Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Old-School Final in Pau, Wolf and Rinderknech Keep Winning

Not many expected Jerzy Janowicz’s comeback to start so well. In just his third event back, the Pole reached the final in Pau. Janowicz made an appearance there courtesy of a wildcard from the tournament director Jeremy Chardy. J J Wolf and Arthur Rinderknech won their second Challenger Tour crown this year, becoming the second and third player to do so. Read back on all the action.


It was a vintage final between Jerzy Janowicz and Ernests Gulbis. Once Grand Slam semifinalists, they struggled recently with either recurring injuries or major dips in form. Janowicz was forced out of the game for almost two and a half years before finally coming back just this January. But the big-serving Pole has been much better than expected and was back to his near-best this week in just his third event this season.

Janowicz’s serve will be the one thing most memorable from this run as the former world no.14 was at one point unbroken for 65 straight service games, dating back to the 22nd of January. His ace tally in the first five matches in Pau reached 84 and there was just one person in the entire tournament who found a way to break him. What wasn’t managed even by the top-seeded Jiri Vesely in a dramatic third set tie-breaker loss, Ernests Gulbis managed to achieve twice on Sunday.

It was the Latvian’s serve that hurt more in the championship match, with Gulbis saving the only breakpoint with a good forehand pass. The 2014 Roland Garros semifinalist is now 14-4 for the year, already winning more than twice as many matches as he did last season. On the very fast indoor hard courts in Pau Gulbis dropped his own serve just once as well, to Alex Molcan in the third round. The former world no. 10 had an interesting rival in the opening round, facing off against Bjorn Borg’s 16-year-old son, Leo. The match lasted just over an hour as Gulbis dominated the game on his serve, dropping just four points in total. The Latvian lost three sets on the way to the title, going just 2-3 in tie-breaks.

For Gulbis, this marks his first title in six years and the first Challenger trophy since October 2007. The Latvian will make his way back to the Top 160 in the ATP Rankings. He will now feature in his country’s Davis Cup home tie against Egypt next weekend.

Davis Cup will also be Jerzy Janowicz’s next stop in his comeback ways. Poland will also play at home and face Hong Kong. As to the former world no.14 himself, this run allows him to make a giant leap of 578 spots in the ATP Rankings. Janowicz still has a total of nine protected ranking entries to use, with his PR being 120.


The serve-and-volleying Maxime Cressy was on a great run with 9 matches won in a row. Cressy captured the title in Drummondville last week, taking down 24-year-old Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech in the final. That run was a fantastic display of efficient serving as the American wasn’t broken throughout the week. The tournament in Calgary proved to be much more difficult as Cressy had to survive three match points (one on return) against Yusuke Takahashi. His serve was a double-edged sword in that match, producing 18 aces and 20 double faults.

It didn’t get much better in that regard in a third-set tiebreaker win over Liam Broady but Cressy found a way to advance to Sunday’s final. Awaiting him there was once again Arthur Rinderknech but history didn’t repeat itself and this time it was the Frenchman who triumphed. The 24-year-old is in the best form of his life and added to his maiden title won last month in Rennes. Struggling a bit to kick off his Calgary campaign, he was getting more and more comfortable with each match. In the semifinals, Rinderknech defeated one of the surprises of the ATP Cup, Kacper Zuk, who advanced so far in a Challenger event for the first time in his career.

Cressy’s serve was once again up and down, giving him 24 aces and 16 double faults this time around. The American saved the first ten break points faced but a lucky net cord on the eleventh proved to be the most crucial point of the match. Rinderknech won 3-6 7-6 6-4, claiming his second ATP Challenger Tour trophy.

The Frenchman had never been to the ATP Top 200 before this week but will now find himself at a career-high ranking of world no. 160. The former college star for Texas A&M is making dynamic moves towards the top and with little success on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2019, he should be expected to continue progressing.

Cressy is supposed to play in the Indian Wells Challenger next week, where he won’t be seeded. Playing a qualifier in the first round will mean a Tuesday start but it might still be too much for the American to compete the third week in a row. After all, he’s earned the right to some rest.


The Ohio native and Ohio State graduate Jeffrey John Wolf clearly feels his best in his state of origin. The American captured three of his five professional tennis trophies there, including on Sunday with an ecstatic performance over Denis Istomin. Wolf dropped sets to James Ward, Roberto Quiroz, and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe on the way to the title but was always the better player in pivotal moments and turned up a gear as the tournament went on. In the semifinals, he faced another former Ohio State collegiate tennis star Mikael Torpegaard (the Dane reached all five of his ATP Challenger Tour finals in Ohio). Wolf won the battle of former teammates and played his best game of the week to dismantle Denis Istomin 6-4 6-2.

Wolf is constantly improving on his career-high ranking this year and will now find himself as the new world no.144. With just 15 points to defend until the summer, the next months should see him knock on the doors of the top 100.

Worth noting is the ongoing great form of Jurij Rodionov. Before the week the Austrian was the only player with two Challenger crowns this season (Wolf and Rinderknech have now joined him). Rodionov scored a 15-2 win/loss record in February, only losing games to Wolf (2R at Cleveland) and Istomin (Columbus SF).

Challenger Tour magic:

Two once-great up-and-coming prodigies showing they still know how it’s done:

Way to save a match point from Marc Polmans:

With his posture, you certainly wouldn’t expect Maxime Cressy to be this fast:

Wolf catching a very important breakpoint in the best way possible:

Events held next week:

  • Oracle Challenger Series – Indian Wells (Challenger 125)
  • Monterrey Challenger (Challenger 100)

With no main-tour events this week besides the Davis Cup, the Indian Wells and Monterrey Challengers will feature many higher-ranked competitors. Some very interesting names can also be found in the Indian Wells doubles draw, including the Zverev brothers, Lucas Pouille and a very intriguing pairing of Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe.

Top 100 players in action:

  • Ugo Humbert, Lucas Pouille, Cameron Norrie, Radu Albot, Steve Johnson, Jannik Sinner, Yuichi Sugita, Frances Tiafoe, Gregoire Barrere (Indian Wells)
  • Adrian Mannarino, Feliciano Lopez, Pablo Andujar, Ricardas Berankis (Monterrey)

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