Just days after the final ATP World Tour event finished in London, the pinnacle of Challenger tennis begins in Sao Paolo. The Challenger Tour Finals offers an attractive prize pot with a potential 125 ranking points on offer and $91,200 for an undefeated champion while each player will be paid $6,300 just for competing. The event is supposed to represent the players who earned the most points solely on the Challenger Tour although the withdrawals of Dudi Sela, Jiri Vesely, Pablo Carreno Busta and Mikhail Kukushkin mean that they the 11th ranked player will be the last qualifier for the event. The event was previously on indoor hard courts but has been moved to clay this year.
The players are split into two groups – the Green Group and the Yellow Group – and seedings are decided by ATP ranking rather than by their points total on the Challenger Tour only.
Teymuraz Gabashvili – The top seed at this event, Gabashvili accrued 438 points in 21 events – the third most of all entrants. Much of the Russian’s success came in nearby Uzbekistan where he made three finals. He won firstly in Karshi (hard) without losing a set and then in Samarkand the very next week on the clay, defeating fellow Green Group member Oleksandr Nedovyesov in the final. He made multiple semi finals in Turkey before a post-US Open surge with two more finals, although he was unsuccessful in both. He lost to Dudi Sela in Tashkent and Dominic Thiem in Kenitra, Morocco.
Oleksandr Nedovyesov – Nedovyesov has made the top 100 despite playing only one main tour ATP match in his career, a first round loss in Moscow this year. A 46-24 record at this level led him to three titles, two of which were on clay. Just weeks after losing to Gabashvili in Samarkand, he won his first title of the year in Prague, defeating Javier Marti in the final. The second one came in Szczecin where he navigated four three setters before an easier straight sets win over Pere Riba in the final. He showed that he can win off of his favoured clay with victory in Kazan, avenging the Moscow loss against Andrey Golubev in the final.
Adrian Ungur – Adrian Ungur memorably took a set off Roger Federer at the French Open last year after a defeat of David Nalbandian in the first round but has failed to push on this year. A 2-9 record at main tour level means he has been restricted to the Challenger Tour for most of the year and was a winner of two titles this year, both on clay. He won in Tunis and Arad, Romania to account for much of the 383 points from his 14 Challenger events this year.
Guilherme Glezar – A wildcard at this event, Clezar is highly thought of in Brazil and took Thomaz Bellucci to a third set tiebreak in his only main tour match this year. His success has mainly been at Brazilian events where he was a semi finalist in Santos and Sao Paolo in back to back weeks earlier in the year. He did win one title in Campinas, winning every match in straight sets to prove that he is a deserving competitor here.
Gabashvili has to be the favourite here with wins over two of the players in his group but it will be a fight for second play. Ungur has losses to the Russian and also Clezar but Nedovyesov is somewhat of a mystery in this group. Despite being a mainstay of the Challenger Tour this year, he has just two matches in total against the competitors here and none against either Ungur or Clezar. After an average 2012, the Ukranian has improved at an exceptionally fast rate and could be a dark horse to take it all.
Filippo Volandri – Almost allergic to anything but clay, Volandri is almost permanently on the surface with very few forays onto anything quicker. He played 16 matches at main tour level going 5-11 but went an impressive 41-13 at Challenger level with the majority of his success coming in his native Italy. That would be where he picked up his two titles, winning in Orbetello and Milan. He eased past Yellow Group member Andrej Martin in Milan while it was the Spaniard Pere Riba who lost in straight sets to Volandri in Orbetello. He also lost three more finals in Italy in Rome, San Marino and Genova.
Jesse Huta Galung – Huta Galung ended the season disappointingly with a string of losses indoors but he excelled on the surface early in the year to help him on his way to the event. He won Cherbourg as a lucky loser, playing eight matches to win the title while he was also successful in St Brieuc, defeating Kenny de Schepper in the final. He proved he is also a force on the clay, going 2-1 in finals. He defeated Robin Haase in Scheveningen and Maxime Teixeira in Tampre but lost to Jan Hajek in Meerbusch.
Alejandro Gonzalez – Gonzalez actually earned the most points of all entrants to this event but is seeded 5 due to his lowly ranking. Amongst Gonzalez’s 17 events were three titles, all in South America. He defeated Renzo Olivo in Salinas, Ecuador and then won back to back in Medellin and Sao Paolo. Both times he defeated Argentinians, with Guido Andreozzi the victim in Colombia while he defeated Eduardo Schwank in the latter event. He made two more finals, losing in Panama City and Sao Jose Do Rio Preto.
Andrej Martin – Martin earned the 11th most points on the year but found his way in due to the four aforementioned withdrawals. Martin played 1 match at main tour level, losing in the US Open first round as a lucky loser but makes it in here due to his two titles on the Challenger Tour. He won in three over Adrian Mannarino in Mexico City (hard) and in San Benedetto on the clay over Joao Sousa. Martin also made a few more finals, losing in Noumea and Milan, the latter as a qualifier.
Once more, there seems a clear favourite with Volandri’s pedigree at this level hard to argue against. He has a 10-5 record against the competitors at this event and 4-1 against his group members. Martin is 0-6 against his group members, including 0-4 against Volandri so it would seem to be down to Gonzalez and Huta Galung for the second spot. They are yet to play each other but are both equally competent on the clay but the edge will have to be with Gonzalez due to his increased success in South America.
Prediction: Teymuraz Gabashvili defeats Filippo Volandri in the final