* Columbus, USA, $75,000 (Indoor Hard) : Staged at the indoor tennis complex of Ohio State University, Columbus Challenger is the first on the indoor surface since April and Taipei! Two players ranked outside the Top 400 will fight for the title, after they both scored straight sets wins in the semi-final.
Alexander Ward is currently ranked 566th and he lost the previous 9 Challenger matches, including qualifying rounds. Now, he will have a chance to play for his first trophy at this level, following a commanding 6-1 6-3 triumph over the 7th seed Dennis Novikov in just 55 minutes. Everything worked well for the Briton, who used his first serve as a big weapon to get some free points or to set up a nice execution with his forehand, facing just 1 break point.
On the other hand, Dennis served at only 45% and he was in all kind of troubles on his second serve (8 from 24 points won), having to play against 4 break points and saving none of them to lose the match in under an hour.
Ward won the final 5 games of the first set, scoring breaks in games 4 and 6 and looking to carry that momentum into the second set as well. There, they had 4 easy holds before Briton broke in game 5, winning 12 out of 14 points to create a 4-2 gap.
He saved a break point in game 8 and clinched the match with another break in the following game for the place in the final, a much-needed one after very tough year he has had so far. Just like Alexander, Croat Ante Pavic played far from his best in 2017, and he advanced to his second Challenger final, playing the first one in March 2014 in Rimouski! 28-year-old took down Frank Dancevic by 6-3 7-5 in 68 minutes, firing 14 aces and fending off 2 out of 3 break points to limit the damage in his games. Frank also faced 3 break points but unlike his rival, he handed his serve on each of them, which made all the difference.
The first set was very fast and fluid, pavic won 12 out of 13 points in the middle of the set to move 5-2 up, breaking Dancevic at love in game 6, and he saved 2 break points in the 9th game to bring the set home by 6-3. Croat was untouchable on serve in the most part of the second set as well, building a 5-3 lead with a break in game 5.
He served for the match in game 10 but Frank managed to break back and extend the encounter, only to get broken again in game 11. Ante served for the win again in the 12th game and this time there were no mistakes, as he advanced to his 2nd final at this level with a nice hold, finishing the match with a nice backhand volley winner.
* Izmir, Turkey, €64,000 (Outdoor Hard) : Former Top 50 player Illya Marchenko started the season ranked inside the Top 100, playing great at the Australian Open against Andy Murray in the opening 2 sets, but he lost the ground completely after that.
He missed more than a month due to an injury and he never found his game again, being ranked 287th at the moment. That will change soon, as he reached his first Challenger final since Segovia last year, ousting Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-3 1-0 in just 39 minutes, with Nedovyesov being forced to retire at the start of the second set. Marchenko played well until that point, losing 8 points in 5 service games, and he broke his rival in the 6th game to create a 4-2 gap and safely bring the set home.
Nedovyesov lost his serve at the start of the second set as well and he decided to retire, unable to compete anymore. 37-year-old Stephane Robert took down Serb Danilo Petrovic by 6-1 6-4 in just 55 minutes and this will be the final between the players with similar stories, as he also had great results in 2016, unable to repeat them this year. French veteran will play in his first Challenger final since Prague in June 2016 and it will be his 17th in a career.
Robert controlled the points on his serve well, saving 2 out of 3 break points, and he was effective on the return as well, taking 50% of the points in Petrovic's games, breaking his rival 5 times from 7 opportunities.
The first set was over in under 25 minutes, Stephane raced into a 4-0 lead and the set was his after another break in game 7. He moved 4-1 in front with a break in the 4th game of the second set before Petrovic fought back, saving a break point in game 6 and pulling the break back a few minutes later to reduce the deficit to 4-3.
He even had a break point to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the set, but Robert fends it off and he scored the crucial break in game 10 to seal the deal and book a place in the final, earning some valuable points.