© Michel Paul PHOTO ACTION

Noah Rubin (left) is the champion in Noumea, edging Taylor Fritz for his third ATP Challenger Tour trophy.

Rubin Opens 2018 With Noumea Crown

Revisit the week that was on the ATP Challenger Tour as we applaud the achievements of those on the rise and look ahead to who’s in action in the week to come

Internationaux BNP Paribas (Noumea, New Caledonia): Noah Rubin will be the first to admit that 2017 was a struggle, having missed nearly four months due to a sprained right wrist and bone bruise. Playing the best tennis of his young career, the 21-year-old was coming off a second round meeting with Roger Federer at the Australian Open and ATP Challenger Tour title in nearby Launceston when he sustained the injury. 

Rubin would conclude the season outside the Top 200 and was in search of a much-needed confidence boost as 2018 got underway. It did not take long for the New York native to find exactly that. A third Challenger crown would jump start his campaign, dropping just one set en route to the title in Noumea. Rubin defeated countryman Taylor Fritz 7-5, 6-4 in Saturday's final. The American, who has received a wild card into the inaugural New York Open next month, will rise to a career-high No. 162 in the ATP Rankings.

Meanwhile, the upset of the week was registered by qualifier Zsombor Piros, who stunned top seed Julien Benneteau from a set down. It was the first Challenger match victory for the World No. 631 from Hungary (age 18). 

City of Playford Tennis International (Playford, Australia): You would be hard-pressed to find a more improbable success story than that of Jason Kubler. The Aussie, a former junior No. 1 whose career was derailed due to chronic knee injuries, was forced to compete exclusively on clay for many years. But improved health and conditioning have allowed Kubler to make the transition to hard courts. And the results have been nothing short of incredible.

Kubler, age 24, lifted his second title on the surface in 10 weeks, defeating Canada's Brayden Schnur 6-4, 6-2 on home soil in Playford on Sunday. He had never competed in a hard-court Challenger prior to October and would streak to the title in his first tournament in Traralgon, Australia. Having won both titles as a qualifier, he is now a staggering 17-1 on the surface and is up to No. 242 in the ATP Rankings. Kubler did not drop a set all week in Playford (16-0), becoming the first qualifier to do so since 2009. He will hope to continue his strong form at the Australian Open, having been awarded a main draw wild card.

KPN Academy-Usierra Bangkok Open (Bangkok, Thailand): Sixth seed Marcel Granollers won his fifth ATP Challenger Tour title, rallying past German qualifier Mats Moraing 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in Bangkok. The Spaniard was a break down in the third set, but would fight for the victory after two hours and 35 minutes. The former World No. 19 is projected to rise 28 spots to No. 149, as he continues his quest to return to the Top 100. It was his first Challenger title since March 2016 (Irving, USA).

"Obviously it has been a great week for me," said Granollers. "I have a lot of confidence from this. It is very important to see the hard work from the preseason pay off in the first work."

Two tournaments are on the calendar next week, as the season-opening Aussie swing continues in Canberra. Top seed Dudi Sela is the defending champion, while #NextGenATP prospects Corentin Moutet, Geoffrey Blancaneaux, Soonwoo Kwon and Yosuke Watanuki are looking to wrestle the trophy. Moutet, Kwon and 22-year-old Nicolas Jarry are three of our 10 players to watch in 2018.

At the second event in Bangkok, top seed Granollers looks to go back-to-back. He is joined by countrymen Enrique Lopez Perez, seeded second, and Pedro Martinez, seeded third.

ATP Challenger Tour