Not really known for being a hotbed of tennis talent, Slovenia is experiencing somewhat of an upturn in the men’s game. Slovenian has always been better known for their female players, Katarina Srebotnik is a former No. 1 in doubles, while Polona Hercog is a two time WTA Tour title winner. Three men have been constants on the lower levels of the tennis world, with 17 ATP Challenger Tour titles between them; Aljaž Bedene, Grega Žemlja and Blaž Kavčič. The breakthrough for the trio could be just around the corner. As of today, all three players current rankings are their career high rankings and if they continue to improve, there will definitely be a Slovenian top 50 player before long.
Blaž Kavčič – An eight times winner on the Challenger Tour, Kavčič is most suited to the clay and this shows in his title haul. Seven of his victories have been on the dirt and twice this year, most notably in Furth where he defeated former Top 50 player Sergei Stakhovsky in three sets to take the title. These victories have pushed the 25 year old to a career high ranking of 64, the highest ever for a Slovenian male, and there is potential for top 50 if he can convert his form to the main tour for a longer level of time.
While never making the third round of a Grand Slam, Kavčič has pulled off notable scalps including Kevin Anderson (Australian Open 2011) and more recently Lleyton Hewitt in the French Open this year. Although Hewitt is a declining force these days, it was a fairly comfortable and impressive victory that he was always in control of. Despite being defeated in the next round by Novak Djokovic, Kavčič did put up a fight and was not embarrassed in a 6-0 6-4 6-4 defeat by the eventual finalist. More recently, Kavčič became the first Slovenian man to compete in Tennis at the Olympics, making the second round. He competed admirably but fell to a 6-2 6-2 defeat against David Ferrer.
Aljaž Bedene – Much like Blaž Kavčič, Bedene prefers the clay courts and his four titles from five finals this year give him the top spot in the Challenger Tour rankings. A demolition of Italy’s Potito Starace where he dropped just two games to secure the Barletta title for the second year running gave us a glimpse of his potential.
Titles were also taken in Casablanca, Košice and most notably on the hard courts of Wuhan, China. Although somewhat of a weak field full of Asian players, it will be a big thing to have took a title on a surface that he isn’t all that used to. If it was not for an injury the following week in Beijing, it is very likely that he would have been contesting a Challenger final for the third week in a row, having been defeated in An-Ning previously.
Bedene first came to prominence in Vienna last year, when as a qualifier he took the first set against Ivo Karlovic before the Croatian retired. He also gave Tommy Haas a scare taking the first set before falling to a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory.
Grega Žemlja – Much like Bedene, Žemlja has been taking advantage of the weaker fields in China, firstly taking the title on the clay of An-Ning in an all-Slovenian final. He recovered from a very poor first set to clinch a comeback win. With an easy 6-3 6-0 victory over hometown favourite Di Wu in Beijing, the 25 year old made it three tournament victories on three different surfaces to show that he is competent on all surfaces as opposed to the two above, who much more prefer clay.
Žemlja even managed to make it on to a show court at Wimbledon this year. After winning Nottingham Challenger, he was rewarded for his efforts with a wildcard for the showpiece event on the grass. In a televised match on Court 3, he defeated Joshua Goodall in four sets in a fairly impressive performance where he was broken just twice. Although unable to stop Fernando Verdasco in round two, he put up a good account of himself and even managed to nick a set as well as taking the Spaniard to two tiebreaks.