Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Monday Finish in Biella, Cerundolo Wins in Split

Facundo Bagnis in action on the ATP Challenger Tour

Although the thrilling first week of tennis at Roland Garros captured the majority of the headlines, there was plenty of tennis going on elsewhere. That included two of the smaller Challenger Tour events, in Split and Biella. And the Challenger Tour action will continue next week at the Internazionali di Tennis Emilia Romagna in Parma and Barcelona’s Sanchez-Casal Cup, with a number of players who made early exits in Paris sure to be in the field. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed last week:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Split

In Croatia, Pedro Sousa became the third player this year, after Thiago Seyboth Wild and Yannick Hanfmann, to make a final on both the Challenger Tour circuit and the ATP World Tour. Sousa, who finished as runner-up in Buenos Aires earlier this year, enjoyed an excellent week in Split, dropping only two sets, against Zdenek Kolar and Borna Gojo, en route to the final. His 6-4 7-6 win over last week’s Sibiu finalist Tomas Martin Etcheverry was particularly impressive.

In the final, he came up against Francisco Cerundolo. The 22-year-old Argentine had arrived in Split in good form, having made the semifinals in Sibiu last week, but he faced a tough path to the final. In the first round, he was down 5-7 2-4 to Ernesto Escobedo, but managed to rally to win in three sets. In the quarterfinals, he came up against former-world #45 Maximilian Marterer, eventually emerging a 7-6 3-6 7-6 winner after what proved to be an almighty tussle.

Then, in the last four, he stopped the thrilling run of Split native Duje Ajdukovic. The Croatian teenager, who began the week ranked 462nd in the world, played some superb tennis, opening his campaign with a 6-4 3-6 6-4 win over Joao Menezes before destroying the accomplished veterans Jozef Kovalik and Martin Klizan in straight-sets. Cerundolo also struggled with Ajdukovic early on, but managed to dig out a nervy 6-7 6-4 6-3 win to reach his first Challenger Tour final.

Sousa made the perfect start to the match, breaking Cerundolo in his first service game, and although Cerundolo created five break-back points, he was unable to convert. But he turned the match around in the second set in impressive fashion. Improving his consistency and depth, and bringing his big forehand into play, the Argentine took the set 6-3 to send the final into a decider. And there, it was again Cerundolo who struck first.

He found himself up 0-40 against the Portuguese’s serve in the seventh game of the set and he converted at the second time of asking, firing a forehand winner to take a commanding lead in the third. But, serving for the match up 5-4, Cerundolo faltered. He committed four unforced errors to hand Sousa the break. Sousa followed that with a loose service game of his own, giving Cerundolo another chance to serve out the victory. Again, the 22-year-old was unable to take his chance.

That sent the match into a tiebreak. And Cerundolo, having gone up an early mini-break, this time did not let up, completing a hard-fought 4-6 6-3 7-6 win to claim his first Challenger Tour title. Both men will now travel to Barcelona for the Sanchez-Casal Cup. Sousa will be seeded third in Catalonia, whilst Cerundolo was granted a special exemption after his exploits in Split. He will also make his debut in the top 200 when the ATP rankings are updated following the conclusion of the French Open.

Biella

In a decision that is difficult to understand, the tournament organisers in Biella elected to grant wildcards to Cesare Carpano and Pietro Buscaglione, both of whom are aged just 14. Both were clearly not ready for competition at this level, losing to Bjorn Fratangelo and Alexandre Muller without winning a game. The pair also played together in the doubles draw as wildcards and they again lost 0-6 0-6, albeit to the eventual champions Harri Heliovaara and Szymon Walkow.

One of the headline attractions in Biella was set to be Carlos Alcaraz, with the Spaniard having won the title in Trieste and finished as runner-up in Cordenons. But it was ultimately a week to forget for the 17-year-old, who also fell in the first round of qualifying at the French Open. After surviving a testing first-round encounter with Juan Pablo Varillas, Alcaraz crashed out to Slovakia’s world #177 Filip Horansky in straight-sets in the second round.

Facundo Bagnis, meanwhile, arrived in Biella with a point to prove. The clay-court specialist was surely disappointed by his qualifying campaign in Paris, where he lost in the second round to Jack Sock, but he was almost flawless in Italy. In the first round, he beat Roberto Cid Subervi 7-5 6-1 before dismissing Alexandre Muller 6-4 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals. There, he stopped Horanksy’s run with a 7-5 6-1 win and Bagnis then booked his place in the final with a straight-sets win over Christopher O’Connell in the semifinal.

Considerable rainfall forced the organisers to adapt the schedule, with play cancelled on Friday and the quarterfinals and semifinals set to be played over the course of Saturday. Unfortunately, the weather again failed to cooperate, with rain disrupting the all-Slovenian semifinal between Blaz Rola and Blaz Kavcic, both of whom were enjoying memorable weeks in Biella. It was moved to Sunday as a result, to be finished before the singles final.

Rola had claimed a superb victory over the top seed, Thiago Seyboth Wild, in the first round, before thrashing Andrea Collarini and Matteo Viola to reach the semifinals. Kavcic, meanwhile, who had played his first competitive tennis since the restart in the French Open qualifying, beat the dangerous young gun Tseng Chun-hsin in three sets in the second round before stopping the surprising run of the serve-volleying Maxime Cressy in the last eight.

There had been nothing to split the Slovenians on Saturday, with the pair splitting the first two sets, but after a night’s rest Kavcic came out firing, storming through the decider to wrap up a 5-7 6-4 6-1 win. And he maintained that level in the early stages of the final, striking first to break the Bagnis serve with a stunning backhand pass. Bagnis broke straight back, before forcing a set point with Kavcic serving down 5-6.

The 33-year-old hung tough, however, serving his way out of trouble to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-4. Then, after the first six games of the second set had passed largely without incident, the rain returned, forcing a 40-minute delay. They managed to complete just one more game when play resumed before the heavens opened again and the match was called off for the day, with Kavcic and Bagnis forced to return to finish the final on Monday.

Such lengthy breaks often cause significant momentum swings and so it proved in Biella, with Bagnis winning three games in a row when the action resumed to level the match. And, as it turned out, end it. Kavcic, who had picked up an injury, was forced to retire hurt, handing the title to Bagnis, the 13th of his career at this level.

Both men had been due to compete at the Sanchez-Casal Cup in Barcelona, but it would be a surprise if Kavcic featured in Barcelona. Bagnis, meanwhile, is seeded fifth and will start his campaign against Joao Domingues of Portugal. Kavcic, if he is fit enough to play, will open his tournament against the Spaniard Carlos Taberner, who was recently crowned champion in Iasi.

Challenger Tour magic

Duje Ajdukovic was really on fire this week:

Movement is definitely Tomas Martin Etcheverry’s asset:

Events held next week:

  • Internazionali di Tennis Emilia Romagna (Parma, Challenger 125)
  • Sanchez-Casal Cup (Barcelona, Challenger 80)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Frances Tiafoe, Juan Ignacio Londero, Laslo Djere, Federico Delbonis, Salvatore Caruso, Gianluca Mager, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Lloyd Harris, Andreas Seppi, Kamil Majchrzak (all Parma)

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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