Friday, May 1, 2015

Home stretch for the men's #USTAPCHTWCC

It hasn't always been the case. In the prior three years of the USTA Pro Circuit Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge - in which the USTA's reciprocal French Open wild card is granted to the American player with the most points in green clay challenger events in the spring (who's not already in the main draw) - there have been some rather unexciting results.

2014: Only 2 eligible players reached a semifinal in 3 tournaments - Daniel Kosakowski in the first tournament (Sarasota) and 31-year-old Robby Ginepri, who took the wild card with a final (then title) in the third tournament (Tallahassee). That was marred by the fact that much of Tallahassee took place indoors due to rain. Ginepri would go on to draw Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros, losing 0-6 3-6 0-6.

2013: Alex Kuznetsov had the wild card clinched before the quarterfinals of Tallahassee. He won Sarasota - and the big 100 points that comes with it - and picked up 15 points the next week with a quarterfinal in Savannah. By the time Tallahassee rolled around, only Wayne Odesnik could catch him, so when the now-twice-disgraced lefty lost in the second round, Alex was in. Impressive, but anticlimactic. Kuznetsov would go on to lose to 19-year-old French wild card Lucas Pouille in 3 sets.

2012: Okay this won was pretty damn exciting, and the best story of the lot. Only two tournaments counted toward the wild card, and after then-leaders Odesnik and Michael Russell (happy 37th birthday, Mike) lost early in Savannah, it became a three-man race between Ryan Sweeting, Blake Strode(!) and his fellow qualifier, the amazing comeback kid Brian Baker, who all made the semifinals. However, Sweeting lost to Agustin Gensse, meaning Baker's semifinal win over Strode gave the Tennessean the wild card.

Of course, Baker would go on to win the tournament, then fly to Europe to play Nice, where he qualified, then beat Stakhovsky, Monfils, Kukushkin, and Davydenko to reach the final, losing to defending champion Nico Almagro. And THEN Baker beat Xavier Malisse in the first round of Roland Garros, before losing to Gilles Simon in 5 sets in the second round. But still. Wow.

This year is as exciting as 2012, and if we're lucky, it will come down to Saturday's Tallahassee final.

As we all know, Frances Tiafoe has been the breakout star of this year's swing, becoming the first American to reach the quarterfinals of his first three challenger tournaments since 8 years before Frances Tiafoe was born. But there have been plenty of other highlights and stalwarts during that time, including Bjorn Fratangelo, Mitch Krueger, and Tommy Paul. But because nobody had reached a final before this week, it's coming down to the last two days. And, as luck and skill would have it, three guys are still in the running: Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson, and Tennys Sandgren are all in the Tallahassee semifinals.

Two teens and a 23-year-old coming back from major injury. Tiafoe plays Sandgren. Donaldson plays Facundo Arguello. Note that but for Facundo, it would be even crazier this week, as he has beaten 3 guys who otherwise would be in contention for the wild card in Stefan Kozlov, Paul, and Krueger - the latter two in come-from-behind fashion. And he could help end the race today.

Tiafoe currently leads the race due to his semifinal last week in Savannah. This means if Arguello beats Donaldson, Tiafoe would win the wild card with a win over Sandgren. Even if Tiafoe loses to Sandgren, he'd win the wild card with an Arguello title over Sandgren, who won just one main draw match the first two weeks. Basically, Arguello could ruin everyone's week this week, except Frances'. That darn Facundo.

In any case, here it is, nice and easy:

Got it? Good. You can, and should, watch the semis today at With $32,000+ on the line (Tallahassee paycheck plus French Open first round prize money), it's probably the most intense two matches of a challenger imaginable. Best of luck to all the players!

(Except Facundo.)

Edited to add: Just joking about Facundo!

Also, with a title, Donaldson would move up to the Top 140 (currently #168); Tiafoe would move to ~256 (currently #381); Sandgren would move to ~289 (currently #449). Arguello would also move to the Top 140 with a title.

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