Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Sinner Dominates, Ivo Karlovic’s Heartbreaking Loss

It was a crazy week on the ATP Challenger Tour. Just one tournament remains to be played in the 2019 calendar and all the drama happening in Houston, Champaign, Ortisei, Helsinki, and Pune serves as a great farewell. Hopefully the Maia Challenger next week will grant the fans so many emotions as well.

Oracle Challenger Series – Houston

26-year-old Marcos Giron took his second Challenger Title this year, triumphing in a nerve-racking thriller against Ivo Karlovic. The American had a rough ride to the finals, almost choking away a gigantic lead in his second round encounter against Brandon Holt. Giron led 7-6 5-0 and blew a total of 11 match points, before claiming the third set 6-2. You might find it ironic, considering what was to happen in the championship match.

The pivotal moment of the final seemed to have come at 5-5 in the second set as Giron held two break points to serve for the match. One of his returns clipped the net but Karlovic managed to keep his composure and play a deep, attacking slice to take the point. The Croatian recovered to win the tie-break and found his first breakpoints of the match at 5-5 in the decider. Despite trying really hard and actually getting all the returns back, Ivo channeled his inner Federer and wasted all three opportunities. A tie-break was to decide who will come out on top.

A tie-break to remember

Giron was on the back foot from the get-go as he double-faulted on the opening point. Against Ivo Karlovic, that’s sometimes enough to lose a tie-break. But the American made sure to give the Croatian another mini-break just in case, this time sending a pretty straightforward forehand long. You’d think that would be enough? Karlovic led 6-1 and ended up throwing it all away, playing a pretty horrific slice and then a poor backhand volley on the match points on his delivery. A couple of points for Giron on serve and the Croat was now facing a match point.

The drama was unreal in Houston as Karlovic’s second serve clipped the net and landed in. The pair went on to trade service holds before the Croat mishit a half-volley to give Giron a match point on his own serve. Marcos took the gift with an ace as Karlovic stood in place not really believing what has just happened…

The final was very important for Giron for another reason. The American will now advance to a position of 102 in the ATP Rankings. That should give him a main draw spot at the Australian Open. And even if it doesn’t, his title at Houston gives him the lead in the American Wildcard Challenge, so he’s already secured his first appearance at the January Grand Slam.

Although surely a heartbreaking loss, Ivo Karlovic at least has something positive to look forward to after this week. The Croat managed to secure his 17th straight top 100 finish and a main draw Australian Open berth at the very last opportunity.

JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana (Champaign)

20-year-old Jeffrey John Wolf clinched his second Challenger Tour title in Champaign. A standout college player for the Ohio State, Wolf is slowly making his way up the ATP Rankings. This triumph allows him to debut in the top 200 of the ATP Rankings and seal a spot in the qualifying draw of the Australian Open.

Wolf was troubled by Christopher Eubanks in the third round but withstood 21 aces from his opponent to clinch the win 6-4 in the decider. The most impressive player of the tournament by a fine margin, Wolf run into 19-year-old Sebastian Korda in the final. The son of the 1998 Australian Open champion refused to go down without a fight and after leveling the match back to one set all, Korda had the advantage of a break three times in the deciding set. But ultimately it was Wolf’s own great serve that allowed him to save a match-point in the tie-break. The 20-year-old then slammed a brilliant forehand return and finished off the match with an energetic smash 6-4 6-7 7-6.

A notable run – world no.1582 Alexander Brown advanced to the semifinals of this event. Possessing a very potent serve, Brown was able to come through Mate Valkusz, Blaz Rola and JC Aragone without getting broken. He finally dropped a game of his own against Juan Pablo Ficovich and was soundly beaten by Sebastian Korda in the semifinals. Brown will make an impressive ranking jump of 926 places.

Tali Open (Helsinki)

The Challenger Tour sensation of the last couple of months, , didn’t disappoint in front of his home crowd. The big-serving Finn has been on fire this year, winning titles in Fergana, Mallorca and Glasgow. In September, he has also managed to defeat the Nitto ATP Finals runner-up, Dominic Thiem.

Ruusuvuori has been sidelined for a month due to a viral illness lately and went out early in his first two events (Eckental and Bratislava). The Finn seemed to have lost his momentum but managed to regain the passion playing at home. Emil didn’t lose a single set on the way to the final, being taken to just one tie-break by Ilya Ivashka in the semifinals. Mohamed Safwat gave him a stern challenge in the championship match, but ultimately missed a couple of breakpoints early in the decider and run out of steam. This victory allows Ruusuvuori to reach a career-high rank of world no. 125.

It was a very good week for Finnish players as all of Harri Heliovaara, Patrik Niklas-Salminen, Otto Virtanen and Ruusuvuori reached at least the third round.

Sparkassen ATP Challenger (Ortisei)

The recent NextGen ATP Finals champion, Jannik Sinner, finished his season by winning the Sparkassen ATP Challenger in Ortisei. Sinner received a wildcard for this event last year as the world no. 870. Over a year later, the Italian will find himself at a career-high ranking of 78 on Monday.

It was Sinner’s third Challenger Tour trophy, following victories in Bergamo and Lexington this year. The Italian did not drop a set throughout the week, although he was pushed hard by Lukas Miedler and Antoine Hoang. Both the Austrian and the Frenchman had three set points on Sinner’s serve.

The Italian was perhaps at his most impressive in the final, beating Sebastian Ofner 6-2, 6-4. Although Ofner had to have his legs taped and wasn’t 100% physically, Sinner showed immense composure and was able to perform great on one of the fastest surfaces on the tour. The Italian’s appearance brought many viewers to the stands, even for his very first match:

KPIT MSLTA Challenger (Pune)

It was a very important victory for James Duckworth, who will be back in the top 100 after two and a half years. The Australian has enjoyed a brilliant latter half of the season, reaching five Challenger Tour finals. It was the 27-year-old’s fourth title at this level in 2019 (tenth overall). The draw in Pune was one of the weakest all year but the Australian had to battle through some of the best Indian players, Sasikumar Mukund and Ramkumar Ramanathan. At one point, Mukund had three break points to serve for the match.

The final against Great Britain’s Jay Clarke contained many great rallies like the one below. Duckworth was in trouble down a break deep in the decider, but he broke back after an insanely lucky net cord. Clarke’s level dipped a bit under pressure and the Australian was there to capitalize.

Challenger Tour hotshots:

Somehow, magic was happening mostly in Champaign this week. But when the shots are this good, who would complain?

But here’s one from the Pune final:

Events held next week:

  • Maia Challenger (Challenger 80)

One more tournament was originally planned for the last week of the 2019 ATP Challenger Tour. However, the Bari Challenger was canceled due to “irreparable damage” to the stadium.

Some players are still in contention for the Australian Open main draw berth. A title would pretty much secure it for Andrej Martin. Thomas Fabbiano, Gianluca Mager and Paolo Lorenzi would be on the verge.


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