Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: The Shark’s Last Challenger Final

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This week’s Challenger Tour Weekly Recap main story will not be focused on a winner from this week. Steve Darcis, often nicknamed “Shark” for his tattoo of this rapacious animal, lost the championship match in Eckental to Jiri Vesely. But it was the Belgian legend’s last Challenger Tour event and he clearly deserves the exception.

Darcis has been struggling with injury issues for a long time now and hasn’t registered consecutive main draw wins since the Lisbon Challenger in May. The Eckental Challenger has been a happy hunting ground for Darcis in the past and it didn’t disappoint again.

The Shark strikes back

On the extremely rare nowadays carpet surface (only three ATP Challenger Tour events this year), the Belgian’s game has shined from the get-go. Following wins over James Ward and Federico Gaio, Darcis faced the top seed, Kamil Majchrzak. In a nervy deciding set, Majchrzak came back from a 3-5 deficit only to lose the last two games and the match 6-3 2-6 5-7.

Darcis lived to see another day and pulled off another comeback from a set down in the quarterfinals, defeating Ilya Marchenko 6-7 7-6 6-3. His best performance came in the final four, as the Shark routined Lloyd Harris 6-2 6-4, dropping just nine points on serve in the whole match.

The final was once again dominated by performance on serve. That’s just how carpet matches go. Darcis fought back from a set down but won just two points on return in the decider to lose the match 4-6 6-4 3-6.

What lies ahead for Darcis?

The former world No.38 will now compete in the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid. Darcis is a legend of the competition, being one of the members of the Belgian team that finished runner-up twice (2015 and 2017). He beat the odds to win decisive fifth rubbers in both semifinals (over Federico Delbonis and Jordan Thompson). However, the Belgian has criticized the Davis Cup reform, saying it’s not the competition that it once was.

Darcis was originally supposed to hang up his rackuet after the Davis Cup Finals but getting accepted as the Belgian No.2 into the opening edition of the ATP Cup has changed his plans. He will now compete in that team event and stay Down Under for Australian Open qualifying. The Melbourne Grand Slam will be his last professional tennis event. Aside from his Davis Cup heroics, his legacy will be the stunning upset of Rafael Nadal in the first round of the 2013 Wimbledon. Darcis won ten ATP Challenger Titles and two main tour events (2007 Amersfoort and 2008 Memphis).

His conqueror, Jiri Vesely, has captured his first title in more than two years. The Czech was once deemed as one of the best young prodigies but has been through a very rough period lately. This victory takes him back to being an inch from the ATP Top 100. Vesely saved a match point in the semifinals against Evgeny Karlovskyi.

Other Challenger Tour winners of the week:

In the biggest Challenger event held this week, Shenzhen Longhua Open, Zhizhen ZhangΒ clinched his second title of the year. Zhang has recently played a string of main-tour Chinese events, scoring wins over Dominik Koepfer and Kyle Edmund. The Chinese defeated Goncalo Oliveira and Go Soeda on the way to the final, also benefitting from two second-set retirements. His opponent in the championship match was his countryman Zhe Li. Zhang took the title 6-3 4-6 6-1. He is now ranked as the world no. 141, just one behind China’s best ever result by Di Wu.

It was a final between the top two seeds in Playford. James Duckworth took down Yasutaka Uchiyama for his third Challenger title of the year. The former world no.82 is still on a comeback trail after missing almost the entire 2017 season. This win will up his ranking by 20 spots to no.110. The Australian didn’t lose a set on the way to the title, dropping serve just three times. He defeated Uchiyama in the final 7-6 6-4.

Vasek Pospisil kept up the good form, winning a second straight Challenger title in Charlottesville. He triumphed over Braydon Schnur in an All-Canadian final 7-6 2-6 6-3. Pospisil gave very impressive performances to beat Christopher O’Connell, Filip Peliwo and Brandon Nakashima, handing his opponents just 10 games combined.

19-year-old Thiago Seyboth Wild captured his first Challenger Title in Guayaquil. The Brazilian lost just one set on the way to the title. In the second round, Seyboth Wild threw up on the court just before the match point but managed to finish off Thiago Monteiro regardless. This victory sees the Brazilian advance 76 ranking spots and reach a career-high of no. 235. In the final, he stomped Hugo Dellien 6-4 6-0. Seyboth Wild became the fourth teenage titlist this year, following Jannik Sinner, Nicola Kuhn and Corentin Moutet.

Challenger Tour magic and some intperesting storylines:

As mentioned earlier, Vasek Pospisil was scary good this week:

Chun-Hsin Tseng and Federico Ferreira Silva were truly all over the place in this rally:

Botic Van De Zandschulp beat Henri Laaksonen without having to win the last point:

He actually played the doubles semifinal, but the 41-year-old Toshihide Matsui had some fitness issues this week:

And the biggest one – Jack Sock, a top 10 player at the end of 2017/beginning of 2018, completely fell out of the singles ATP Rankings with a retirement loss to Sekou Bangoura. Sock won just one out of nine singles matches contested this year (he beat Fabio Fognini at Laver Cup, which doesn’t award ranking points). Sock also pulled out of next week’s Knoxville Challenger.

Events held next week:

Due to the lack of main tour events besides Next Gen ATP Finals, many top 100 players will participate in Challenger Tour events next week. Especially the Slovak Open in Bratislava. If you’ve ever hesitated to pay a visit to one nearby your home, now’s the time to make up for it.

  • Slovak Open (Challenger 110)
  • Knoxville Challenger (Challenger 80)
  • Kobe Challenger (Challenger 80)
  • Uruguay Open (Challenger 80)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Mikhail Kukushkin, Marton Fucsovics, Stefano Travaglia, Kamil Majchrzak, Damir Dzumhur, Alexey Popyrin, Salvatore Caruso, Lloyd Harris, Egor Gerasimov (Slovak Open)
  • Tommy Paul, Brayden Schnur, Bradley Klahn (Knoxville Challenger)
  • Yasutaka Uchiyama (Kobe Challenger)
  • Pablo Cuevas, Hugo Dellien, Federico Delbonis, Thiago Monteiro, Jaume Munar (Uruguay Open)

Main Photo:
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