Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Another Monday Final, Alcaraz Garfia Wins Second Challenger Title

Salvatore Caruso in action on the ATP Challenger Tour

All eyes were on Paris this week, but there was plenty of entertaining action on the ATP Challenger Tour as well, with tournaments in Parma and Barcelona. As is usually the case during the second week of a Major, the Challenger draws were unusually strong, with the field in Parma resembling that of an ATP 250 event. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:

ATP Challenger Tour Recap

Parma

After a period of struggle, Frances Tiafoe looks to be getting back to his best. His decision to play at Challenger-level has certainly been paying off. The American, who lost in the first round at Roland Garros, opened his campaign in Parma by beating Biella semifinalist Blaz Rola in straight-sets. Tiafoe backed that up by getting the better of Lorenzo Musetti, who beat him in the second round in Forli last month, to reach the quarterfinals.

There he edged out Filippo Baldi, 7-6 7-5, to reach his first semifinal, at any level, of 2020. He scored another statement win there by beating Argentinian clay-court specialist Federico Delbonis from a set down. Waiting for him in the final was Salvatore Caruso. The Italian had made a slow start to the week, dropping the first set against Hugo Grenier in the first round before rallying to win in three, but he improved as the week went on.

In the second round, he beat the Czech Republic’s Thomas Machac in straight sets before battling past Laslo Djere, who has been ranked as high as 27th in the world, 6-4 2-6 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals. Caruso then dispatched Alexei Popyrin of Australia to reach the fourth Challenger Tour final of his career. The final had been scheduled to be played on Sunday, but rain intervened, washing out the whole day in Parma.

When play eventually got underway on Monday, it was Tiafoe who made the better start. A couple of poorly executed shots from the racquet of Caruso saw the Italian go down a break in the eighth game of the match. He struggled to cope with Tiafoe’s big forehand, with the American stealing a march on his opponent, winning five games on the bounce to take a 6-3 2-0 lead. However, with the match in his grasp, errors crept into Tiafoe’s game.

Caruso fought back, recovering the break before breaking the Tiafoe serve again to take control of the second set. His concentration faltered as he served for it, with Tiafoe forcing three break points. But he failed to take them, playing too passively as Caruso won the next five points to send the match into a decider. And with Tiafoe’s tentativeness continuing, it was Caruso who struck first, breaking for what looked like being an unassailable 3-1 lead.

But the momentum then swung back in Tiafoe’s favour. Although he did not look entirely confident in his game, Tiafoe was able to force himself to take a more proactive approach and he reaped the rewards for his bravery. He broke Caruso’s serve to get back on terms before ending the match with a big backhand return with Caruso serving to stay in it. Both Tiafoe and Caruso are next in action at ATP-level in Sardinia, with Caruso now at a career-high world #77. Tiafoe, meanwhile, has captured his fifth Challenger Tour title and first since 2017.

Barcelona

Damir Dzumhur wasn’t allowed to compete in the French Open qualifying after his coach, Petar Popovic, tested positive for COVID-19. Popovic subsequently returned to his native Serbia where he tested negative. Dzumhur, doubtless frustrated by the missed opportunity, elected to travel to play the Split Challenger, but he lost in the first round of qualifying to Pedro Sakamoto. But it appears that his shock loss was borne out of the strange situation in Paris.

Because when he arrived in Barcelona, having had the chance to clear his head, Dzumhur was a different man. In the first round, he thrashed former-world #45 Maximilian Marterer and that set the tone for the Bosnian. He did drop the first set against Frenchman Maxime Janvier in the quarterfinals, but he quickly regained control of the match, ultimately recording a 3-6 6-1 6-3 win to set up a semifinal clash with 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Gimeno Valero.

The teenager, who was playing in his first Challenger-level semifinal, reached that milestone in a very unusual fashion. Trailing Christopher O’Connell 6-7 2-5 30-40 in the second round, his tournament had looked to be over. But the Australian rolled his ankle and proved unable to continue, even for one more point, with Gimeno Valero advancing via retirement. But he took advantage of his good fortune, hammering Facundo Bagnis in the quarterfinals.

However, he offered little resistance to Dzumhur, who ended his run with a 6-0 6-3 win to reach the final. His opponent there was recent Trieste champion Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, the best 17-year-old in the world. The Spaniard had a disappointing couple of weeks in the wake of his triumph in Trieste, losing in the first round of qualifying at the French Open before suffering an early exit in Biella last week. But he found some form in Barcelona.

After beating third seed Pedro Sousa and Mario Vilella Martínez to reach the quarterfinals, he avenged the defeat he suffered at the hands of Filip Horansky in Biella. That set up a semifinal clash with Argentina’s Andrea Collarini, a match that could not be finished on Sunday due to the weather. But Alcaraz Garfia did not take long to finish the Argentine off on Sunday, winning the first two games after the resumption to complete a 6-3 7-5 win.

The final followed the expected pattern, with Alcaraz Garfia looking to dictate with his big forehand and keep Dzumhur honest by using the drop shot. But his forehand misfired in the eighth game, giving up three unforced errors to leave Alcaraz Garfia in a 0-40 hole. Dzumhur did not miss out on his opportunity, drawing an error from the Spaniard’s racquet with a wrong-footing forehand to secure the decisive break.

But the teenager rebounded impressively at the start of the second. He broke the Bosnian for a 3-1 lead, capitalising on some uncharacteristic errors. Dzumhur threatened to break back, three times forcing a break point in the sixth game, but Alcaraz Garfia showed great maturity to hold his opponent off and hold for a 4-2 lead. Thereafter, Dzumhur’s challenge faded, with Alcaraz Garfia breaking again in his opponent’s next service game.

With the 17-year-old now firmly in the ascendancy, Dzumhur attempted to change his approach and play more aggressively. But it was to no avail, with Alcaraz Garfia racing through the decider to complete a 4-6 6-2 6-1 win and claim his second Challenger Tour title. He even came close to winning it to love, but missed his first match point up 5-0. He reached a new career-high ranking of world #158 as a result of his efforts and will be back in Challenger Tour action this week in Alicante. Dzumhur, meanwhile, will be playing in Lisbon.

Challenger Tour magic:

Both players successfully attempted tweeners in the Mario Vilella Martinez vs Carlos Alcaraz match:

Highlights from the Lorenzo Musetti vs Frances Tiafoe match, great stuff:

It was *quite* windy at Barcelona some days this week:

The ball that decided the doubles final in Barcelona and while it’s always hard to tell from the stream, this lob really doesn’t look out:

Events held next week:

  • JC Ferrero Challenger Open (Alicante, Challenger 80)
  • Lisboa Belem Open (Lisbon, Challenger 80)

There will be no top 100 players in action with the majority in action at the three main tour events taking place. This marks the first time since February that there are this many ATP Tour tournaments in a week.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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