Sunday, November 17, 2019

Wolf and Giron Claim ATP Challenger Titles in Third Set Tiebreakers

Former collegians won both ATP Challengers held in the United States today, with JJ Wolf and Marcos Giron taking titles in nail-biting third set tiebreakers.

Giron's title was down right improbable with the 2014 NCAA champion trailing Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-1 in the final set tiebreaker of his 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-6(9) victory at the ATP Challenger 125 in Houston.  The 40-year-old Karlovic, seeded No. 3, had two match points on his serve, which is one of the biggest in the game, at 6-3 and 6-4, but both times he pushed volleys long. After saving those five match points, Giron, the No. 4 seed, earned his first match point with Karlovic serving at 6-7, but Karlovic come up with an overhead winner to stop Giron's run. After Karlovic held his next serve, he had another match point, but Giron saved it when Karlovic was unable to get his return of a first serve in play. Another return error gave Giron a second match point, but Karlovic saved it with a good first serve. He missed his first serve on the next point, but decided to serve and volley on his second serve and he was unable to handle Giron's return at his feet, netting it. On his third match point, but the first on his serve, Giron hit an ace, a call that Karlovic objected to, but it stood and the former UCLA Bruin had earned the biggest title of his career.

The 26-year-old Southern Californian also has assured himself of a place in the main draw of the Australian Open, whether by his own ranking, which should move up to 102, or by finishing first in the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenge. With the title Giron passed Michael Mmoh, who is now in second place and will get the wild card if Giron makes the main draw on his current ranking. Giron, who won the first Challenger of 2019 in Orlando, ends the Challenger season in the United States with his second title at that level.

Former Ohio State star JJ Wolf won his first Challenger title away from his home courts in Columbus, beating 19-year-old Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-6(6) in the final of ATP Challenger 80 in Champaign. The 20-year-old from Cincinnati was down a break three times in the third set, with Korda serving at 1-0, 3-2 and most significantly, 6-5. But Wolf got two break points and converted the second on one of his patented return winners to force the tiebreaker. After two mini-breaks were exchanged, the players changed ends at 3-all, but Korda won the next two points, and had the match on his racquet, serving at 5-4. But another good return saw Korda net his response to it, making it 5-all. Korda took the next point, earning a match point, although Wolf was adamant that Korda's shot on the baseline was out. Down a match point, Wolf came up with a big first serve to save it. The next point was long and well played, with both players hitting deep and defending well. Eventually Wolf clocked a backhand that Korda couldn't handle to get to match point, and Korda missed his first serve. Wolf took advantage of the second, hitting a deep forehand return that Korda, who thought it was out, managed to get back over the net, but Wolf slammed away the weak reply for his second Challenger title, both coming this year. Wolf has now assured himself of a place in the Australian Open qualifying, breaking into the ATP Top 200 for the first time. Korda is now 0-8 in Futures and Challenger finals.

Coco Vandweghe came up short in the women's final in Houston, falling to No. 3 seed Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 7-6(4), 6-4. Vandeweghe still leads the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenger however; her points from the Houston final and two quarterfinals at $80K events earlier put her ahead of Katerina Stewart, who played only two events. Official word from the USTA regarding the wild card winners should be forthcoming Monday.

The women's doubles title in Houston went to two former collegians, with No. 2 seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) of Australia and Luisa Stefani(Pepperdine) of Brazil beating top seeds Sharon Fichman of Canada and Ena Shibahara(UCLA) of Japan 1-6, 6-4, 10-5 in the final. The men's title went to top seeds Jonathan Erlich of Israel and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico who earned a 6-3, 7-6(4) win over No. 3 seeds Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Gonzalo Escobar(Texas Tech) of Ecuador in the final. For more on the doubles finals, see this article from the Oracle Challenger Series website.

In Champaign, two Georgia Tech alums won the doubles title, with unseeded Chris Eubanks and Kevin King defeating No. 4 seeds Evan Hoyt of Great Britain and Martin Redlicki(UCLA) 7-5, 6-3.

At the $25,000 women's tournament at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, top seed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands won her tenth title on the ITF World Tennis Tour this year, all of them at the $25K level, beating unseeded Irina Fetecau of Romania 6-3, 6-2 in the final. In the men's $25K in Orlando, former Duke star Nicolas Alvarez added a singles title to the doubles title he won on Saturday, with the No. 3 seed beating doubles partner Pedro Sakamoto of Brazil, the No. 2 seed, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in today's final.

At the $25,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament in Thailand, qualifier Hurricane Tyra Black lost in the final to No. 2 seed Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove of the Netherlands 6-3, 6-4.