The challenge of The Challenger for the many Canadians is to score a victory — or two or three — on the home courts in Calgary.
But first thing’s first … first-round victories.
A number of Canucks have counted those after a few days in at the week-long event at the OSTEN & VICTOR Alberta Tennis Centre.
There’s a half-dozen men doing so on the ATP Challenger Tour side and five women matching that effort on the ITF Women’s Pro Circuit.
“It’s nice to have other Canadians playing in this tournament,” said Stacey Fung, one of those moving on from first-round action in the ITF main draw.
“Friendly faces from juniors. Second time here and loving it.”
Easier to love when you’re winning, which is what Fung did in helping Canada have a pretty sweet last couple of days in tennis action.
Vancouver’s Fung dropped France’s Caroline Romeo in 6-4, 6-1 fashion Tuesday, setting her up for play in the singles’ second-round Thursday against Great Britain’s Sarah Beth Grey.
“You try to think one match at a time,” Fung said. “I don’t really look too far ahead in the draw. You try to come out and compete and play your best tennis and figure out different things on the court. Like (Tuesday), for example, I wasn’t feeling my best but just trying to figure out what could go my way.”
The former University of Washington star has figured out her way through what’s been a pretty good season to become the fifth seed here and the 257th-ranked player on the WTA Tour.
“I was able this year to play higher ITF events and throw in some WTA events and was able to make some good runs there, so it helped the ranking, for sure,” said Fung, who made her WTA main-draw debut seven weeks ago at the Guadalajara Open — a 1000 series event — in Mexico. “Definitely playing more of a WTA schedule is my goal, so that kind of means being in the top-200 ranking, and obviously, that gives you more points to go get and more money to go get. That can obviously help your ranking jump at a faster pace. So that’s kind of the next step for my 2024 season.
“I still feel like I’m having mini-breakthroughs every year,” continued Fung. “It’s been a pretty good past two seasons. So just trying to keep on building and figuring out what I can do better and surrounding myself with great people. I have a great team at home.
“So it’s been awesome.”
Same goes for The Challenger’s top seed among 32 main-event women.
That’s Toronto’s Katherine Sebov, who defeated Japan’s Naig Hanatani 6-1, 6-0 on Wednesday and rolls into the second round with confidence.
After Fung, she’s the oldest — all of 24 — of Canadian females trying to earn a piece of the $60,000 ITF purse here.
“I still feel like we’re young,” said 26-year-old Fung, with a giggle. “I’ve known Katherine for a long time now.”
Sebov faces USA’s Dalayna Hewitt in upcoming second-round action after the American dumped Toronto’s Cadence Brace 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 in a Wednesday matinee.
Ontario’s Kayla Cross also lost, dropping a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 decision to USA’s Madison Sieg.
And the Calgarian, Alexia Jacobs, won late Wednesday as a tourney wildcard, toppling American Allura Zamarripa 7-5, 6-3 in straight sets.
On the men’s side Wednesday, Ontario’s Liam Draxl, a 21-year-old who’s ranked 430th, made quick work of Australia’s Luke Saville with a 6-1, 6-2 victory to become the first Canadian man into the quarterfinals.
Toronto’s Steven Diez and Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo — the best bet of male Canucks to earn The Challenger title — hope to follow Draxl after their respective first-round triumphs. Diez ousted fellow Canadian Juan Carlos Aguilar, also of Montreal, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 on Wednesday, after Diallo eliminated the Czech Republic’s Andrew Paulson 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 on Tuesday.
Also Tuesday: Ontario’s Justin Boulais — the winner of last week’s Edmonton Challenger — lost 6-4, 6-1 to Spain’s Inaki Montes-De La Torre; and Quebec’s Dan Martin fell 6-2, 7-5 to Tunisia’s Aziz Dougaz.
The hope is The Challenger crowns at least one Canadian a champ among singles action.
“Of course,” added Fung. “You go in and always try to find a title every week. But it’s one match at a time and hope for the best.”
In men’s doubles action Wednesday; Diallo joined Belgium’s Zizou Bergs to beat Norway’s Viktor Durasovic and Spain’s David Jorda Sanchis 6-1, 6-2; Draxl paired with Quebec’s Nicaise Muamba to lose 7-5, 7-6(6) to Americans Patrik Trhac and Ryan Seggerman; Diez played with Portugal’s Joao Sousa to defeat France’s Benoit Paire and New Zealand’s Artem Sitak 6-4, 7-6(6); and Aguilar partnered with Boulais to defeat fellow Canadian Benjamin Sigouin, of Vancouver, and American Hunter Reese 7-6(5), 7-6(4). Earlier in the week, Toronto’s Kelsey Stevenson and Great Britain’s Scott Duncan topped Dougaz and Zimbabwe’s Benjamin Lock 6-2, 6-3 … Women’s doubles play featured: Cross with Lithuania’s Justina Mikulskyte scoring a 6-0, 6-2 triumph over Brace and American Sara Daavettila; Toronto’s Louise Kwong with USA’s Anna Ulyashchenko falling 6-4, 7-6(10) to Americans Hewitt and Robin Anderson; and Ontarians Layne Sleeth and Isabelle Boulais losing 6-3, 6-1 to the Great Britain duo of Grey and Eden Silva … Thursday’s fifth day of The Challenger opens at 10 a.m. at the ATC.