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Arizona Tennis Classic offers Martin Klizan and a field worthy of the main tour

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Martin Klizan put his name on the entry list for the inaugural Arizona Tennis Classic $125K ATP Challenger Tour event in Phoenix. He might not play in the tournament — if he continues to succeed.

The explanation is not complicated at all: Klizan thrashed Mischa Zverev in the first round of Indian Wells on Thursday. He also suffered a fall after what appeared to be an ankle roll. If he wins his next match, he will have to duck out of the Arizona Tennis Classic. Even if he loses, he might think twice about playing another week of hardcourt tennis.

We will have to wait and see.

What matters, though, for the Arizona Tennis Classic in the first year of its existence is how strong a field it has attracted to a challenger-level event. This tournament might officially possess a challenger label and challenger points, but the caliber of the field is certainly worthy of an ATP 250.

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“This draw is by far, one of the strongest line ups in the Challenger Tour events that take place around the world,” said tournament director Jonathan Levine about his first-year event. “We are so delighted by the interest in our tournament and we can’t wait to showcase the talent of these players.”

The Arizona Tennis Classic’s press release offered these notes:

Most notably, the event has attracted seven players ranked in the top 50 in men’s tennis worldwide. These players include: Matthew Ebden (Australia), Martin Klizan (Slovakia), Malek Jaziri (Tunisia), Nicolas Jarry (Chile), Matteo Berrettini (Italy), Damir Dzumhur (Bosnia) and Mikhail Kukushkin (Kazakhstan).

Also, there are more than 23 players ranked in the world’s top 100 set to play at this event, including five Americans: Bradley Klahn, Ryan Harrison, Michael Mmoh, Jared Donaldson and Bjorn Fratangelo.

Other notables in the field at the Arizona Tennis Classic have beaten members of the Big Four at some point:

Taro Daniel (Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells, 2018); Evgeny Donskoy (Roger Federer in Dubai, 2017); Denis Istomin (Djokovic, 2017 Australian Open); and Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Andy Murray in Monte Carlo, 2017, Federer in Shanghai, 2015).

The youngest players in the field are Alexy Popyrin, Miomir Kecmanovic, and Mmoh, who can all gain points at this tournament for the ATP NextGen Finals in Milan, Italy.

How did Levine get this kind of a field (pending the results of Indian Wells)? He explained why he wanted March, not October, as the time to stage this tournament in Phoenix, which can’t host tournaments in the brutally hot summer months:

“The average (rankings) cutoff is about 300 in October, and our cutoff is 132 right now,” Levine said. He noted that since the ATP Tour is playing in Europe in October, getting players to peel away for a challenger event in the United States makes a lot less sense at that point on the calendar. With the tour in the United States for Indian Wells and Miami in March, the Arizona Tennis Classic had a much better chance of grabbing quality ATP players.

“The caliber of tennis, the level of tennis to get the highest level you can, would be vital,” Levine said. “It’s a tough week for Americans because the Indian Wells draw is so difficult. We want to promote a lot of the Americans (at our tournament) to do as well as possible. We can turn out the Americans because the tour is here.”

This was the most essential insight Levine offered into why he thinks the field for this event is so strong: It fits with players’ travel schedules and geographical proximity to important events in March:

I wanted to do something in March, because we usually have great weather, the town is buzzing with different things, spring training, there are a lot of people in town. That was a tough week to get because the tournament was in Irving, Texas, for the last five years. I wanted to get the second week of Indian Wells because geographically its great for the players to come a short distance, and then they can go to Miami after here. From Phoenix’s standpoint it would be great for the players.

Levine concluded on this note:

“We have to get through this first year (to see what works and doesn’t work about this schedule),” Levine said. “We want to see how it is received by not only the community, but also the sponsors. There is some economics to it, to meet certain thresholds to make it worth doing for Phoenix Children’s Hospital as well. We’re hopeful that it will continue.”

Tickets for the first Arizona Tennis Classic can be found here.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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