* Irving, USA, $150,000+H (Outdoor Hard) :
Challenger in Irving is the unique event at this level of competition, allowing the players who made an early Indian Wells exit to remain busy in the next week and to play some competitive matches before heading to Miami. Therefore, the draw was made only on Monday and the rule about giving the wild cards to players ranked inside the Top 50 is not valid here, as the all seeds are ranked inside the Top 70! The qualifying draw was also a clear indicator how strong this tournament is, with all the seeds ranked inside the Top 140, which is insane at this level. In such a strong field of players, good enough for a respectable ATP 250 event, there were some blockbuster matches right from the start and only one seed managed to reach the last 8.
Dustin Brown needed just 56 minutes to dismiss Tim Smyczek 6-4 6-2, dictating the pace with his first serve and taking the most important points, saving 6 out of 7 break points. Smyczek couldn't do the same in his games, getting broken on all 4 occasions, unable to make a better resistance and prolong the match. Dustin moved 3-1 in front before Tim leveled the score at 3-3, setting up an interesting closure of the set, but he dropped his serve again in game 7, which was the crucial moment of the set. Brown had some difficulties in the next two service games but he surpassed those obstacles to take the opener by 6-4. That gave him a huge boost and Smyczek stood no chance in set number 2, taking just 2 points on return and dropping his serve twice, pushed hard on his second serve.
Mikhail Kukushkin needed an hour and 35 minutes to take down the third seed Karen Khachanov 6-4 7-6 and make his best Challenger result so far in 2017. It was a close match, as the result suggests, but Mikhail played better on his second serve, saving 3 out of 4 break points and waiting patiently for the chance on return. He created 9 break points and 2 breaks were enough to propel himself to the semis. The first set was very close, with 9 easy holds on both sides, and the real drama was reserved for game 5 when Karen faced no less than 8 break points! He saved the first 7 but fell short on 8th, as Mikhail got the break he needed to win the opener 6-4. Karen lost his serve again at the start of the second set and he was in a very tough position, with no room for further errors, but things looked brighter when he broke back in game 8, leveling the score at 4-4 and setting an interesting closure of the set. They were neck and neck in the tie break as well, but Kukushkin took the final 2 points at 5-5 to seal the win and reach the last 4.
Andrey Rublev, talented Russian who is forecast to have a very nice career, has been struggling to find the right form in the last 12 months or so, unable to crack the Top 100 and consolidate himself there. At least, his Challenger results are good, as he defeated Jeremy Chardy 7-5 6-4 to advance to his 4th consecutive semi-final at this level. The match lasted just 77 minutes, with good shotmaking from both and deuces in just 3 games, and it was Andrey who moved through his service games easily, despite losing serve on both break points Chardy had. Young Russian opened the match with a double break, racing into a 5-1 lead before Chardy took the next 4 games to get back on level terms, after a typical meltdown from Andrey that we saw many times from him. Still, Rublev did well to recover and score another break in game 11, closing the set on own serve a few minutes later. The crucial moment of the second set occurred in game 5 when Andrey broke at 15 to take a 3-2 lead, and he wrapped up a nice victory with two love holds.
Dustin Brown (GER) vs [WC]Tim Smyczek (USA) 6-4 6-2 
Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) vs Karen Khachanov (RUS) 6-4 7-6(5) [1:35]
[Q]Andrey Rublev (RUS) vs Jeremy Chardy (FRA) 7-5 6-4 [1:17]
Aljaz Bedene (GBR) vs Jared Donaldson (USA) 7-5 6-3 [1:48]
* Drummondville, Canada, $75,000 (Indoor Hard) :
John-Patrick Smith (AUS) vs [Q]Tim Puetz (GER) 6-7(1) 7-6(5) 6-3 [2:17]
Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) vs Gleb Sakharov (FRA) 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6(5) [2:30]
Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs Blaz Rola (SLO) 7-6(6) 6-4 [1:21]
[WC]Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) vs Alex De Minaur (AUS) 7-5 6-34 [1:32]
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