Three Tournaments Kick Off 2018 Challenger Season
Craving some tennis? You're not alone. The wait is nearly over as we tear the wrapping off a fresh season on the ATP Challenger Tour.
While the stars of the ATP World Tour prepare to launch their campaigns in Brisbane, Doha and Pune, a trio of tournaments also mark the beginning of the Challenger season. The action is set to take off in Bangkok, Noumea and Playford, as players look to make an immediate impact in 2018 and #NextGenATP stars begin their quests in the Emirates ATP Race To Milan.
For the 15th consecutive year, the French territory of New Caledonia kicks off the season. The island paradise, located off the eastern coast of Australia, welcomes players to the Ligue de Tennis de Nouvelle Caledonie in the capital city of Noumea. The tournament once again features a stacked draw. Top 150 players Julien Benneteau, Taylor Fritz and Cameron Norrie join teens Stefan Kozlov and Corentin Moutet, who are slated to meet in the first round at the Internationaux BNP Paribas.
Player to watch in Noumea: Norrie, seeded third, was one of the breakout stars on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2017, rising to year-end No. 114 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. The three-time titlist capped his campaign with a 31-8 run, including late-season victories at the Northern California stops of Tiburon and Stockton. He opens against Italy's Stefano Napolitano.
Meanwhile, the inaugural event in Playford, Australia, features an equally strong draw. Next Gen ATP Finals semi-finalist Daniil Medvedev is the top seed and is in search of his second ATP Challenger Tour title. A quartet of #NextGenATP Aussies carry the home hopes, with wild cards Marc Polmans, Omar Jasika, Max Purcell and Alexei Popyrin in the field.
Player to watch in Playford: The City of Playford Tennis International also features the long-awaited return of Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka. The 22-year-old saw his 2017 season come to a painful conclusion in April when he tore the ACL in his left leg at the Miami Open presented by Itaú. Nishioka, who rose to a career-high No. 58 before the injury, is set to make his comeback debut in Playford as he eyes a return to the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Finally, the Thai capital of Bangkok welcomes Challenger competitors for the 10th straight year. Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov lifted the trophy in 2010, while reigning Next Gen ATP Finals winner Hyeon Chung prevailed in 2014. This year, Germany's Yannick Maden leads the pack with teenagers Miomir Kecmanovic and Duckhee Lee also in action.
Player to watch in Bangkok: Kecmanovic is soaring into 2018 after claiming his maiden Challenger crown in Suzhou, China, in October. The 18-year-old Serbian became the youngest from his country to win on the circuit since Novak Djokovic in 2005. Up to a career-high No. 207 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, the former junior No. 1 will look to carry the momentum into the new season. He will face fourth seed and countryman Nikola Milojevic in the first round at the KPN Academy-Usierra Bangkok Open.