By Florian Heer
(June 10, 2014) The € 42.500,- ATP Challenger event Prague Open has changed its location and is taking place in the northern district Bubenec at Tenisovy Klub Sparta Praha this year. The venue is situated on the river Vltava in a pretty idyllic atmosphere as well as next to the largest park of the city.
In the first round, carried out on Monday and Tuesday, the players had to cope with windless and extremely hot conditions including temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Defending champion Aleksandr Nedovyesov didn’t seem to manage the challenge in his opening match against Adrian Sikora. The 27-year-old Kazakh, who is one of three top-100 players in the draw, was able to win the first set in the tie-break but then started to act like an unforced error machine. The third-seeded could never find his rhythm into this match and eventually the Slovakian served out winning 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 after two hours and twelve minutes.
“I was fighting a lot today and really tried to do my best, which paid off in the end,” Sikora told me afterwards. “In the important moments I played very well and obviously better than Aleks. This was the key to success today. Of course there was an extreme heat on court today but we practice a lot in these conditions and in a best of three match we are used to cope with that,” the world number 291 explained. “I need one week of practice to get confidence playing on clay. I don’t have any preference concerning the surface. I like to play on hard as well as on clay,” Sikora added, as in Prague he is playing only his third tournament on the dirt this season.
There were more seeded players, who didn’t survive the opening round. The tournament’s No. 4 seed Peter Polansky was without any chance against Henri Laaksonen losing in straight sets 6-7, 2-6 in 94 minutes.
Eighth-seeded Roberto Carballés-Baena made a strong start in his first encounter winning the opening set but then had to battle groundstrokes and an impressive service game from Ze Zhang. The Chinese emerged victorious winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 50 minutes. For the 21-year-old Spaniard it was the fourth consecutive defeat in the opening round within the last four weeks on the tour.
Seventh-seed Matteo Viola was more successful defeating Simone Vagnozzi in an all-Italian affair in straight sets. The 31-year-old from Castorana could only win three games in the entire encounter before Viola served the match out after 61 minutes winning 6-1, 6-2.
“I tried to play aggressively at every point today,” the winner stated afterwards. “I also tried to focus on my returns, as Simone is a very good return player but not the greatest server. I put a lot of pressure against his services and this worked out today,” Viola added and therewith was able to gain his first ever victory against Vagnozzi in their fourth meeting.
Another Italian was successful when Lorenzo Giustino defeated José Checa-Calvo winning 6-2, 7-6. In a dramatic second set the Spaniard had already been two breaks up but missed a couple of set points and even double faulted at one to eventually lose the encounter in the tie-break 6-8 in one hour and 46 minutes.
The locals also made an impressive start into their home tournament. Two all-Czech-affairs were scheduled in the opening round with first up veteran Jan Mertl facing Wild Card Adam Pavlasek. This “battle of the generations” went in favour to the 19-year-old from Ostrava. Pavlasek, who already won two Future titles this year and reached the semi-finals at the ATP Challenger in Prostejov last week came with a lot of confidence to Prague and sealed victory in 95 minutes winning 6-3, 7-6.
“I started to play very well in the first set with a break up but then it became more and more difficult and in the end I’m just happy that I won,” Pavlasek said. “In my home town Prostejov, where I used to practice, I played very well by reaching the stage of the last four and I’m happy to be here now. I haven’t played on Challenger level in Prague before, so I’ll try to do my best,” the teenager added.
Then second-seed Jiri Vesely stepped into action by taking on Jakub Filipsky. The latter, only 18-years old, also received a wild card but was without any chance against the world number 74. Vesely, who is the tournament’s lead player being present on every poster and flyer of the Prague Open, took the match winning 6-2, 6-0 in just under one hour of play.
“It wasn’t that difficult today. Nonetheless, it’s never easy to play against a Czech. You need to be focused throughout the match but I’m happy that I was in control of the encounter today,” the 20-year-old analysed afterwards. “I gained a lot of confidence by winning in Prostejov last week as well as reaching the semis in Düsseldorf. After these results you feel really strong. On the other hand, you have to deal with a lot of pressure and of course you feel it when you come here to Prague. Unfortunately I got a bit ill by having a touch of the flu. It is also very hot here these days, which doesn’t make it better,” Vesely told me and thanked all the spectators for the support.
Top-seed Lukas Rosol was granted a wild card and took on Alessandro Giannessi in his first match. The world number 56 was untroubled by the Italian qualifier and advanced into the next round winning 6-2, 6-2 in only 49 minutes.
“First matches in a tournament are always tough but I played a really good level and I hope that I can continue playing like this the next couple of days,” Rosol said. “I’m trying to play this tournament in order to get a bit more practice and then to be ready for the Wimbledon week. It’s always nice to be at home and especially playing here in Sparta. The weather is also great, which helps the tournament a lot in its first year and I think they doing really well here,” the number one-seed stated.
Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Future Circuit. Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.