by Florian Heer

Professional tennis is back on the sunny island of Tenerife. Three tournaments of the ATP Challenger Tour will be held on the largest of the Canary Islands over the next four weeks. A tournament of the third-highest category, which offers a total prize money of €118,000 is taking place this week on the archipelago, which lies about 300 kilometres off the coast of Morocco and the Western Sahara and over 1,200 kilometres from the south coast of mainland Spain.

Tennis facility in a dreamlike ambience

Even the approach to the Abama Tennis Resort is spectacular. With the small neighbouring island of La Gomera always in view, the serpentine roads in the south-western municipality of Guía di Isora lead past banana plantations and a castle-like, terracotta-coloured luxury hotel to the tennis complex. From here, palm trees and an extensive green area with an adjoining golf resort overlook the Atlantic Ocean.

In the middle of it all are the seven tennis courts, which have already been used for the ATP Challenger and WTA tournament at the end of 2021, the first year the tournament was held. All hard courts are equipped with floodlight including the Centre Court with a capacity of about 600 spectators.

Valkusz continues fine run of form

The 32-man-singles draw of the Tenerife Challenger I has been whittled down to the final four. In the bottom half, qualifier Mate Valkusz continued his excellent run of form this week by knocking out World No. 120 and second-seeded Italian Francesco Passaro, the highest-ranked player left in the singles draw after top favourite Radu Albot from Moldova fell in the opening round to US-American Nicolas Moreno de Alboran in straight sets. Valkusz defeated Passaro 6-4, 6-3 on Friday in perfect tennis conditions with a lot of sunshine and temperatures around 22 degrees Celsius. The 24-year-old from Hungary converted five of his eight break-point chances to secure victory in one hour and 32 minutes. 

“I was focusing on his backhand, as I knew that his forehand is much better. That’s why I could win the rallies backhand cross,” said Valkusz after the match. “I could move him well on the court. My serve worked well, and he couldn’t really attack my second serve. I think that he was not feeling his best, but he is close to the Top 100 and competes at the highest level, so it’s a big win for me.”

Valkusz reached his fourth semi-final on the ATP Challenger Tour after finishing runner-up to Italian veteran Paolo Lorenzi in Cordenons, Italy in 2018 and reaching the stages of the final four in Mauthausen, Austria and Split, Croatia last season. The World No. 278, who was a top-ranked junior in 2016 but struggled with a wrist and shoulder injury in the past years, is trying to get back to his best. 

“I am still expecting more from me. I was successful at junior’s level but got injured and was forced to stop playing for a couple of years. I could only play 10 to 12 tournaments per seasons. Now, I am getting better, starting to feel more comfortable on the court,” said Valkusz, who has come to the Canary Islands for the first time. After winning five matches this week here, the Budapest native, who lives and practices in his hometown, is well on his way to establishing a close relationship with Tenerife. 

“It is a beautiful club. I love tennis, especially in a fantastic atmosphere like here, where the courts offer a great view. The people are very nice. The organization is great, and the beach is stunning. It helps me to play my best and I am highly motivated. However, I feel a bit exhausted. I will enjoy some rest now and need to take a nap.”

Next up for Valkusz will be Sebastian Ofner. “There are no weak players here. I need to be at 100 per cent again to reach the final,” Valkusz said about his upcoming task. 

Pain-free Ofner in good shape

Ofner, who had battled past No. 6 seed Luca Nardi of Italy in the first round in three sets followed by a two-set win over Hungarian Fabian Marozsan, showed another decent performance against Riccardo Bonadio. The 193rd-ranked Austrian downed the Italian 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 11 minutes. 

“I struggled with injuries in the past one and a half years but I have been pain free since the middle of November and things are going very well right now,” said Ofner. “I had a very good pre-season and a good start into the year at the Australian Open. I adapted well to the conditions here. I feel comfortable and feel physically fit. I am happy with my level of tennis and the situation right now.”

Shevchenko: the last seed standing

Alexander Shevchenko leads the top half of the draw. The No. 5 seed edged past Italian qualifier Lorenzo Giustino 6-4, 7-5. Shevchenko struck seven aces and broke his rival’s serve five times to prevail after one hour and 48 minutes. 

“I was very consistent today,” Shevchenko said about the key to success. “I only had a bad start into the second set and Lorenzo caught the momentum but I managed to fight and I am very happy.”

By reaching the semi-finals, the current World No. 157 is sitting on a virtual career-high ranking now (No. 141). Shevchenko is joined by his father here in Tenerife but practices in Austria with Günter Bresnik. The group of Dominic Thiem’s former coach already spent the pre-season in Adeje, situated in the south of the island. 

“I am actually a local here,” Shevchenko said with a smile. “I was staying for one and a half months here, and I like it a lot. The weather and the facilities are great. It’s just beautiful. 

“I have been working with Günter for almost 10 years now and he’s more than a coach for me. He is taking care of me all the time. He watches every match via live stream and we get in touch afterwards. When I lose in a tournament, I go back to Vienna, and we practice together.”

Up next for Shevchenko will be Francesco Maestrelli, who rallied past fellow Italian and wild card entry Matteo Gigante 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 34 minutes.

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