Nordic Naturals Challenger features vets, upstarts

Retiring Muller headlines main draw

For decades, the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos has served as an entry point to stardom for several young pro tennis players.

For Gilles Muller, the beach town will be a part of his goodbye tour.

Luxembourg’s most successful male tennis player will headline the 31st edition of the Nordic Naturals Challenger when the main draw begins on Monday.

Muller, who was ranked 95th in the world when the tournament released its official player acceptance list, said in a statement during mid-July that he would call it a career at the end of this season.

“I wanted to communicate it now so I could be free and concentrate 100 percent on tennis,” Muller, 35, wrote in the statement that was translated from French to English. “I felt a lot of weight lately, keeping this decision in me...Please respect my choice, not to comment on this decision until the end of my last match.”

Muller last year cut his season short in September with hopes of fully recovering from a nagging elbow injury and playing for a few more years. But his 2018 soured early and he never fully recovered.

He compiled a 10-17 record before withdrawing from the BB&T Atlanta Open late last month.

Over his 18-year career, Muller has won more than $5,000,000 in prize money and pieced together a 233-211 overall record. He was ranked 21st in the world last year after winning a pair of ATP World Tour titles and besting world No. 2 Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in a wild five-set match that lasted nearly five hours.

Muller also represented his country several times in the Davis Cup and twice qualified for the Olympics, serving as the flag bearer for Luxembourg in Rio two years ago.

Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, tweeted congratulations to Muller following his announcement, writing: “Thank you Gilles Muller for the great moments we’ve had with you and good luck for the next step.”

Australian Bernard Tomic was a late addition to the action in Aptos, but brings another big name to the field. The 25-year-old holds a current ranking of 153rd in the world, but is just two years removed from being ranked 17th in the world.

The addition of Muller and Tomic pumps up what was an already strong and young main draw.

Last year’s runner-up, Liam Broady, will be back in the mix, as well as quarterfinalist Dennis Novikov.

Broady, a 24-year-old from Great Britain, is ranked 177th in the world, while Novikov, a 24-year-old from just over the hill in San Jose, enters ranked 206th.

Novikov, who was born in Moscow, Russia, last year lost to eventual champion Alexander Bublik.

Drian King, Quentin Halys and Noah Rubin also return from last year’s main draw.

King, 26, hails from Barbados and is ranked 179th in the world. He was bounced in the second round last year.

Halys, 21, is a French prodigy who lost in the second round last year but has since teetered on a top-100 ranking. He enters ranked 142nd after being ranked as high as 102nd earlier this year.

Rubin, 22, is an American from New York that has shown promise since turning pro in 2015. He lost in the first round last year, but has had a strong 2018, winning a pair of Challenger titles and earning a wild card into the main draw of the French Open.

Rubin will also be competing against his compatriots in the 2018 US Open Wild Card Challenge, which provides the winner of a five-week point challenge with a singles main draw wild card into the US Open later this month.

Rubin was tied for second in the latest available standings, but Ernesto Escobedo and Tommy Paul, whom will compete in the main draw, were both hot on his heels.

Qualifying rounds are set for Saturday and Sunday.

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