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Jesse's Goal: ATP Challenger Tour Finals

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Huta Galung© Edwin Verhoef/Topshelf OpenJesse Huta Galung competes to qualify for the Challenger Tour Finals in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

While the Emirates ATP Race to London heats up on the ATP World Tour, another battle is underway on the ATP Challenger Tour, with players vying for places at the Challenger Tour Finals, to be held in Sao Paulo at the end of November. The seven players who amass the most points at the Challenger level during the season – plus one tournament-awarded wild card – will qualify.

Dutchman Jesse Huta Galung currently leads the pack, but less than 90 points separates him from Andrej Martin in the 11th position.

“Everybody is so close to each other, I think the last couple of weeks can change a lot,” acknowledges Huta Galung, a winner of four ATP Challenger Tour titles this season. “Everybody is still playing tournaments. After I won the fourth one, I thought maybe there’s a chance I could play in Sao Paulo. I hear it’s a good event. It’s nice. I’ve never been to Brazil.”

Huta Galung put together what he calls the “best season of my career” after some time away from the court. He nursed a hamstring injury, learning the hard way the first two times when he returned to the court too soon, and enjoyed his time as a new father, helping his wife Cera take care of their baby girl Jolie, born in June 2012.

“I think that helped and worked well to recover from the injury,” he says. “And that’s why maybe I said to myself I will start the year 2013 good. I prepared a little bit longer for this season than normal. I think that paid off.”

Huta Galung gained confidence from reaching the doubles final on home soil at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, an ATP World Tour 500 tournament in Rotterdam, alongside countryman Thiemo de Bakker. In his next tournament, a Challenger event in Cherbourg, he qualified and won his first hard-court title. He collected another indoor hard-court title a month later in St. Brieuc, and then a pair on clay this past July in Scheveningen and Tampere.

The Dutchman, who no longer travels with a coach on a weekly basis and is often joined by his family, credits his success to a right combination of factors. “I know what I have to do on tour, but I think I’m just more relaxed when I’m playing tournaments. I think maybe it’s because of the baby, maybe I’m getting older. I think it’s a mix of experience with the home situation that changed and travelling without a coach. I think if you put it all together, that’s why I play good.”

Huta Galung broke into the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time last month, reaching a career-high No. 95 by September, and has his sights set on the Top 70 by year’s end. “That may be a high goal, but if you make the [ATP Challenger Tour] Finals, you have to achieve some new goals, you have to put the level high. Top 70 is only 130 to 150 [Emirates ATP Rankings] points [away]. I think if you win one Challenger, you’re very close to that, so it’s reachable.”

Triumph in Sao Paulo could help him achieve that target, with an undefeated champion standing to gain 125 points. Though the surface at the Challenger Tour Finals has changed from hard court to clay this year, the current leader is unfazed.  “I think I’m an all-around player. I can play on all kinds of surfaces,” says Huta Galung, who grew up idolising Pete Sampras.

But first, the focus is on maintaining his place in the year-to-date ATP Challenger Rankings, which would bring with it the distinction of being the man to beat in Brazil.  “Of course if you enter in first place, it’s good, but it doesn’t matter anymore when you’re there. You still have to beat all the guys to be in the final and to win it, so we’re going to see how it’s going and I’m looking forward to play.”

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Jesse Huta Galung, Challenger

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