College Standouts Take The Challenger Route To Success

The ATP Challenger Tour has lengthy been a vital breeding floor for the sport’s future stars to realize expertise and make their preliminary skilled breakthrough.

The Challenger Tour has additionally confirmed to be an important stepping stone for faculty gamers who’ve ambitions of turning their desires into actuality, like Ben Shelton, who gained three consecutive Challenger titles to complete this previous season and was a quarter-finalist at this yr’s Australian Open.

The former University of Florida standout, who captured the 2022 NCAA singles title, is only one rising star whose roots are in collegiate tennis. Since Shelton claimed his faculty crown, the 20-year-old has made fast progress on the professional degree.

ATP Challenger Tour


The #NextGenATP star grew to become the fifth participant to win the NCAA Singles Championship and a Challenger title in the identical season, marking the primary time since Steve Johnson in 2012. The lefty has continued to construct upon his momentum and is at a career-high No. 41 within the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

“College tennis would not all the time get the respect it deserves,” Shelton informed in July. “There’s quite a lot of actually good expertise in faculty tennis. It helps mature you and teaches you methods to be a pacesetter.”

Former University of Illinois standout Aleksandar Kovacevic has additionally seen his sport translate nicely to the skilled degree since graduating in 2021. The American gained his maiden Challenger Tour title this previous week in Cleveland, Ohio and was a semi-finalist finally yr’s ATP 250 occasion in Seoul, the place he misplaced to eventual champion Yoshihito Nishioka.

Two years previous to profitable the Cleveland Challenger, Kovacevic was a senior in faculty competing in a number of Challenger occasions throughout the United States. In 2021, he superior by way of qualifying en path to a semi-final run in Cleveland (l. to Fratangelo). Little did he know that a few years later he could be again in Ohio, however this time lifting the trophy.

Aleksandar Kovacevic celebrates winning the Challenger 75 event in Cleveland, Ohio.

Aleksandar Kovacevic triumphs on the 2023 Cleveland Open. Credit: Ben Peskar

“I performed quite a lot of professional tournaments my final season of faculty,” Kovacevic mentioned. “It gave me a bit of little bit of a cushion to make the bounce to the professionals. I used to be already ranked round 500 once I bought out of faculty. Now after being on the professional tour for a bit, there [are] quite a lot of issues I want I knew even beginning out on Tour, however quite a lot of it’s a studying course of and that’s okay.”

While nothing ensures success, the school tennis path has labored for a lot of gamers. Even legends like Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe tasted collegiate success earlier than rising to the skilled ranks. John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Rajeev Ram, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan and Steve Johnson are more moderen examples of student-athletes boasting a robust faculty profession earlier than breaking by way of on the ATP Tour.

Johnson, who turned professional in 2012, led the University of Southern California to 4 consecutive NCAA crew titles and captured back-to-back singles crowns (2011, 2012). The American completed his faculty profession on a 72-match profitable streak.

“College tennis was instrumental in my development as a tennis participant and as an individual,” Johnson mentioned. “It gave me an opportunity to develop up, mature, and see what was necessary in my life. Without faculty tennis, I wouldn’t be right here at the moment and had the profession I’ve had, I do know that for positive. Peter Smith, George Husack, Brett Masi, these guys helped me alongside the way in which whereas I used to be at USC. They gave me the alternatives and talents to study by myself but in addition gave me all of the steerage and gave me that push I wanted.”

This season, the ATP introduced a collaboration with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) to speed up the skilled growth pathway for gamers within the American collegiate system.

Players ranked within the Top 20 of the ITA last singles rankings initially of June, who’ve completed their schooling, might be granted as much as eight ‘accelerator spots’ at Challenger 50 and 75 tournaments, with alternatives cut up between essential draw (Top 10) and qualifying (11-20). Players who attain the quarter-finals or higher of the person NCAA Division I Tennis Championships will even qualify for the accelerator programme if not already eligible by way of their ITA rating.

The ATP-ITA partnership permits extra alternatives for faculty gamers to see how their sport suits on the highest degree of the game. And historical past reveals that the school tennis path has been a profitable route for a lot of completed gamers.

Stars On Importance Of College Tennis

William Blumberg, who was a 10-time ITA All-American on the University of North Carolina: “At 17 or 18 years previous, you’re so younger and immature and to have these assets and mainly go to highschool free of charge if you happen to’re a prime junior… You get free teaching, two or three coaches, health, power and conditioning, vitamin, all paid for and multi function place in addition to with the ability to be a human being. If I might keep and by no means depart, I most likely would’ve.”

Brandon Holt, four-time ITA All-American on the University of Southern California: “Going to school allowed me to get loads stronger as a result of you’ve quite a lot of time within the weight room. It’s sort of onerous while you’re on Tour to get a very good coaching block, so faculty is like 4 years of constantly figuring out. Also, there [are] coaches which have a 4 yr plan along with your sport. They’re like, ‘This is the participant we predict you may change into.’ Then they’ve years to progress you to that time. You present up day-after-day they usually have one aim to get higher and nearer to that aim. They have a tailor-made plan for each participant and I believe that is large.”

Former University of Kentucky standout and 2022 Granby Challenger champion Gabriel Diallo: “What’s nice about faculty tennis is you’ve the chance to play quite a lot of matches. It’s sort of like taking part in Davis Cup each weekend. You play to your faculty and if you happen to purchase into that faculty environment, you change into a part of one thing larger, like for me, ‘Bleeding Blue’ and ‘Big Blue Nation’…It’s an expertise you may by no means get on Tour.”

Gabriel Diallo claimed his first Challenger title at home in Canada.

Gabriel Diallo claims his maiden Challenger title on residence soil in Granby. Credit: Tennis Canada Media Centre

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