Another action-filled week has passed on the ATP Challenger Tour. Mikael Torpegaard added to his sensational pedigree of success in Ohio, while James Duckworth proved to be the most successful player on the circuit in the past year or so. Long-time ITF World Tennis Tour star Roman Safiullin grabbed his maiden title at the second tier of professional tennis. Read back on all the important stories.
If we were to choose the best performer of the past year and a half at the ATP Challenger Tour, that would probably be James Duckworth. The Australian was out of the game for about a year in 2017/2018, having to go through a foot surgery. In the summer of 2018, he was ranked outside the top 1000 of the ATP Rankings. But he came back even stronger, taking six Challenger Tour titles in the past 18 months. With the victory in Bengaluru, Duckworth will set a career-high of world no. 71, 11 spots higher than the position he held back in April 2015.
The past 12 months have been 🔥 for @JamesDuck21.
FIVE 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆 and now a new career-high of No. 71 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. pic.twitter.com/xcua71pVbg
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 16, 2020
Coming straight off a semifinal at the ATP 250 in Pune (lost to Egor Gerasimov), Duckworth was in fantastic form from the very beginning of the tournament. He lost a tie-breaker to Thomas Fabbiano in the quarterfinals but upped his level to take the match 6-7 6-0 6-2. A routine victory over Julian Ocleppo followed and Duckworth was soon in the championship match, playing one of the revelations of the tournament, Benjamin Bonzi. The Frenchman was on a sensational run, beating Nikola Milojevic, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Yuichi Sugita, and Stefano Travaglia on the way to the final.
Duckworth was signed up as an alternate in Delray Beach and Marseille (and would have made it to the main draw in the states), but decided to pull out of both and take a week of break after a lot of success in India.
We rarely talk about doubles in these recaps but Leander Paes’ last season certainly deserves a mention. The Indian legend will end his career at the end of 2020 but is still going strong at 46 years old. Pairing up with Matthew Ebden, Paes went all the way to the final, seeking his 27th Challenger Tour trophy (38th if you add singles). However, Ebden and Paes were soundly beaten by fourth-seeded Purav Raja and Ramkumar Ramanathan. It was the last match the doubles legend will ever play in India.
Roman Safiullin performed a rather uncanny feat at Cherbourg, beating all the top 3 seeds of the event. The Russian clinched the title by winning four of the six matches in deciding sets. One of the most dominant players on the ITF World Tennis Tour last season, Safiullin finally reached his maiden ATP Challenger Tour final. This run didn’t come out of nowhere as it’s the fourth event in a row where the 2015 Australian Open juniors champion made it to at least the quarterfinals.
Four deciding sets had to be tight. But the closest Safiullin came to losing was when he was down 2-4 and a breakpoint in the third set against 3rd seed Maxime Janvier. But as we know he made it out of that and went on to stun the top-seeded Antoine Hoang in the semifinals. His championship match opponent was Roberto Marcora, the 30-year-old Italian who very recently made his first ATP World Tour main draw victories (over Lukas Rosol and Benoit Paire in Pune). Possibly still weary after his marathon semifinal, Marcora was no match for the Russian, who never faced a breakpoint on the way to a 6-4 6-2 victory. Safiullin, alongside Pavel Kotov, took the doubles title too, saving three match points in the deciding tie-break against Dan Added and Albano Olivetti.
The Russian will make it to a career-high ranking of world no. 174. He’ll now play in Bergamo, where he’s seeded 12th. He will open against either Nerman Fatic or Aleksandr Nedovyesov.
Perhaps one of the most surprising changes of pace compared to the last season is the form of Mischa Zverev. The German is now 8-3 for the year, following a great semifinal run. Although he ended up wasting three match points against Roberto Marcora, Zverev has to enjoy winning matches again after a disastrous 2019 campaign left many wondering if it wasn’t the end of Mischa’s career.
Mikael Torpegaard, a former college player for the Ohio State, for some reason always peaks when playing in Ohio. The Dane has five Challenger Tour finals under his belt and all of them came in that state. Torpegaard was struggling to kick off his season with opening-round losses at Dallas, Noumea, and the Australian Open qualifying. But it only took one nail-biting win over Michael Mmoh to get his match rhythm going. Torpegaard was particularly impressive in his semifinal dismissal of Thomaz Bellucci (The Brazilian’s first semifinal since April). The whole affair lasted under an hour.
Up-and-coming Japanese Yosuke Watanuki was Torpegaard’s rival in the championship match. Watanuki made headlines last year when he triumphed at Kobe in November, aided by his efficient first serve. It was on display again this week, especially in the blockbuster clash against Ernesto Escobedo where the Japanese was able to find a way to match the American’s huge power.
The final was one of the shortest three-set matches possible with Torpegaard coming out on top 6-3 1-6 6-1. The momentum shifts were very dynamic and before either of the players managed to regroup, the sets were over. Just 94 minutes were enough for the Dane to pick up his third Challenger Tour title. Torpegaard will now jump 57 ranking places, coming back to the ATP top 200. Watanuki, who will also rise significantly in that regard, will feature in next week’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Drummondville.
Challenger Tour magic:
Wait for the bounce or not? Tough call:
— Stefano Berlincioni (@Carretero77) February 13, 2020
Four aces in a row is rare but this happens even less often:
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) February 12, 2020
A brilliant tweener from Jurij Rodionov, last week’s Dallas champion:
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) February 11, 2020
And this rally doesn’t require a comment:
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 14, 2020
Events held next week:
- Trofeo Faip-Perrel (Challenger 80)
- Challenger Banque National de Drummondville (Challenger 80)
- Koblenz Open (Challenger 80)
- Morelos Open (Challenger 80)
3 of the 4 events are played indoors, only the Morelos Open is an outdoor hard court tournament. Trofeo Faip-Perrel is played in Bergamo, Italy and will feature an interesting line-up including 16-year-old Leo Borg, Bjorn’s son.
The defending champion in Morelos is Matias Franco Descotte, last year’s lowest-ranked ATP Challenger Tour champion. The Argentinian is defending 80 of his 103 ATP points next week and a first-round loss would mean he would drop about 400 ranking spots.
Top 100 players in action:
- Dominik Koepfer (Drummondville)
Jerzy Janowicz was supposed to take a wildcard to the Bergamo Challenger but withdrew due to physical problems.