Although most of the world’s top players are in New York for the US Open, the ATP Challenger Tour has continued unabated with two events on European clay. Ostrava was the third event in a row organized in the Czech Republic, with one more to come in Prostejov this week. The short Italian swing, meanwhile, came to an end in Cordenons, with the action shifting to Aix-en-Provence next week. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:
ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Aslan Karatsev excelled through the series of Challengers played in the Czech Republic. The Russian has a 15-1 win/loss record since the restart. His only loss came to former-French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the final at the Prague Challenger. His dominance is further highlighted by the fact that he has dropped just four sets across those 16 matches, and two of those came in his defeat at the hands of Wawrinka. In winning the title in Ostrava, he didn’t drop a single set.
Handed a special exemption to enter the tournament, Karatsev opened his campaign with a 6-4 6-4 win over Tomas Machac. In the second round, he met Ernests Gulbis for the third time in as many weeks, with the previous two encounters ending in comprehensive straight-sets wins for Karatsev and the Russian once again had Gulbis’ number, beating him 6-1 6-4. He backed that win up with victories over Mats Moraing and Botic van de Zandschulp to reach the final.
Waiting for him was Oscar Otte. Otte had a disastrous start to the year, but played himself into form in exhibition leagues in his native Germany. He showed signs of that improvement in Prague, taking Wawrinka the distance in a tight three-setter. But it was in Ostrava that he really came good. After a tough opener against Aleksandar Vukic, he raced through his next two matches in and under an hour. Tallon Griekspoor then managed to keep him on court for only 80 minutes in their semifinal.
But Otte wasn’t able to maintain that high level in the final. Karatsev stole an early march on his opponent, breaking first, but the match turned decisively in his favour in the eighth game. Otte forced two break points, but was unable to convert. Otte did not seriously threaten the Russian’s serve again, failing to create another break point. Karatsev wrapped up an ultimately convincing 6-4 6-2 win in just 79 minutes to claim his third Challenger title.
The ATP rankings aren’t updated during Grand Slams, but Karatsev is currently up to world #114 in the live standings. And if he can manage a good run in Prostejov, where he received another special exemption, he could find himself knocking on the door of the top 100. That is some leap for a player who was ranked 253rd in the world when the season was suspended. Otte, meanwhile, will travel to Aix-en-Provence, where he opens his campaign against Christopher O’Connell.
Whilst Karatsev has dominated the Czech Challengers, the 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz Garfia has looked almost as imperious in Italy. After qualifying in to the first event of the swing in Todi, the Spaniard lost in the first round to eventual semifinalist Gian Marco Moroni, but since then he has been on a tear. He won eleven matches on the bounce, capturing the title in Trieste, his first at Challenger-level, before battling into the final in Cordenons.
Alcaraz Garfia announced himself as a future star back in February in Rio, when he stunned his countryman Albert Ramos Vinolas in the first round. But he may well have benefitted from dropping back to Challenger-level rather than playing on the main tour as a wildcard. For a young player, winning matches is surely more important than playing on the biggest stages and Alcaraz Garfia has been doing just that, despite some of the inconsistencies that come with his young age.
What was perhaps most impressive about his run in Cordenons was his ability to reset mentally after disappointment. Against both Juan Pablo Ficovich and Daniel Altmaier, he initially failed to capitalise when in a winning position. But he managed to put those frustrations to one side, coming back stronger and refusing to allow missed chances to disrupt his rhythm. That bodes very well for his future in the sport.
In the final, the youngster came up against his compatriot Bernabe Zapata Miralles, who has also impressed in Italy and was the runner-up in Todi two weeks ago. Zapata Miralles lost there to Yannick Hanfmann in straight sets and came up against the German once again in the first round in Cordenons. But this time Zapata Miralles was not to be denied, battling past Hanfmann in three hard-fought sets. Thereafter, he played some excellent tennis.
His best performance of the week came in the semifinals, where he dismantled Chiles’ Alejandro Tabilo in a little over 40 minutes, losing just one game in a dominant win. Unsurprisingly, that left him full of confidence heading into the final. Alcaraz Garfia, meanwhile, looked as though the host of matches he had played over the preceding weeks had finally caught up with him. His groundstrokes certainly lacked the power that usually allows him to play in his highly aggressive style.
Zapata Miralles, in contrast, was brilliant in turning defense into attack and made his opponent work extremely hard for every point, moving him around with deep and consistent groundstrokes. Despite Alcaraz Garfia’s second-set fightback, which included a number of perfectly executed drop shots, Zapata Miralles kept his consistency and found another gear in the third set to complete a 6-2 4-6 6-2 win over the teenager.
It was the third time that the 23-year-old had found himself in a final on the ATP Challenger Tour, but after defeats in Hamburg in 2019 and Todi two weeks ago, he finally came out on top. His reward will be a career-high ranking of around 140th in the world when the rankings are published on Monday. And whilst his ceiling may not be as high as Alcaraz Garfia’s, Zapata Miralles has proven himself to be a threat on both the clay and on indoor hard courts. Expect his rise up the rankings to continue.
ATP Challenger Tour magic:
Sergiy Stakhovsky retired mid-match to Mats Moraing because of a miscount by the umpire, which led to Stakhovsky going down 0-4 in the third set:
Challengers deliver again!
Amazing scenes in Ostrava where chair umpire gets the score wrong (calls OUT on Moraing's shot, yet awards point to him), the game goes on and only after the chair calls GAME Moraing, Stakhovsky figures out something went wrong.
— Oleg S. (@AnnaK_4ever) September 3, 2020
The net post had a British passport:
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) September 3, 2020
Robin Haase on court is an assurance of entertainment:
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) September 2, 2020
Daniel Altmaier making all the amateur players around the world feel better about themselves:
Yeah, we've all been there. 😩 pic.twitter.com/aOGoP4roGj
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) September 5, 2020
Events played next week:
- Open du Pays d’Aix (Aix en Provence, Challenger 125)
- Moneta Czech Open (Prostejov, Challenger 125)
Top 100 players in action:
- Gilles Simon, Pablo Cuevas, Gianluca Mager, Hugo Dellien (Aix en Provence)
- Pablo Andujar, Jiri Vesely, Stefano Travaglia (Prostejov)
Both events feature 32-player draws. A total of 14 competitors at Aix en Provence and 10 at Prostejov played the main draw of the 2020 US Open.
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