TENNIS: The Cary Challenger quarter-finals have thrown up some intriguing fixtures and we preview two below.
Could the experience of age make the difference?
The highest-ranked player of the two matches is Michael Mmoh. He will go into this match expecting to perform well with a victory and continue in his bid to climb the ranks as he pursues the first ATP final of his career.
Qualifying for the French Open earlier this year, Mmoh will be disappointed with his first round 3-0 exit, though he has continued to knock on the door of the Grand Slams since; playing in the qualifiers for Wimbledon and the US Open. Though he appeared to be making headway at Wimbledon, impressing in his first match via a victory over Gerald Melzer, the American failed to capitalise on his momentum and lost the second qualifier, ending his hopes of playing at the finals of the tournament.
Despite his hiccups at majors this year, he has been in fine form so far here, comfortably beating Daniel Cox in straight sets in the first round. He is the favourite here and is 1.67 to see the semi-finals.
Standing in his way is the formidable Yasutaka Uchiyama, who regardless of a poor year by his standards, is performing well and looks ready to prove a mistake in his underdog assignment.
Dropping only one set at the tournament so far, Uchiyama has won 11 of his last 15 matches and looks to have found some winning momentum at the critical point of the tournament. Though he is another player to have failed to have made an ATP Tour final, he looks to be edging ever closer, making it to the semi-finals of the Nonthaburi last month.
He is only the slight underdog at 2.1, but his six years of experience over his opponent at age 30, and recent good form, could prove to be a vital factor in the outcome of this match.
Dominik Koepfer firm favourite to reach the semis
Turning pro in 2016, the German Dominik Koepfer has played on the ATP tour ever since and has reached a career-high ranking of 50, which he achieved in 2021.
Automatically qualifying for Wimbledon, the left-hander would have wanted to take more from the tournament but crashed out in the first round with a 3-0 defeat to Galan Riveros. There was a similar situation at the Australian Open earlier this year when he was knocked out in the second round by Reilly Opelka, and then Koepfer found himself in the qualifying position for the US Open but failed to make an impression and was dumped out at the first time of asking.
Despite his difficulties in Grand Slams this year, he has made some good progress in 2022 and pocketed just under $300,000 in prize money for his troubles, climbing to a world ranking of 194 in the process.
He is the 1.3 favourite to win this game and continue his momentum to the semis, where he would have the chance to make his first-ever tournament final.
His opponent, Tennys Sandgren, is one of the lowest ATP-ranked players remaining in the tournament at 446 and would be punching way above his weight with a victory here.
Making almost $3.5 million in his career and winning the Auckland Open in 2019, Sandgren certainly has some skills on offer, but the 31-year-old hasn’t played in a non-qualifier at a Grand Slam match since the US Open in 2021, failing to qualify at the French Open in May.
He does have the height advantage over his adversary, though, and if he manages to utilise his serve consistently. He is 3.2 to triumph in North Carolina