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For the next fortnight, all eyes will be on the stars of the ATP Tour as they battle for glory at Roland Garros. But as hungry as they will be to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires, there is a group of competitors that are just as motivated to make a splash at the hard-court Grand Slam. They are the players competing throughout the year on the ATP Challenger Tour.Securing entry into a Grand Slam is no simple task. It requires year-round focus, hard work and consistency to arrive at this moment. For players grinding on the Challenger circuit, this is the reward. Having the opportunity to test their talents against the best players in the world, and with coveted points and prize money at stake, is what drives these players from January to November.Roland Garros 2020 is no exception. A platform to showcase their skills and eventually take the next step on the ATP Tour, it presents a huge opportunity on a global stage. A strong performance on the terre battue can prove to be career-altering for many Challenger stars, as they target the Top 100 and beyond. So, which players are poised to wreak havoc on the draw? We look at five to watch in Paris...Daniel Altmaier (GER)After more than five months on the sidelines, many players have seized the opportunity to rest, get healthy and fine tune their game. Altmaier is certainly one of them. The 21-year-old, who has battled chronic abdominal and shoulder injuries since reaching his first ATP Tour quarter-final in 2017 (Antalya), used his time in quarantine to work on his fitness and build a "more stable" body structure.That commitment is paying off for the German, upon the resumption of the ATP Challenger Tour. A year after dropping out of the FedEx ATP Rankings, the 22-year-old Altmaier would rise to a career-high No. 183 just two weeks ago. He reached back-to-back Challenger semi-finals, in Cordenons and Aix-en-Provence, posting statement wins over a surging Lorenzo Musetti and World No. 61 Pablo Cuevas. It was his first victory over a Top 100 opponent in three years.Among all players in the Roland Garros draw, Altmaier owns the most Challenger wins in 2020. In fact, his 21-11 record is second-best on the circuit since the start of the year. Only Aslan Karatsev owns more victories.The German will make his Grand Slam debut against Feliciano Lopez, with countryman and 30th-seed Jan-Lennard Struff a potential second round opponent.Tomas Machac (CZE)What a story this was. Machac wasn't even slated to be in the qualifying draw on Sunday. But following the withdrawal of multiple players due to COVID-19, the Czech teenager found himself in qualies of a Grand Slam for the first time. From being one of the last players in the draw to punching his ticket to the big show, he would qualify without dropping a set.Machac might just be the best kept secret on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2020. He's the teenager few are familiar with, but that won't last long. In February, right before the COVID-19 shutdown, the 19-year-old won his maiden Challenger crown on the indoor hard courts of Koblenz, Germany. And he's certainly shown that his game translates to all surfaces, storming through Roland Garros qualifying without dropping a set.Machac, who is coached by two-time Roland Garros doubles champion Daniel Vacek, likens his game style to Novak Djokovic. Boasting excellent defensive skills on the court, the Czech has developed his talents on the Challenger circuit in the past year. Machac is the youngest player from the Czech Republic in the Top 400 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, rising to a career-high No. 246 upon the Challenger restart in August. "This is a dream," said Machac. "I did not expect this. I left everything out there. I'm just excited and I can't even describe it properly."Machac will face the biggest test of his young career in Paris, opening against 27th-seed Taylor Fritz. His Grand Slam debut will be his first meeting with a Top 100 opponent.Arthur Rinderknech (FRA) Rinderknech is the Frenchman everyone should be watching in Paris. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, no player was more dominant on the ATP Challenger Tour. The Parisian entered the season outside the Top 300 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, but he would find his stride in a hurry. Having thrived in four years at Texas A&M University, the 24-year-old adapted quickly in his second season on the professional scene, claiming his maiden Challenger title at home in Rennes, before sprinting to back-to-back finals on Canadian soil.Armed with a mammoth serve and boisterous baseline game, Rinderknech built more confidence with every passing week. It was in Canada that he surged to a career-high of No. 160, finishing runner-up in Drummondville and lifting his second trophy the following week in Calgary."It was pretty tough for me to stop playing," said Rinderknech. "If I can digest what happened in January and February, and go back to work with even more motivation, I can achieve my goals. I had a pretty good chemistry on the court and with some more hard work, I know I can do it again."A native of Gassin, located along the French Riviera, Rinderknech is poised to make his Grand Slam debut on home soil. He will face Aljaz Bedene in the first round and could face the winner of the all-Serbian clash between Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Milojevic.Jurij Rodionov (AUT)Rodionov is the #NextGenATP star on the rise in Paris. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, the Austrian was sprinting towards qualification into the Next Gen ATP Finals. He was a ruthless force in the month of February, scoring an impressive 15 wins from 17 matches on the ATP Challenger Tour and lifting trophies on both the indoor hard courts of Dallas and outdoor hard courts of Morelos. After nearly three years grinding on the Challenger circuit, Rodionov's breakthrough finally arrived. Rodionov has flipped the script in 2020, teaming with new coach Javier Frana to climb to a career-high of No. 166 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Rodionov boasts a unique and eclectic game style, often employing various tactics from point to point. From moving his opponents side-to-side and then luring them in to the net, to staying on the baseline and looking to attack with his forehand, the Austrian is as unpredictable as they come. And with his affinity for the tweener, trick shots are not out of the question.Following a successful qualifying campaign, Rodionov will open his Grand Slam career against French veteran Jeremy Chardy. Borna Coric and Norbert Gombos are potential second-round opponents.Aleksandar Vukic (AUS)There are no easy matches in Grand Slam qualifying and Vukic had to earn all three of his victories at Roland Garros. In the first round, the Aussie saved two match points to upset the surging Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz. Trailing by a set and a break, he would claw back from the brink of defeat. Vukic would not be denied his first Grand Slam appearance from there, overcoming Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Jason Jung to punch his ticket to the main draw.A three-time All-American at the University of Illinois, 'Vuki' hails from Sydney, Australia, but has Eastern European heritage in his blood. His parents, who introduced him to the game at age five, hail from Montenegro (dad) and Bosnia (mom). The 24-year-old graduated with a degree in finance in 2018 and has battled on the ATP Challenger Tour ever since. In March, all the work finally paid off. In the week before the COVID-19 shutdown, Vukic reached his first Challenger final on the hard courts of Monterrey, Mexico (l. to Mannarino). He secured the biggest win of his young career in upsetting World No. 56 Feliciano Lopez in the second round.Now, up to a career-high No. 190 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, the Aussie is hoping his strong 2020 campaign translates to the Grand Slam stage. He faces another qualifier, Pedro Martinez, in the first round, with 14th seed Fabio Fognini and top American John Isner also in his immediate section of the draw.Five More To WatchLiam Broady qualified for a Grand Slam for the first time, as the 26-year-old refused to drop a set in his three matches. Having previously received Wimbledon wild cards on three occasions, it marks his first successful major qualifying campaign in 12 attempts. He will open against Jiri Vesely.Steven Diez was made to wait even longer in his bid to qualify at a slam. In his 16th attempt, the Canadian earned his Grand Slam debut on Thursday. The World No. 179, who won his lone Challenger title in Burnie, Australia, last year, has Spanish parents and originally competed for Spain early in his career. Two sons of Grand Slam champions - Emilio Gomez and Sebastian Korda - also booked their spots in the main draw from qualifying. Exactly 30 years after his father Andres Gomez won Roland Garros, Emilio rallied from 0-3 30/40 down in the deciding set (d. Popko) to punch his ticket on Thursday. And 20-year-old Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, will also make his debut in Paris.One of the more under-the-radar first round match-ups features Vukic against Pedro Martinez. At No. 105 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, the Spaniard is on the precipice of a Top 100 breakthrough. Martinez is ready for the big stage, having reached the Australian Open second round as a qualifier in January, as well as his first ATP Tour quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro. And just two weeks ago, he earned his first Top 50 win (d. Querrey) in his ATP Masters 1000 debut in Rome.
Jan-Lennard Struff empfindet die aktuellen Bedingungen für Tennisprofis als "mentale Herausforderung".
In the early to mid-2000s, Guillermo Coria was a force on the ATP Tour. One of the best defenders in the game and a strong baseliner, the Argentine used his superior agility to soar as high as No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Also a finalist at Roland Garros in 2004 and a two-time ATP Masters 1000 champion, Coria was a fixture inside the Top 100 for many years. 'El Mago' was the clay-court king during his tenure on the professional scene, dominating on the surface throughout his career. Now, more than a decade later, the Coria legacy continues. On Monday, Guillermo's brother Federico Coria cracked the Top 100 for the first time, entering the fray after an impressive week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. The 28-year-old rose to a career-high No. 98 after earning his first win over a Top 50 opponent (Struff) in his ATP Masters 1000 debut."It makes me really happy," said Coria. "Monday was an incredible day in my life. I looked at my phone and just stared at the number. I couldn't believe it. It's a dream realised and one that I've been fighting for, for a long time."I was actually anxious for this to happen. It was supposed to come earlier in the year, but the pandemic arrived and I had to wait. But this was very special, after winning my first Masters 1000 match in Rome and beating the No. 30 in the world. It ended up being better than I imagined."The Corias are one of just four sets of brothers to feature inside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings since 2000. They join Jurgen Melzer and Gerald Melzer, as well as Olivier Rochus and Christophe Rochus, and most recently Alexander Zverev and Mischa Zverev.In fact, the Rochus brothers were both in the Top 100 at the same time, in each year from 2000 to 2010. The Zverevs also resided in the Top 100 concurrently, from 2016 to 2019.For both Federico and Guillermo, it is a special accomplishment. The brothers have a close relationship and Guillermo relishes his sibling's achievements like they are his own."My first dream was to get an ATP point," Federico added. "I remember when it happened, Guillermo printed the rankings page and posted it at home. Today, after 10 years of traveling all over the world, with many highs and lows, to be Top 100 gives me a great desire to continue climbing.""I am very proud and happy for Fede, that he has entered the Top 100," said Guillermo. "He is fulfilling his dreams and that gives me great happiness as a brother. At one point he thought it was too far away and almost impossible. But he never gave up, he fought and kept on going to play tournaments and gain confidence. He was lonely a lot, but this is the reward for all those results and that sacrifice."When Coria says he has been fighting for this moment for a long time, that is not hyperbole. The Argentine has battled on the ATP Challenger Tour since 2016 and was competing in ITF events for nearly five years before that. Now, the grind is paying off. Last year, he lifted his maiden Challenger trophy in Savannah and reached three more finals as the year rolled along. And in 2020, he made his mark at the tour-level, surging to his first ATP Tour quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro and claiming his first Grand Slam match win at the US Open last month. His breakthrough in Rome was the icing on the cake.For Federico, the road to this moment started more than 20 years ago, when he instantly became inspired by his brother. Guillermo was his idol. Ever since he was a child, he would watch him compete on TV. The Corias are from a very small town in Argentina, named Rosario, and Guille was always on the road either competing on the ATP Tour or training in Buenos Aires and Miami. Federico explains that he was very shy when he was younger. He became so nervous when his brother would call home that he would run and hide."It was very difficult for me. I couldn't speak to him when he called. I looked up to him so much. And now, it hasn't been easy to follow in his footsteps. Whenever I would travel to a tournament, he had already won it when he was two years younger than me. I couldn't manage it. I struggled a lot with that, because I wanted to be a normal kid. I wanted to be a boy that did not attract attention. I didn't want to arrive at a tournament and everyone expects me to achieve the same as my brother. I've never been as talented as him and this was a big mental challenge for me."When Federico won his lone ATP Challenger Tour title in Savannah, he paid tribute to his older brother. In what was the biggest moment of his career, he dropped to one knee and pointed to sky. It was just like Guillermo used to do in his Challenger days."On the other hand, coming from Argentina, there is pressure - sometimes even greater than what I experienced - on all the other players. It's not unique to me. So if I could go back, I wouldn't change anything. For me, looking back, it was incredible to have a brother that was No. 3 in the world and could help guide me through my career. His support means everything to me."When asked what has been the best advice he's ever received, Coria recalled a special moment with Rafael Nadal at the ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires. The pair were sitting in the locker room one afternoon and Nadal turned to a young Federico to discuss the next steps in his career. "There were no cameras, just the two of us in the changing room. He asked me where I was playing next and started talking about my position [in the FedEx ATP Rankings]. He explained that many years ago he was in the same position as I was, and that I need to work every day and leave it all on the court. Your ranking is a consequence of how hard you work and the results you have. You earn everything you receive. He didn't have to do that. He didn't have to take an interest in me and give me advice, but he did and I'm very grateful."Coria will make his Roland Garros debut next week, opening against a qualifier. He could face 23rd-seed Benoit Paire or Soonwoo Kwon in the second round.
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