By Romi Cvitkovic
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (Oct. 30, 2012) — Many may not have heard of the Boar’s Head Inn before, but this prestigious tennis club is not only home to the powerhouse University of Virginia championship tennis teams, but also this week’s $75,000 ATP World Tour Challenger, featuring familiar faces such as Donald Young, Jack Sock, Somdev Devvarman and world No. 74 Jesse Levine. [Full gallery at bottom]
I arrived on-site entirely not sure what to expect of the venue. Having mostly covered Premier and Masters events on the ATP and WTA Tours, I had become accustomed to large, spread-out venues, a quick-moving schedule, and constant hustle and bustle running from court to court trying to catch the right shot.
But the Challenger this week in Charlottesville is in a class of its own. With a pristine and updated architecture and decor, the tennis club felt more welcoming and relaxed. With over ten indoor courts, it’s easy for players to find a place to practice. You could also easily spot them in the hallways catching up with each other, or in the stands soaking in a match while waiting for their own. Overall, the players seemed to be in a more carefree mood than at any Tour-level tournament I had been to before.
Then it hit me. The Challenger Tour is not as mystifying and rough as I had heard it could be.
Sure, many cities in the world that host Challengers are not lucky enough to have a world-class tennis facility like in Charlottesville. But that’s precisely what makes Challengers in the States so unique — they have adjusted their outlook to compete with the premier tournaments of the ATP Tour.
Here, hospitality is key. Whether it’s to its players, spectators or media, the tournament knows how to treat its guests. Whats more, the fans themselves are some of the friendliest and most tennis-knowledgeable individuals I’ve ever encountered at a tournament. Many were delighted that their children were serving as ballboys and ballgirls.
The city truly got lucky with the breadth and depth of their fan base thanks in part to UVA’s consistently strong teams.
Former two-time NCAA champion and UVA alumni Somdev Devvarman is just one of the familiar faces these fans are cheering for this week. Coming back from injury, Devvarman accepted a wildcard into the tournament and went on to beat former top 50 player Mischa Zverev in three grueling sets in the first round, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. If I said that the heavy pro-Devvarman fans did not contribute to his win, I would be lying.
But just as many fans that cheered on Devvarman, the same was present for Jack Sock in his win over the tournament’s No. 1 seed Jesse Levine, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
From a purely rankings-stance, the result would come as a surprise as Levine is ranked 74 in the world and Sock only 166. But to say it was an unexpected result would not be entirely true either. Sock turned pro only last year, and with a couple of wins utilizing wildcards given to him in big tournaments such as the U.S. Open, he has quickly become the focus of American tennis’ rising generation. Levine, on the other hand, has been around for five years and is only now making any kind of movement deep into the top 100. The match was for Sock to win or lose with his dominant forehand and serve game, and luckily for him, it was the former tonight. Another test passed for the 20-year-old. [Fun Jack Sock montage below of how he waited out his match]
Earlier in the day, another American took to the stage but was handed a completely different result. For years, Donald Young was hailed as the “next best thing” in American tennis because he had all the right weapons: a strong forehand, an equally reliable backhand, quickness and agility. But after years of frustration and a failed balance between family and USTA coaching, Young’s mental game has taken a severe hit and he has never been the same.
Today, after handing veteran Michael Lammer a first set bagel and looking seemingly in control, Young lost his cool and his control, quickly going down 6-2 in the second. A couple of bad “let” calls that went against him in the third set, and he went hysterical after each ensuing call — three to be exact. He somehow forced a third set tiebreak, but went out in flames, 7-6(3).
Although there are no Federers, Nadals or Murrays playing the Challenger Tour, it is an opportunity for fans to see top 100 players and players of the next generation.
I’ve always wondered what Andy Roddick was like as a junior. I could watch all the video I want but can never truly understand him as a young player. The Charlottesville Challenger lets me experiment with this exact aspect. I’m able to catch players like Jack Sock when they are fresh and still fairly new on the Tour. And in five years, when he lands himself soundly in the top 20, I’ll look back and understand where he came from and what he had to accomplish. And that to me is the what the Challenger Tour is all about.
Bonus Footage: As Jack Sock’s featured evening match was scheduled for 5:30pm, but due to previous matches going the distance, he did not go on until 9pm. Below is a fun montage of the youngster as he waited out his time to play.
Full gallery of the day’s happenings below!