
And last but certainly not least, we have Gasteo Elias. The adorable (you’ll have to trust me on that one) 22 year-old is best friends with Ricardas Berankis and is a really huge star in Portugal. Or, at least people in Estoril showed up to get his autograph. That’s about all I have.
So. Are the Challenger Tour Finals going to provide the best tennis you’ve ever seen and make you forget all about the Big Four? Well, probably not. But you’ll see some of the most hard-working guys on tour battling it out for money and points that will help give them a leg up next year. You’ll see guys who are used to taking up spots on side courts revel in the spot-light. And you’ll see Thomaz Bellucci.
For draw and schedule information, click here. Don’t pretend like you have anything better to do this week. If you’ve read this far into the preview, you’re pretty much hopeless.
Just one thing, the city where the tournament is held is called São Paulo (Sao Paulo). Paolo is way more italian.
Thanks Gabriel! I have fixed it =)
Fernando welcomes insights regarding players at the Challenger level. The Challenger tour is quite a grind and it’s nice to see some recognition given. Bellucci has great deal of talent and a wicked forehand. Fernando’s dark horse surprise for 2013.
I am Fernando @vivafernando
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