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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Rubin Wins Challenger; Qualifier Sell Takes Futures Title in Los Angeles; Pro Update from Down Under

The past few days have been very quiet in junior tennis, but pro tennis is in full swing now and the USTA Pro Circuit has its first champion.

At the $75,000+ Hospitality ATP Challenger in Noumea, former Wake Forest star Noah Rubin won an all-American final, beating No. 2 seed Taylor Fritz 7-5, 6-4.  It is the third Challenger title for the 21-year-old New Yorker, who was unseeded this week; he will move to a new career-high in the ATP ranking at 162 with the title.  Rubin has been sidelined by injury in two separate five-month stretches in both 2016 and 2017.  Details on his struggles with his health and his title this week can be found in this Newsday article.

Former UCLA Bruin Karue Sell of Brazil won his second career Futures singles title, both in Southern California and both as a qualifier, beating No. 5 seed Christopher Eubanks 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-2 in the final of the $25,000 Los Angeles Futures. The 24-year-old Sell, who won the $15,000 Claremont Futures title back in September of last year, spent his time immediately after graduation from UCLA as a volunteer assistant at Pepperdine, unsure if he was suited to the grind of the Pro Circuit.  Sell also won the doubles title this week and last year in Claremont, so playing a ton of matches in one tournament obviously works well for him.  Below is press aide Steve Pratt's coverage of today's final:

LOS ANGELES (Jan. 7, 2018) – Southern California Pro Futures tournament host and USC men’s tennis coach Peter Smith couldn’t help but get in a little dig on former UCLA player Karue Sell while presenting the winning singles’ trophy.

“He never won on these courts playing for UCLA, but he did a lot of winning here this week,” Smith joked as he congratulated Sell, who came back to beat Christopher Eubanks, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-2, for his first USTA Pro Circuit $25,000 title on Sunday at Marks Tennis Stadium on the campus of USC.

It was actually a true statement from Smith, Sell confirmed in his post-match interview. In four years, he never won in singles on the USC courts. “I just couldn’t play here,” Sell said. “Even if it was against Florida and Georgia, I never won here. I always played [former USC players] E.J. [Eric Johnson] or Johnny Wang and they always kicked my [butt]. I think now I’ve made up for it.”

The 24-year-old Sell, who also captured the doubles title on Friday, came all the way through qualifying and won his 12th consecutive match over the past nine days. He earned $3,600 in prize money for the singles win, and 27 valuable ATP points. Sell is next on to the Long Beach Pro Futures event this week at El Dorado Park, and has requested a Wednesday start.

Sell also came through qualifying back in September to win his first pro title at Claremont, a $15,000-level event. “I’m starting to think I should just play qualies for every tournament,” he joked.

The 21-year-old Eubanks from Atlanta will cash a runner-up check for $2,120 and earns 15 ATP points, which will help keep him climbing on the rankings ladder where he currently sits just inside the top 350.

Sell said he injured his right hamstring in the first set and that it was “killing” him for most of the match. After the hard-serving, aggressive Eubanks won the first set, Sell decided to change his strategy.

“After the first set I just stopped thinking and said whatever happens, happens,” Sell said. “I started moving inside the baseline to return his serve and I think that kind of threw him off a little bit. He didn’t pick his spots as well. I don’t know, I think caring less actually helped a little bit.

“It doesn’t work all the time, but it worked today. It was one of those matches where it felt like at any point he could just break me and run with the set and it’s over. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to pull that one off.”

Eubanks will take two weeks off but remain in Southern California before attempting to qualify for the new ATP $150,000 Challenger in Newport Beach Jan. 20-28.

He just picked up his game and started playing at a really high level and took the racket out of my hand,” Eubanks said. “Unfortunately I didn’t win, but it was a great week.”

Sunday’s Final Singles Result
q: qualifying;
Karue Sell, Brazil (q), def. Christopher Eubanks, U.S., def. 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-2

Friday’s Final Doubles Result

Martin Redlicki, U.S./Karue Sell, Brazil, def. Luke Bambridge, Great Britain/Hans Hach Verdugo, Mexico (1), 6-4, 6-3

The first ATP and WTA tournaments of the year are in the books, with Ryan Harrison making the final of the Brisbane tournament before falling to Nick Kyrgios of Australia 6-4, 6-2 in the final.

Former Stanford star Kristie Ahn has qualified for the WTA event in Sydney, defeating Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain[3], Johanna Larsson of Sweden and Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, all in straight sets.  CiCi Bellis, the No. 8 seed in qualifying, also advanced to the main draw with three wins.  Wild card Ellen Perez, who left Georgia this spring after her junior year, won her first round match in Sydney when No. 5 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France retired trailing 6-4, 4-2. 

2017 French Open boys champion Alexei Popyrin of Australia, who was given a wild card into Sydney qualifying, reached the main draw with wins over No. 2 seed Federico Delbonis of Argentina and No. 5 seed Nicolas Mahut of France.  Popyrin was announced as a recipient of an Australian Open main draw wild card before these results in qualifying. 

Also advancing to the main draw in Sydney is University of Illinois senior Aleks Vukic. The 21-year-old Australian beat No. 4 seed Dusan Lajovic of Serbia and No. 6 seed Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania to reach the main draw of an ATP event for the first time.