November’s featured player is 19-year old Victor Baluda from Russia.
The Russian, who made his debut for his nation in May’s World Team Cup, made a disappointing start to the month losing in the opening round of the singles event in Phuket in straight sets. Things, however, picked up for the teenager in the doubles event.
With his partner Jimmy Wang from Chinese Taipei they formed an unseeded team and made steady progress through the draw, including a 75 61 defeat of the fourth seeds, to reach the final. The final of this indoor hard court event saw them taking on the highly fancied ‘home’ pairing and number one seeds, the twin brothers Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana.
Baluda and Wang’s run of straight sets wins came to an end in the final but they put up a valiant fight. The first set was lost on a narrow tie break 12-10 before the Ratiwatana brothers wrapped up the win 64 in another close set.
Two tournaments in the south of Chinese Taipei followed for Baluda. In the first of these on the clay courts in the city of Tainan Baluda was seeded fourth in the singles event and, with a change of partner to Germany’s Sebastian Rieschick, seeded third in the doubles.
There was to be no repeat of his run to the doubles final as in Thailand following a semifinal exit to the second seeds but his fortunes in the singles event improved greatly on the previous week.
A narrow 64 64 win over Bulgaria’s Alexander Lazov preceded three consecutive straight sets wins over Chinese Taipei nationals which carried Baluda into a second career singles final and a chance to claim his first ITF Pro Circuit singles title.
Baluda’s only previous final appearance ended in defeat in the Netherlands earlier in the year but this time he was the one celebrating at the end. His first singles title came at the expense of Spanish eighth seed Dario Perez, seen off in straight sets 63 63 to also maintain his record of not dropping a set in singles play all week.
No travel was necessary for his third tournament of the month as it was being held in the same venue in which he had just triumphed and a similar story was to unfold.
Once again seeded third with Sebastian Rieschick in the doubles event the pair was again eliminated in the semifinal. Their defeat, following back-to-back wins in which they conceded no more than two games in any one set, was a close 75 64 loss to the top seeds and eventual champions.
The singles event saw him seeded seventh and if Baluda thought he might have another relatively easy run of matches as in the previous week he was soon to find out that this would not be the case.
Having won his opening round in straight sets and taken the first set of his second round match 62 against Bowen Ouyang all seemed well but then his Chinese opponent surprised him by claiming a second set tie break to level the match.
Baluda, however, closed out the match with a 63 final set win. This set up a clash with the fourth seeded Austrian Nikolaus Moser and another three setter. The young Russian prevailed though with a 64 57 64 win to take him into the semifinal.
The semifinal draw set up an intriguing clash for Baluda who found himself facing the number one seed and his doubles partner, Sebastian Rieschick, across the net. The match was though brought to a premature end when Rieschick retired from the match with Baluda leading 64 42.
So, a second final for Baluda at the same venue in as many weeks but would it see him claiming back-to-back titles?
With his opponent, second seed Ti Chen, taking the first set 8-6 on a tie break this did not seem likely to be the case. The last time Baluda went a set behind he went on to lose the match but not this time. Putting the first set defeat out of his mind he pushed on to take the next two sets 63 75 and with them the title.
The final tournament of November for Baluda took place in Almaty, the largest city and former capital of Kazakhstan. This tournament also saw him ending the month as he had started it, on indoor hard courts.
Seeded sixth in the singles - he did not compete in the doubles event here - Baluda recorded two straight sets wins before bowing out in the quarterfinal in three sets to Julien Dubail from Belgium and the number one seed.
Points won this month were to contribute towards Baluda reaching new career high rankings in both singles and doubles. His doubles ranking of 599 saw him break into the top 600 for the first time and in singles he found himself on the brink of cracking the top 400 with a ranking of 408.
This month will also always be remembered for his first two ITF Pro Circuit singles title wins which were also won in successive weeks, not an easy feat to pull off.
How high can this Russian teenager climb? With the taste of title winning glory now experienced it might just be worth keeping an eye out for the name Victor Baluda during the 2012 season!