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Gabashvili Excited For Challenger Tour Finals Test

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Gabashvili© AFP/Getty ImagesTeymuraz Gabashvili following his upset of Fernando Gonzalez at the 2007 US Open.

A symphony of pops and pings of felt canvas meeting nylon string and the screeching of rubber soles on acrylic cement sifted through the air on Day Three of the 2007 US Open.

As day transitioned to night, with the last ray of sunlight dipping below the glowing horizon, Court 13 became drenched in the overwhelming effervescence of tennis on its grandest stage. An exuberant, primal scream of ecstasy filled the air as Teymuraz Gabashvili raised his arms in triumph.

An elder statesman at this week’s ATP Challenger Tour Finals, held on outdoor clay at the Sociedade Harmonia de Tenis in Sao Paulo, Gabashvili carries an unrelenting passion for the game and competes with a warrior-like mentality every day. At age 28, the Russian veteran is "a fighter".

On that day in late August, Gabashvili stunned World No. 7 Fernando Gonzalez 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 5-7, 6-4 in the first round at Flushing Meadows with “canon shots”, according to Gonzalez…and a broken finger. 

“Of course it was one of the proudest moments I have,” said Gabashvili. “I beat him when he was Top 10 in the world with a broken finger. I was really proud of myself because it was almost impossible to play and I fought and I won. Even though I lost in the next round it was one of my proudest moments.”

A seven-time champion on the ATP Challenger Tour, including titles in consecutive weeks on the hard courts of Karshi and clay of Samarkand this year, the versatile Russian has won a career-high 55 total matches in 2013.

Despite his Grand Slam success, which also includes a Round of 16 finish at Roland Garros in 2010, after shocking sixth-seed Andy Roddick, Gabashvili remains grounded and is perpetually focused and goal-driven. An epitome of his attitude on the court, he idolised Pete Sampras growing up, emulating his grinding win-at-all-costs mentality. 

“The last few years I was out of the Top 100 and I had my lowest ranking in the past 10 years at 198,” he said. “In my mind I’m thinking ‘What should I do?’ now that I’m 28 nearly and have a pretty low ranking and losing points. 

“I tried to focus on every match. I treated every match like an entire tournament and I started winning again on the Challenger level.

“My goal was to come back to the Top 100 and at least I achieved it this year. Now I go to Sao Paulo. I am focusing on this tournament. It gives me motivation because I still want to play at the highest level.”

Gabashvili doesn’t want his career to be defined by a single match either, but on that breezy day in late May 2010, at Roland Garros, the then 114th-ranked Russian qualifier made history on Court Suzanne Lenglen after hammering Roddick 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. It was a victory that would move him into the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

“I came through qualifying and reached the last 16 without dropping a set,” said a beaming Gabashvili. “It was a very good achievement for me. They told me in 93 years nobody had done this. I was very close to being in the quarter-finals too.”

The 6’2” Tbilisi native was quick to point out that the tournament wasn’t one of the proudest moments of his career solely because of his upset of Roddick, rather due to the effort he put into the entire fortnight and his consequent success.

Having worked with former World No. 8 Guillermo Canas in recent years, at the Argentine’s facility in Miami, Gabashvili believes the Challenger circuit is a good place to continue building his game and is excited for the season finale in Sao Paulo. “I didn’t think about qualifying for the Challenger finals until I was close. It’s a good opportunity.” 

“My goals for next year are to make my best ranking, beat No. 59 in the world, and to do it before Roland Garros. Minimum goal is to maintain Top 100. I would really like to finish the year Top 50.”

Gabashvili is also a strong advocate of the future of Russian tennis on the ATP World Tour and believes the sky’s the limit for his country’s potential.

“We had the Davis Cup and a 17-year-old boy, Karen Khachanov, won his first match against South Africa,” he said with great enthusiasm. “He already won his first three tour-level matches, reaching the quarter-finals in Moscow. This is unbelievable. There aren’t many teenagers winning their first three matches in two weeks. Look, why not him as the future? You never know. Next year another 17-year-old can come up. Russia is a huge country with a lot of talent. And of course Evgeny Donskoy and Andrey Kuznetsov are both 21 and are Top 100. Donskoy is a great player and Kuznetsov won Wimbledon juniors.”

The top seed this week, Gabashvili, No. 84 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, opened his 2013 ATP Challenger Tour Finals campaign with a convincing 6-2, 6-3 victory over last year’s runner-up Adrian Ungur, in Group Verde action on Wednesday.

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