– Despite the absence of any players with Illini connections, this afternoon’s finals proved to be every bit as thrilling, as third-seeded Michael Russell claimed this year’s singles title at the JSM Challenger, defeating fourth-seeded Taylor Dent, 7-5, 6-4. In the doubles final, brothers Brian and Dann Battistone upset second-seeded Treat Conrad Huey and Harsh Mankad, 7-5, 7-6 (5). It was both Russell’s and the Battistone’s first-ever titles at the JSM Challenger.
Russell played just one three-set match during his run in the tournament, which came in the quarterfinals, but he knew he would need to be on top of his game to top Dent.
“I knew I couldn’t just sit back and rally,” Russell said. “I felt even when I was serving for the match, I couldn’t start playing passive. He’s so good at offense, so I really tried to just hit everything really big and keep him on his toes. The biggest thing was I returned really well. I was all over his serve for the whole match and I think that was the biggest difference.”
With the win, Russell receives a check for $7,200 and 75 South African Airways ATP Tour points, while Dent takes home $4,240 and 45 points. By week’s end, the two were the second and third highest ranked players in the tournament, behind former Illini Rajeev Ram who is currently at a career-high No. 78, while Dent checks in at No. 91 and Russell is at No. 101.
Playing in their first final of the year, the Battistone’s made the most of it and became quite the fan favorite by Saturday’s final. The victory avenges a 6-2, 6-2 loss suffered to Huey and Mankad just one month ago.
“The win is extra special, because both of us had hit a low point last week,” Brian said. “We lost a lot of matches and pretty easily too. Things just weren’t clicking and then to come up against a team here that had beaten us pretty handedly a month ago and to have us bounce back and have a week like this is really special.”
“I’ve kind of taken a different attitude this week,” Dann said. “Usually I’m a little more fiery and think winning is the most important thing and do everything I can to win, whereas this week, I really just enjoyed myself. We had fun out there and played the right way.”
The 14th annual JSM Challenger is now complete and additional information can be found at www.illinoischallenger.com. Saturday’s Results
Singles - Finals
 M Russell (USA) d  T Dent (USA) 75 64 Doubles - Finals
B Battistone (USA) / D Battistone (USA) d  T Huey (PHI) / H Mankad (IND) 75 76(5) Additional Quotes: Dann Battistone on having an abundance of fan support:
“I think it helps a lot. We had several different families here watching us and I think it gives you more to play for. And it helps keep you relaxed. I’d go back and wave and say hi to them and it kept me relaxed as well.” Michael Russell on the match:
“I actually felt like I was winning my service games easier than he was. Also, it really helped that I started kind of slow and I was able to get that break back. It was tough though and I felt like it could go either way. It’s great either way just making a final, I feel like I’m playing great tennis even if I were to lose. To win not only jumps your ranking up, but it’s great. You can say you didn’t lose and have six weeks to celebrate the victory.”