The Road to Indian Wells continues in less than two weeks in Newport Beach, as a strong player field of up-and-coming talent as well as established veterans will make their way to Southern California in hopes of making their mark on the third stop of the 2019-2020 Oracle Challenger Series.
As the Challenger Series returns to the Newport Beach Tennis Club for the third consecutive year, American hopefuls are jockeying for position on the Road to Indian Wells leaderboard with their sights set on earning a coveted main draw wild card into the 2020 BNP Paribas Open.
Last year’s event, complete with perfect conditions emblematic of the year-long Newport Beach sunshine, thrilled local tennis fans throughout the week with some of the Challenger Series’ most notable matches and champions. An exciting combination of established talent and surprising newcomers battled it out with ranking points and prize money on the line. On both the men’s and women’s side, the Newport Beach champions went on to career-defining 2019 seasons.
Current World No. 32 and Southern California hometown favorite Taylor Fritz joined the field late as a highly-anticipated wild card and No. 1 overall seed. Fritz, who beat fellow American Bradley Klahn in the event’s inaugural 2018 final, returned to Newport Beach to defend his title after an impressive run at the Australian Open. With only a few days rest following his performance in Melbourne, he downed four worthy opponents before reaching the final to take on Canada’s Brayden Schnur. The No. 16 seed, Schnur had an impressive week of his own including a shocking third round upset of No. 2 seeded American Mackenzie McDonald. His run would end in the final, as Fritz proved too much for the Canadian and took home a straight-set victory to become back-to-back Newport Beach champion. After starting the year as World No. 49, Fritz jumped nearly 20 ranking spots behind the momentum of his Oracle Challenger Series title.
In one of the strongest comprehensive performances from the American women’s competitors, Challenger Series veterans Jessica Pegula, Lauren Davis, Taylor Townsend and Nicole Gibbs all reached the quarterfinals and earned critical ranking points on the Road to Indian Wells leaderboard. While impressive, the undeniable story of the tournament came from little-known Canadian and then-World No. 106 Bianca Andreescu. The 18-year-old playing in her first career Oracle Challenger Series event traversed a loaded women’s field with victories over fellow countrywoman Eugenie Bouchard, as well as No. 2 seed Tatjana Maria and Pegula in the final. Following her title in Newport Beach, Andreescu embarked on one of the most impressive seasons in tennis history including winning her first WTA title at the BNP Paribas Open, raising the Rogers Cup trophy in her hometown of Toronto and winning the US Open to become the first Canadian Grand Slam winner in history. As 2019 came to a close, Andreescu jumped a total of 147 ranking spots since the beginning of the year to end the season as the World No. 5.
Whether this year’s tournament produces a similar meteoric rise remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that competitors and fans alike are in for an exciting week of tennis in Newport Beach.