News from the National Bank Challenger, July 9-17 at Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. Visit the tournament website:

Nicholls Makes Challenger Debut

Winnipegger Shane Nicholls described the moment as “very intimidating” when he stepped onto Stadium Court in his first-ever Challenger level match in his home city against a player ranked No. 464 in the world. But Nicholls met the challenge, battling Sebastien Boltz of France in a competitive first set before losing 6-4, 6-0.

“I was very tight to start off, but the crowd here is great – so many fans and so much support,” said Nicholls, who has won two men’s Open singles titles at Tennis Manitoba tournaments in 2016.

Earlier in the week, Nicholls played in the men’s singles main draw at the Canada F5 Futures in Saskatoon.

“The feel of a Challenger is completely different (from Futures events),” Nicholls said. “It’s a step up and you have to raise your level to that standard.”

Nicholls found out at 9 pm on Friday he got a spot in the qualifying draw for the National Bank Challenger – about 16 hours before his meeting with Boltz.

“I was fortunate that Tennis Canada decided to give me a wildcard,” said Nicholls. “I couldn’t be more happy they gave me this chance to play.”

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Boltz Enjoys Success In Canada

Sebastien Boltz is playing for the third straight week at a Canadian tournament. Boltz reached the semifinals of the Canada F4 Futures in Kelowna (June 27-July 3) before losing to Raymond Sarmiento of the United States 6-3, 6-1. The Frenchman then advanced to the quarterfinals of the Canada F5 Futures in Saskatoon (July 4-10) before falling 6-4, 6-0 to Canada’s Peter Polansky.

With his win over Shane Nicholls, Boltz advances to the final round of qualifying on Sunday; he’ll play Aleksandar Vukic of Australia for a spot in the main draw.

“It’s a very good country – perfect to live here,” Boltz said of Canada.

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Canadian Junior Champ Falls In Qualifying

Jack Mingjie Lin, the 2014 U16 Outdoor Rogers Junior Nationals champion, lost in the first round of qualifying at the National Bank Challenger 7-6(9), 6-2 to Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie. Lin, who placed third at the last two U18 outdoor nationals, reflected after his loss to Norrie on the tight first set they played on Stadium Court.

“At 5-3 on my serve, I had five or six set points and got a little careless on some shots and didn’t put enough balls in play,” said Lin. “And in the breaker I fought back pretty well – down 6-2 – and it could have went both ways that first set.”

Lin, who hails from Markham, Ontario, trains at the National Training Centre in Montreal as part of Tennis Canada’s U18 national team.

He plans on playing the Granby Challenger (July 30-August 7), the third leg of the National Bank Challenger series in Canada (Drummondville, Winnipeg, Gatineau and Saguenay are the other sites).

“I’ll keep playing more and more of these events – try to get more experience at the pro level,” said Lin, 17, who will enter Grade 12 in the fall.

Leduc Wins Marathon Match

In a contest that lasted three hours, Montreal’s Catherine Leduc edged Ashley Mackey of the United States 6-2, 6-7(9), 6-3.

“The second set I didn’t really play my game, said Leduc, who played at Saint Mary’s College of California and graduated in 2015. “The third set I came back and was more aggressive.”

Leduc will play American Alexandra Riley for a spot in the women’s singles main draw.

“This year I was training a lot in Florida,” Leduc said. “I’m starting this summer to play a lot (of Challenger/Futures events) and next year as well.”

Yurovsky Advances To Main Draw

Ronit Yurovsky and Mara Schmidt played at rival Big Ten universities: Yurovsky at Michigan and Schmidt at Purdue. Yurovsky’s Michigan team won the Big Ten Tournament title in her junior year in 2015, while Schmidt was in her sophomore year in 2012 when her Purdue team won the Big Ten Tournament title.

On Sunday, Yurovsky met Schmidt for a spot in the main draw at the National Bank Challenger with Yurovsky winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-0.

Yurovsky finished her college career this year with the third most all-time singles wins at Michigan (117). Her team won the Big Ten regular-season championship in each of her first three years at the school.

At the NCAA Championships in May, Yurovsky’s Michigan team reached the quarterfinals before losing 4-3 to Stanford.

“That was the best we’ve done in program history,” said Yurovsky.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Yurovsky took to the sport at an early age.

“I just picked it up on my own; I was three years old,” Yurovsky remembered. “There was a local park and people hit against the wall. I started hitting against the wall every day and my mom said, ‘maybe we should start getting you lessons.’”

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