Jessica Pegula plays Fanny Stollar on court 5 during the Oracle Challenger Series at the George R. Brown Tennis Center on the Rice University campus on Friday November 16, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Oracle Challenger Series)
Kamil Majchrzak of Poland and American Roy Smith are making the most out of their first Oracle Challenger Series event, advancing to the semifinals in Houston. 22-year-old Majchrzak started the tournament strong, upsetting number 1 seed and World No. 61 Tennys Sandgren in straight sets (62 75) before duking it out with Roberto Ortega-Olmedo of Spain for three sets in yesterday’s second round. His journey to the semifinals was completed by a three-set quarterfinal defeat of Taipei’s Jason Jung: 76(5) 67(2) 63.
His opponent and Baylor University sophomore, Roy Smith, is a newcomer to the tour. The hard-hitting 19-year-old and World No. 870 has been surprising fans all week, first eliminating Oracle Challenger Series veteran Darian King followed by fellow young American and Series newcomer Harrison Adams. Having received a wild card into the Houston event, Smith got one step closer on his Road to Indian Wells with a nail-biting three set victory over World No. 310 Thai-Son Kwiatowski. Smith came back fighting after losing the first set, landing an impressive 11 aces and defeating the University of Virginia grad in a three set tie break: 46 76(5) 76(1).
Neither German Dominik Koepfer nor American Bradley Klahn are strangers to semifinal status at Oracle Challenger Series events – Klahn got as far as the finals in Newport Beach and Koepfer was a Chicago semifinalist. World No. 171 and number 8 seed Koepfer defeated Spanish Marcelo Arevalo and American Ernesto Escobedo en route to today’s quarterfinals, where he took out ATP Tour all-time ace leader Ivo Karlovic in straight sets: 61 64.
World No. 97 and number 2 seed Klahn has survived three all-American matchups in Houston this week, defeating first Alexander Sarkissian, then Michael Redlicki and finally compatriot Evan Song in a three-set quarterfinals match: 63 46 61. 28-year-old Klahn continues on his Road to Indian Wells, an endeavor that served him well in the past, having received one of the coveted 2018 BNP Paribas Open wild cards.
Oracle Challenger Series newcomers Shuai Peng of China and American Jessica Pegula will go head to head in the semifinals on Friday at Rice University. Number 4 seed and World No. 125 Pegula hopes to keep her Road to Indian Wells hopes alive in her Series debut but will have a tough opponent in wild card and World No. 296 in singles (former World No. 1 in doubles). Pegula’s path to the semifinals included defeating Jasmine Paolini of Italy, Deniz Khazaniuk of Israel and Fanny Stollar of Hungary, who she edged past this morning in the quarterfinals, 63 63. The 24-year-old, who will also be playing in the doubles semifinals this afternoon, is chasing her first career tour title.
32-year-old Peng made a name for herself in doubles, enjoying a successful career that has brought her over 20 career titles, including a Wimbledon championship. A win in Houston would bring her one step closer to claiming her third singles title. She outplayed Beatriz Haddad Maia and fellow wild card Belinda Bencic in the first two rounds before taking out qualifier and tournament darling, 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe in the quarterfinals today: 62 76(3).
Oracle Challenger Series Newport Beach finalist Sofya Zhuk of Russia will meet American qualifier Lauren Davis for the first time in tomorrow’s semifinals. Zhuk, World No. 134 and number 7 seed, defeated Brit Heather Watson in today’s quarterfinal match on Court 3 at Rice University. On her road to the semifinals, Zhuk eliminated American Grace Min in the first round followed by Hungarian Dalma Galfi in round 2. The 18-year-old is chasing her first career singles title.
Standing in her way is small but mighty, 25-year-old Ohio native Davis. After losing in the first round of the Chicago event, 5 foot 2 Davis has had more success in Houston, first barreling through qualifying rounds before taking out Kristina Kucova in round 1 and upsetting compatriot and number 9 seed Nicole Gibbs in the second round. Her luck continued today as she defeated Canadian lucky loser Katherine Sebov in straight sets, 61 63. The World No. 187 marches on in Houston, keeping her Road to Indian Wells hopes alive.