When the 2013 Challenger calendar emerged, the opening months of the year looked like it would offer suspiciously thin gruel to the up and comers, mid level grinders and futures escapees who form the Challenger circuit.
As discussed here and on Heavy Topspin the number of challengers for the first three months of the year had fallen from 30 to 21. That number has now edged up to 22.
While an event in Dornbirn, Austria, has fallen by the wayside – and it was due to be the only Challenger from 18th-25th Feb, a couple of late replacements have been conjured up, with a $50,000 tournament in Sydney and a smaller event in Santiago the week after. It’s hard not to like Tennis Australia these days.
April’s newly released schedule certainly looks fatter, with 18 tournaments compared to 2012’s 16. Some compensation is clearly needed for the abrupt demise of the Belgrade ATP 250 event but this month is at least more encouraging.
Other positives to note are a decent size tournament back in South Africa, where professional tennis was fast disappearing off the map. Johannesburg will stage a $50,000 tournament. The tradition of a sequence of events in Morocco on clay has sadly gone (not least because they are always dutifully streamed) but is part eased by a $125,000 Challenger in Tunis.
It means so far the scheduled geographical distribution of events is this, with 2012 numbers in brackets.
EUROPE 11 (14)
SOUTH AMERICA 9 (9)
NORTH AMERICA 7 (7)
CENTRAL AMERICA 6 (4)
AUSTRALASIA 4 (3)
AFRICA 3 (5)
ASIA 2 (4)
The decline in Asia is interesting, given the long term of the expansion in Asia over the long term, with the whole late season Asian swing on the ATP Tour a new phenomenon, while Mexico is emerging as a keen host for events, despite a lack of star local players. Times are hard economically, it would seem in Europe.
The arrival of new events early on does seem to be an implicit admission that the start of the year was left too Challenger lite, but again it’s less traditional tennis zones that seem to be taking up the slack when it comes to stumping up the cash to bring the tour to town.