Although the focus of the tennis world was on Melbourne for the first week of the Australian Open, there was plenty of exciting action going on elsewhere. On the ATP’s Challenger Tour, the first indoor event of the season was played in Rennes, whilst Bangkok hosted its second tournament in as many weeks. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
The 27-year-old Federico Gaio enjoyed a great week in the Thai capital, where he captured his fourth Challenger title and first away from the clay. The Italian had started his season with first-round losses in Noumea to Roberto Marcora and in the qualifying at the Australian Open to Kimmer Coppejans, but he bounced back impressively in Bangkok. However, Gaio, who claimed 41 wins at this level in 2019, came perilously close to making a third early exit in a row up against Keichi Uchida.
But the Italian, seeded eighth, was able to keep his composure to score a 3-6 7-6 7-5 win over the Japanese. Thereafter, he made a sharp improvement in terms of his performances and scored straight-sets wins over Denis Istomin and Jiri Vesely, both of whom have cracked the world’s top 40, before beating Dmitry Popko to reach the championship match. Awaiting him there was the tenth seeded Dutchman Robin Haase.
Haase was playing in his first Challenger final in four years, but has a wealth of experience with 229 wins and two titles on the ATP Tour to his name. Unfortunately, injury got the better of him in the Bangkok final. After losing the opening set, Haase fought back to level the match, only to retire down a break in the decider to hand Gaio victory. The Italian will climb to a career-high ranking of world #123 as a result of his efforts in Bangkok.
Attila Balazs, the champion in the first of the two Bangkok Challengers, retired with cramps when trailing by a set to Haase in the third round. Local wildcard Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul, meanwhile, deserves mention after some fine performances saw him beat Gian Marco Moroni and Marcora en route to the third round. There, however, the big-hitting Roman Safiullin proved too strong for the 24-year-old Thai.
Arthur Rinderknech delighted the home crowd with his performances in Rennes. The 24-year-old Frenchman enjoyed success at ITF-level last season, winning four titles, but he had never gone beyond the quarterfinals at a Challenger before arriving in Rennes. That lack of experience did not appear to hold him back, however, as he scored wins over Andrea Arnaboldi, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Mats Moraing, Cem Ilkel and Tobias Kamke to reach the final.
There he faced Great Britain’s James Ward, who famously upset John Isner in the first round of the Davis Cup in 2015. The 32-year-old was the more experienced of the two finalists, having won four Challenger titles, although he came close to losing in the first round in Rennes, but saved six match points to beat Benjamin Bonzi. Rinderknech, however, proved rather more clinical than his countryman Bonzi, saving the only break point he faced in a comprehensive 7-5 6-4 win.
Rinderknech’s reward for his efforts in Rennes is a 69 spot jump up the ATP Rankings to a career-high world #250. Former-world #14 Jerzy Janowicz was also in action in Rennes, playing his first tournament since November 2017 after a succession of injuries. The Pole made a fine start to his campaign, beating Tomas Machac in a three-set thriller, but he could offer comparatively little resistance to tenth seed Corentin Lestienne, losing 6-7 4-6.
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) January 21, 2020
Not sure whether to be more speechless about this shot or what happened in Rennes two days later:
Events held next week:
- Oracle Challenger Series – Newport Beach (Challenger 125)
- Burnie International (Challenger 80)
- Punta Open (Challenger 80)
- Open Quimper Bretagne (Challenger 80)
The Punta Open in Punta Del Este will be the first clay court Challenger this year. Janowicz’s comeback will continue with another wildcard in Quimper where he will face fellow wildcard Evan Furness, with Quentin Halys potentially awaiting in the second round.
Top 100 players in action:
- Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Miomir Kecmanovic, Steve Johnson, Andreas Seppi (Newport Beach)
- Marco Cecchinato, Thiago Monteiro (Punta Del Este)
Main photo:Embed from Getty Images