Too bad Cleeve Harper isn’t home to share in the excitement with his tennis friend.
The Calgary kid is deep in the heart of Texas, stuck writing exams instead of playing here and joining in on the fun enjoyed by Liam Draxl, the sudden fan favourite — and surprise finalist — at the Calgary National Bank Challenger.
“It’s too bad,” said Draxl, of not having Harper on hand here with him. “Me and Cleeve were a great doubles team. We’ve won a bunch of tournaments together. It’s too bad that he couldn’t come home. We could’ve played doubles again.”
While that could’ve been a winning combination, there’s no denying Draxl himself is a winner already at the city’s OSTEN & VICTOR Alberta Tennis Centre.
Coming into the week-long ATP Challenger Tour event as a wildcard, the Ontario phenom — just 21 — found his way to the men’s singles final after Saturday’s 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3 semi victory over American Andres Martin.
With his best-ever run at a Challenger tournament, he’s feeling the love from Calgarians. That charge is led by mom and dad Harper, who are in the stands themselves cheering on their son’s former court-mate.
“Good friends with the Harpers, yeah,” Draxl said. “I hope (I’m doing Calgary proud). That would be a good thing. I hope it’s like that, for sure.”
Certainly, he’s doing Canada proud at The Challenger, although he’s not the only one this week.
On Saturday, the all-Canadian pair of Ontario’s Justin Boulais and Montreal’s Juan Carlos Aguilar were crowned men’s doubles champions after a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Great Britain’s Charles Broom and Ben Jones.
And fellow Canuck Stacey Fung has rolled her way into the singles final of the ITF Women’s Pro Tour portion of the event. The Vancouver talent eased past Poland’s Urszula Radwanska in a Saturday 6-1, 6-3 semifinal.
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So it’s onto Sunday’s wrap-up day with two more Canadians in play hoping to add to the home-country hardware collection at The Challenger.
First off at 1 p.m., it’s Fung — the tourney’s fifth seed — in the final facing unseeded German Sabine Lisicki, who got by American Jamie Loeb 6-1, 6-2 in the other women’s semi.
And then in the men’s final (2:30 p.m.), Draxl challenges defending champ Germany’s Dominik Koepfer, after the fun was spoiled for what could’ve been an all-Canadian finale. Just as he did last year in this event, Koepfer got by Montreal wunderkind Gabiel Diallo in semifinal action, but this time it was in a walkover, with Diallo having suffered an injury in Friday’s quarterfinals.
So it’s left up to Draxl to dethrone the reigning king.
“First deep run in a Challenger — made one quarter before,” added Draxl, with a smile. “Winning back-to-back-to-back matches on the Challenger Tour is really tough.”
Calgary’s Harper and Draxl were Canadian junior champs back in 2018 … Harper played this week in an ITF Men’s World Tennis Tour event in Austin, where he’s in his graduate year at the University of Texas and playing for the NCAA’s Texas Longhorns. In doubles semifinal action Friday, Harper and American Eliot Spizzirri lost to Americans Brayden Michna and Sebastian Gorzny. On Wednesday, Harper was eliminated from singles play, after a 6-4, 7-6(5) loss to American Trevor Svajda … The Challenger’s doubles champs were crowned Saturday, as the Great Britain pair of Sarah Beth Grey and Eden Silver topped American Hanna Chang and Katarina Jokic 6-4, 6-4.