Another good win for Els!
Here's the article btw :
Head For the Challenger
Want a full week's entertainment (five days, about thirty hours) for less than the price of the batteries for your digital camera? You should have been at the Cortec $50,000 USTA Women's tournament at the 98th Street Club in Bloomington.
And you still have a chance. Play continues on Saturday and Sunday.
The Bloomington challenger is one of about one hundred USTA events, for men and women, scattered around the U. S., and hundreds more around the world.
What is a Challenger? A challenger is the entry level for tennis. New players, and players who are trying or recover after injury, play these events to earn the points they need to get into the high-level ATP and WTA events.
Does this mean the tennis is bad? Hardly. You may not know the names, but these are accomplished players. The #1 doubles player at Bloomington, for instance, is Els Callens. What did Callens do last year? Well, she and Meghann Shaughnessy won the German Open (a Tier I event, only one notch below a Slam). She also won the smaller tournament at Antwerp with Virginia Ruano Pascual. And, playing with Chanda Rubin, she beat the Williams Sisters at the U. S. Open. Plus she was a key member of the Belgian team that won Fed Cup last year. She's at Bloomington to work on her singles ranking, but she's one of the world's best doubles players.
And there are some pretty good singles players, too. Zsofia Gubacsi won the WTA event at Casablanca, reached the third round at the French Open before losing to Serena Williams, and in doubles she reached the final at Budapest. Shinobu Asagoe, before hitting a bad spell in the middle of 2001, got as high as #52 in the WTA rankings, meaning that she could have been seeded at some WTA events.
As for excitement, how about these scores from some of the singles matches: In the first round, Shinobu Asagoe beat Ansley Cargill 2-6 7-5 7-6(11-9), saving match points in the second set. In the quarterfinal, Laura Granville topped Iveta Benesova 6-7 7-5 7-6, with the score in the final tiebreak being 8-6. Or how about sudden turnarounds: In the second round, Maret Ani found herself down 5-7 0-4. She won five straight games before losing to Lenka Nemeckova 7-5 7-5.
You'll see all styles at a Challenger. Callens, who made the semifinal with a three-set win over her doubles partner Asagoe, loves to take the net. Tara Snyder also charged regularly in her first round win over Miho Saeki. But there are baseliners here, too, of all stripes.
And if you prefer animated players, how about Maureen Drake asking herself "How many volleys can you miss?" Or Maret Ani or Seda Noorlander talking to herself. (And since it isn't English, you even get to guess what they said, and who has been cursed to eternal whatever-it-is.)
And you'll never have to worry about seeing the action; you'll never get this close to the court at a bigger tournament. Even the "nosebleed seats" are so close that you can't get the whole court in your camera viewfinder. And it's quite possible that you'll find yourself sitting next to one of the players, or her coach, or both. You might even get to retrieve a ball or two.
In results on Friday, Laura Granville beat Iveta Benesova 6-7 7-5 7-6 to set up a match with qualifier Stanislava Hrozenska, who beat Lenka Nemeckova 6-0 7-5, while Els Callens beat her doubles partner Shinobu Asagoe 2-6 6-3 6-4 to earn the right to play #2 seed Seda Noorlander, a 7-5 6-4 winner over Maureen Drake. One doubles semifinal will pit #1 seeds Callens and Asagoe, who smashed Benesova and Kurhajcova 6-0 6-2, against Dekmeijere and Pastikova, who beet Barclay and Wheeler. The other will see #2 seeds Hiraki and Miyagi, who topped Hoogland and Hopmans, face Sassi and Stewart, who beat #4 seeds Nemeckova and Webb in three sets.
Fans in the Twin Cities or the Minnesota area can still catch late rounds. The event is held at the 98th Street Club, just west of Interstate 35W on 98th Street. From Minneapolis or Saint Paul, get to 35W southbound. Take the exit at 98th Street, and go straight when you come to the first light, then look for the tennis bubble.
If you don't live in Minnesota, there is still a chance that there is a Challenger, for men or women, in your area. They would love to have you in attendance; there are almost always seats available. If you sign up enough in advance, you might even be able to help with the tournament. Or be a ballkid (all ages allowed). It's a big league sport without a big league price -- at Bloomington, for instance, a $5 ticket got you all the action from Sunday's qualifying through the end of the second round on Thursday -- often two or even three matches at once, so you have your choice of players and styles. Even tickets for the finals (singles and doubles, we might note) cost less than tickets for most big league sports. And you'll be a lot closer to the players.