Fittingly, Tennys is the focus of the 2019 Oracle Challenger Series – Houston Men’s field, as American Tennys Sandgren sits atop the draw as the No.1 seed. But a slew of hungry young players litter the rest of the draw, so it’s anyone’s title to take. Action begins Monday at Rice University.
Ranked No.69, Sandgren is coming off a great run at the US Open, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Vasek Pospisil to reach the third round. The American, who played collegiately at Tennessee, made his breakthrough at the 2018 Australian Open, where he reached the quarterfinals.
Standing in his way in the top quarter are Martin Redlicki, who won two NCAA Doubles Championships in his time at UCLA, and Mitchell Krueger, a Texas native who won the biggest title of his career at the Challenger in Dallas earlier this year.
The second quarter is marked by a contingent of current and former collegiate players, with 10 of 12 in this section representing their universities in NCAA competition. The top seed in this section is UCLA Bruin Marcos Giron, who won the 2014 NCAA Singles Championship over Pepperdine’s Alexander Sarkissian, whom he could face in the quarterfinals this week.
Giron showed what took him to the top of the collegiate ranks earlier this year in the Indian Wells desert, qualifying for the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open and scoring upset victories over Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and No. 23 Alex De Minaur before pushing World No. 15 Milos Raonic to the brink in a 3-set thriller.
A possible blockbuster looms in the third round, where Baylor Bear Jenson Brooksby could await Giron. Brooksby stormed through qualifying and stunned former Wimbledon Finalist Tomas Berdych in the first round of this year’s US Open. Houston marks his first pro tournament since that remarkable run.
Other current and former NCAA stars in this section include Brandon Holt and Daniel Nguyen (USC), Colin Sinclair (Cornell), Rafael Matos (Belmont), Diego Hidalgo (Florida), Jason Jung (Michigan) and the wildcard from Rice, Sumit Sarkar.
Looming large in the third quarter is 6’11” Ivo Karlovic. The 40-year-old Croatian is the career ace leader on the ATP Tour, with more than 13,500 aces to his name, and is the No.3 seed in the Houston draw.
In the quarterfinals, he could face a tough test in veteran American Donald Young, who won his way into the BNP Paribas Open earlier this year by earning a wildcard based on his Oracle Challenger Series results leading up to the event.
Darian King, seeded No.7, and Sekou Bangoura, seeded No.15, are other players to watch in this section.
At the bottom of the draw is No.2 seed and defending champion Bradley Klahn. Klahn played at Stanford, where he won the NCAA Singles Championship in 2010. Last year in Houston, Klahn put on a dominating performance, dropping only one set en route to the title. Injuries have hindered his career, but the American is determined to play smart tennis and is a favorite to repeat in the Lone Star State.
Klahn’s potential quarterfinal opponent is Aussie Christopher O’Connell, who sits just two spaces off of his career-high ranking after capturing the biggest title of his career last month in Fairfield, California. In the final, he defeated former top 25 player Steve Johnson in dominating fashion.
Americans Gage Brymer, Colin Altamirano, Michael Mmoh, Evan King and Raymond Sarmiento are also situated in the bottom quarter of the draw and are looking to cause early upsets and advance.