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Paolo Lorenzi claimed his 300th match win on the ATP Challenger Tour earlier this year, and the Italian says he is not slowing down in his quest to reach 400.
At 33 years old, Lorenzi, who won four titles in five finals in 2015, is one of eight players to feature in the season-ending ATP Challenger Tour Finals in Sao Paulo. One of the most dominant players on the circuit this year, he won a total of 42 matches and lifted trophies in Eskisehir (Turkey), Cortina (Italy), Pereira (Colombia) and Medellin (Colombia).
Born in Rome, the World No. 68 in the Emirates ATP Rankings believes that his strong performance this year is due to several factors, but especially that he had been able to stay healthy and put in a lot of work away from the court.
“I put in a lot of work before the start of the season, putting a lot of emphasis on the physical part and I believe that it has been the key to a good campaign,” Lorenzi told ATPWorldTour.com after his victory at the Seguros Bolívar Open de Pereira. “I am very happy to have arrived at 300 wins and now my goal is to achieve 400. I believe that if I remain healthy, it is an objective that I can achieve.”
In May, in Turkey, the Italian became the third player in the history of the ATP Challenger Tour to arrive at the figure of 300 triumphs, something that only had been achieved by Spain’s Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo before this season. It was an accomplishment that had really motivated Lorenzi for the future, as retirement is not an option.
“That moment was very special. It’s not easy to arrive at 300 victories. The Challenger Tour is always very strong and competitive. The stars of tomorrow play there and so do many players that have been very high (in the Emirates ATP Rankings) and motivated to return from injury.
“At the moment, retirement is not something that I have in my head. I feel that I am playing well and I will continue competing as long as I feel that I am competitive and can win. At the least, three years. For that, I remain motivated and I am very happy of what I have achieved in my career. Why can’t I think about achieving 400 or 500 wins? That is the goal that I hope to achieve.”
Lorenzi, who reached a career-high World No. 49 in April 2013, has claimed 16 titles in Challenger tournaments in his successful career. He arrives in Sao Paulo having enjoyed great success there on the ATP World Tour, with a run to the final of the Brasil Open in 2014 (l. to Delbonis) and the doubles title match this year alongside Diego Schwartzman (l. to Cabal/Farah). All of these achievements, in addition to witnessing the success of his fellow Italians, has Lorenzi looking forward to the ATP Challenger Tour Finals and the 2016 season.
“This years has been very good for our generation of tennis players from Italy. Fognini and Bolelli won the Australian Open in doubles, Flavia (Pennetta) won the women’s singles title at the US Open against Roberta (Vinci) and the Davis Cup team reached the semi-finals. Also, Seppi beat Federer in Australia and Fognini beat Nadal three times. All this is very positive and beautiful to see that the players I have grown up with are playing this well.”
These achievements have motivated Lorenzi more than anything. For the second time (2011), he qualified as one of the eight players who will play in the ATP Challenger Tour Finals at the Pinheiros Sports Club from 25-29 November. “I have great memories of Sao Paulo. I like the city. The last time it was on hard courts and this time it’s on indoor clay, which I prefer.”
Argentina’s Guido Pella, Brazil’s Guilherme Clezar, Spain’s Daniel Munoz-de la Nava and Inigo Cervantes, Moldova’s Radu Albot and Uzbekistan’s Farrukh Dustov also qualified for the final tournament of the season.
A native of Palermo, on the Italian island of Sicily, Marco Cecchinato is one of two players from Italy in the ATP Challenger Tour Finals. Looking to follow in the footsteps of 2013 champion Filippo Volandri, Cecchinato and countryman Paolo Lorenzi will seek to cap their seasons with a title at the year-end championships in Sao Paulo. The 23 year old is making steady progress in the Emirates ATP Rankings, breaking into the Top 100 for the first time in late July and peaking at World No. 82 last month.
Tied for second among match wins leaders on the Challenger circuit in 2015, the Italian owns a 44-14 record, with all victories coming on clay. Only Inigo Cervantes has claimed more wins (45) this year. Cecchinato contested two finals in his 2015 campaign, prevailing on home soil in Turin in early May for his lone title and second overall (San Marino 2013). The 6’1” right-hander also finished runner-up in Genova. One of five Italians in the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, at World No. 89, he made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open – his fourth tour-level main draw of the year. A qualifier in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Winston-Salem, Cecchinato won the first set against Mardy Fish in Flushing Meadows before falling in four.
To be held on indoor clay at the famed Pinheiros Sports Club from 25-29 November, the field is comprised of seven qualifiers and one wild card. Contested in round-robin format, with the top two from each group advancing to the semi-finals, 125 Emirates ATP Ranking points and $91,200 in prize money will be awarded to an undefeated champion.
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Noah Rubin will make his debut Down Under at the first Grand Slam of the 2016 season after winning the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenge.
The New York native, who made his major debut at last year's US Open (l. to Delbonis), amassed the most points in two of three events on the ATP Challenger Tour's U.S. indoor hard court swing. Rubin won his maiden Challenger crown in Charlottesville three weeks ago, and clinched the wild card after fellow American teen Taylor Fritz fell in Saturday's Champaign final.
"It's probably the first time I had to rely on somebody else to lose for me to win, in a match I had nothing to do with," Rubin told ATPWorldTour.com. "I didn't expect that outcome, but I'm excited to see what's going to come in the future. I've never been to the Australian Open before, even for juniors. I'm going to have to get acclimated to the temperature for sure, but I'm just excited about going there.
"The goal is to have no goals. Anything can happen so quickly. It's just about having the mindset of being open and ready for anything. I was ranked No. 1,000 going out of school and now I'm around No. 350. In a couple tournaments I could be No. 250. It could happen so quickly. Just be ready for anything."
2015 is over and now Australian Open is near. It is an incredible honor and I will do everything possible to prepare for 2016 and rep the US— Noah Rubin (@Noahrubin33) November 22, 2015
The 19 year old became the 13th teenager to lift a Challenger trophy in 2015. He is the oldest of the group, which includes Fritz, Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev, Hyeon Chung, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jared Donaldson, Elias Ymer and Karen Khachanov. At World No. 339, Rubin is part of a surging crop of American teenagers and he will conclude the season as one of five in the Top 350 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, with Donaldson, Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul.
“These guys are unbelievable tennis players day in and day out, but they aren't that much better than the guys I'm playing and they're not that much better than me,” Rubin added, referring to his experience of facing a Top 100 player in Delbonis at the US Open. “Of course Djokovic and Federer are on a totally different stratosphere, but I believe I can play against anybody.”
The junior champion at Wimbledon last year, Rubin spent a year at Wake Forest University before deciding to pursue his professional career.
“Tennis is a sport of longevity now and you have these 27 year olds at their peak. I want to be mentally and physically prepared to play that long. I can’t be playing professionally and not be mentally prepared for what’s in store. The year (at Wake Forest) was necessary to get into that mental stage.
"I’m very fortunate with the people who are helping me and backing me up. It hasn’t been too much of a change. That being said, I’m still traveling with just one coach. I don’t have an entourage like Djokovic yet. My coach is making sure I’m doing what I have to do and keeping the professional sense in my head. Anything can happen, but with persistence and my feeling on the court and confidence level, I can escalate my game to play against the top pros.”
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A breeding ground for ATP stardom, the rising stars of men’s tennis lay the foundation for their budding careers on the ATP Challenger Tour.
The circuit provides a platform for players to develop their talents, but not all careers are created equal. Some rise to the top faster and slower than others and while there is no blueprint to success, Daniel Munoz-de la Nava is doing his best to defy the odds at the ripe age of 33.
In 2014, the Challenger circuit was set ablaze by a 33-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos, who capped his memorable breakthrough season with a trip to the ATP Challenger Tour Finals, before sending shockwaves through the ATP World Tour as the oldest first-time champion in Quito, earlier this year. Munoz-de la Nava is looking to follow a similar path.
Inspired by his thriving group of countrymen over the age of 30, including David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez and Tommy Robredo, the Spaniard torched the competition in 2015, compiling 44 wins in 60 matches. His three titles from six finals, on the clay of Napoli, Moscow and Meknes, saw him soar to a career-high World No. 82 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
“This year I am playing with more confidence,” Munoz-de la Nava told ATPWorldTour.com from his home in Madrid. “After two years of working really hard with my team, I’ve been able to play well and be happy on the court. I’ve been working with my physio on treating my knee and my trainer has helped me a lot. I’ve had so many injuries the past few years. As they say, it’s really important to play with two legs, to be able to run and just stay healthy. This is the big difference for me.
“It was really important for me to win the first Challenger in Napoli. It was a big one and it helped me make a big jump in the rankings. Before the victory there, I had played seven or eight finals in my career and only won one. It came so fast and the final was 6-2, 6-1 (d. Donati). The start of my season wasn’t so good. I lost many close matches in the first two or three months. After this tournament, everything changed. And of course I cannot forget the match at the tournament in Manerbio, Italy, when I became Top 100. I will never forget this match.”
When the Madrid native entered the Top 100 for the first time in August, he claimed a slice of history, as the 14th-oldest player to crack the century mark for the first time. He was the first 33 year old to do so since Estrella Burgos last year.
“It’s so special and so important for me (to enter the Top 100). For so many years, it was more than a goal. I was completely blocked when I was playing and I couldn’t focus my energy. It became a big point of pressure for me. After this year, I’ve made it and I feel freer and much better. It was really hard.”
Munoz-de la Nava turned pro in 1999, but his progress was hampered by a car accident soon after receiving his driver’s license, which resulted in persistent knee troubles. For years, the Spaniard’s position in the Emirates ATP Rankings vacillated around the Top 200. His 2011 campaign finished with promise and a year-end spot of No. 140, but setbacks would send it in the wrong direction. No. 171 would follow in 2012, No. 194 in 2013 and No. 206 in 2014. Finally healthy, he is now realising his potential 15 years later.
With two daughters at home – Noa and Paula – Munoz-de la Nava has new sources of inspiration that have driven him to new heights in 2015.
“Noa, my oldest (age 3), has seen me play many times. It’s been a really good inspiration for me and has motivated me. Every time they come with me I play well and I feel better. It’s very important.”
A doubles finalist at the ATP World Tour 500 event in Hamburg in 2012, with Rogerio Dutra Silva, Munoz-de la Nava has also reached a pair of tour-level singles quarter-finals in Estoril earlier that year and in Delray Beach in 2013. The biggest win of his career came in his hometown Mutua Madrid Open, upsetting then World No. 22 Sam Querrey from a set down as a qualifier in 2010. The Spaniard learned to play at age five when his father introduced him to the game. After competing in a national tournament in Madrid, he started practising there on a full-time basis and later turned pro at 17.
“Francisco Clavet has always been my idol. I practised with him a lot when I was 20-23 and he was at the end of his career. He inspired me because he was always focused, professional and working hard. I have to work hard at every point and he really taught me a lot about how to be a professional player.”
Munoz-de la Nava is looking to cap his breakthrough campaign with a strong statement at the ATP Challenger Tour Finals as he sets the tone for the 2016 season. Despite being the second-highest ranked player in the tournament field, he is not taking anything for granted and is grateful to have qualified.
“Since the middle of the year, I decided to be focused on Sao Paulo and I made it. It’s going to be on indoor clay with altitude. More similar altitude to Madrid, so for me it is not going to change a lot, but the balls are going to be fast. Let’s say for guys like Lorenzi, he’s especially good in altitude. I played Albot in a final in Moscow, Dustov likes faster courts and Cecchinato was pretty solid all year, so all the matches are going to be tough. The conditions will be really important. Let’s see how fast the court is. I’ve been practising hard. I haven’t played tournaments this month to rest and be ready to play here.
“2016 is going to be interesting but it will be tough. In the Challengers I was almost always seeded and it’s different now. I can play against Top 10, Top 20, Top 30 players. It’s going to be an exciting year and I will try to be as prepared as I can. I will need a little bit of luck with the draws and I’ll try to stay in the Top 100.”
One of five players from Argentina in the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, Guido Pella is an integral member of the South American nation’s resurgence in 2015.
Less than a month removed from reaching a career-high World No. 73, Pella is looking to cap a strong season with a deep run at the ATP Challenger Tour Finals. He is the first former champion to return to the Brazilian metropolis for a second shot at the trophy. The 25 year old, who won the title on indoor hard in 2012, arrives at the indoor clay courts of the Pinheiros Club with his sights set on surging to full-time ATP World Tour status next year.
Pella’s path has been a rocky one. Following his breakthrough success in 2012, he was on course to soar to new heights following his first match wins at the Grand Slam and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 levels the next year. But the Bahia Blanca native would endure a significant setback just months later, suffering a torn right hamstring in his Wimbledon debut. Locked in a fifth set against Jesse Levine, Pella had to be carried off Court 7 after slipping on the grass. His position in the Emirates ATP Rankings would subsequently slip outside the Top 200 in 2014, but he was determined to rediscover his top form.
Boasting a 43-13 mark this year, which included titles in Montevideo (Uruguay), San Luis Potosi (Mexico), Porto Alegre (Brazil) and Sao Paulo – the host city of this week’s season finale – he is playing the best tennis of his young career and will be the second-highest ranked player in the field.
Pella spoke to ATPWorldTour.com ahead of the ATP Challenger Tour Finals…
Guido, you were out of the Top 200 exactly one year ago, then you won the title in Lima and it all turned around. How special is it to be back inside the Top 100 and at a career-high Emirates ATP Ranking?
What are you doing differently this year? Has it been more of a physical or mental hurdle to overcome?
You’ve won 43 matches and four titles this year. Is there one moment that has stood out for you above the rest?
You’re now heading to Sao Paulo. Was this a goal of yours this year? What are your thoughts on the rest of the field?
You won the title in 2012 when it was on indoor hard. What are your memories from that week?
How do you change your approach when you know you can lose a match with the round robin format and not be eliminated?
Looking back at your Wimbledon debut in 2013, when you tore your hamstring, how did that drive you to work even harder to get back to your top level?
Guido, tell us how you got your start in tennis and who were your idols growing up?
You are one of five Argentines in the Top 100. What impact has the rise of Leo Mayer and Federico Delbonis had on your country with Juan Martin del Potro still absent?
Your position in the Emirates ATP Rankings now puts you in position to qualify for ATP level events next year. What are your goals for 2016?