by Florian Heer
Sebastian Ofner and Alexander Shevchenko will compete in Sunday’s singles final of the Tenerife Challenger I. On another sunny day on the largest of the Canary Islands, Ofner stopped the run of Hungarian qualifier Mate Valkusz, winning 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday.
In a highly entertaining match on Centre Court of the Abama Tennis Academy in Guía de Isora, the 26-year-old Austrian gained first blood by breaking Valkusz’s serve in the sixth game. Ofner played some decent returns, was solid on his own serve and took the first set in 30 minutes. The World No. 193 kept going, dictated most of the rallies from the baseline and earned an early break in the second set. From then on, Ofner didn’t look back and secured victory in one hour and 14 minutes.
“I feel very comfortable here and played very well today in a match with a lot of tough rallies and in front of a great crowd. Overall, I am very pleased with my last performances. Every match is very close and most of them can go either way, but I am mentally very strong,” said Ofner, who considered his performance against Valkusz as the best of the season so far.
“Winning four consecutive matches and starting the year with a final at Challenger level is fantastic,” he added.
Ofner enjoyed an effective pre-season preparation, which seemed to pay off and also gained worldwide media attention during the World Tennis League exhibition tournament in Dubai last month by facing Novak Djokovic.
“It was fun, and I was lucky to play there. Although it was only an exhibition, it helped me, and it gave me confidence. It wasn’t an official match but playing with that intensity against Nole means that there is nothing you really have to be afraid of,” said Ofner.
Shevchenko fights past Maestrelli
Later in the afternoon, Shevchenko defeated Next-Gen ATP Italian Francesco Maestrelli. In a match with a couple of close calls and controversial discussions, the No. 5 seed capitalized on three of his seven break-point opportunities to prevail after one hour and 45 minutes.
“It was an unbelievable fight out there today,” Shevchenko said afterwards. “Francesco played a fantastic last season. His serve is amazing and really tough to return. I needed to be at 100 per cent to beat him today.”
Final between two good friends
Ofner, a winner of four Challenger crowns, will appear in his eighth Challenger career final, his first since lifting the trophy in Prague, Czech Republic in April last year. Shevchenko could claim his second title on the Challenger Tour following his maiden triumph on clay in Bratislava, Slovakia in June 2022.
“I also like to play on hard court,” Shevchenko said and is looking forward to the championship match. “The surface is not that fast here. I like the conditions.”
Ofner and Shevchenko will meet for the first time in an official match, but the pair know each other pretty well, as both players were previously coached by Günter Bresnik. While Ofner started to join forces with Wolfgang Thiem, Shevchenko still has a strong relationship with the Austrian star coach.
“We are really good friends,” Shevchenko said about Ofner. “He is a great person and I respect him very much. It’s going to be a tough battle and I hope that we deliver a good match.”
Vlad Cornea and Martos Gornes triumph in doubles
In other action, Victor Vlad Cornea from Romania and Spaniard Sergio Martos Gornes clinched the doubles title. The pair defeated Patrik Niklas-Salminen of Finland and Dutchman Bart Stevens 6-3, 6-4 in the final.
“I had a wonderful week here and a very good start into the season by winning my second title. Hopefully I can keep going like that,” Vlad Cornea said during the trophy ceremony.
“It was pleasure to play this tournament at home and in these incredible conditions,” Martos Gornes added.
By claiming their first team title, Vlad Cornea and Martos Gornes split €6,845 in prize money and earned 100 ATP Doubles Ranking points.