Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Huesler Still the Man to Beat, Ivashka Triumphant in Istanbul

Ilya Ivashka in action on the ATP Challenger Tour

For the first time since the season resumed in August, ATP Challenger Tour tennis was played on a surface other than clay, with an indoor carpet event held in Ismaning in Bavaria and an outdoor hard-court tournament organised in Istanbul. But what didn’t change was the entertaining tennis. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Ismaning

Marc-Andrea Huesler has enjoyed quite the run of results since the restart. He began this year ranked 277th in the world, having never been inside the top 250, but clearly used the lengthy break in the season to his advantage. First, the 24-year-old battled his way to the final at the ATP Kitzbuhel Open, beating four top 100 players, including world #12 Fabio Fognini, en route, before falling just short against Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic.

Undeterred by that disappointment, Huesler rallied to win the Sibiu Challenger, beating Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the final in straight sets. Thereafter, Huesler took nearly a month out of the game before returning to action on the carpet in Ismaning, which looked to be a strange choice at first glance for a player who has found most success on the clay. But it did not take long for the logic behind Huesler’s choice to reveal itself.

In the first round, he found himself up against the perennial crowd favourite Dustin Brown. The skilful German has struggled with injuries of late, but played one of his best matches in recent months to take Huesler all the way to a deciding set tiebreak. Huesler, however, hung tough to claim a hard-fought 7-6 4-6 7-6 win and he backed that up by beating Brayden Schnur, although the Canadian also took him the distance before succumbing to a 5-7 6-3 3-6 loss.

Huesler then claimed superb wins over the in-form Sebastian Korda, who reached the fourth round at the French Open earlier this month, and the Frenchman Antoine Hoang to reach the final. There he faced Botic van de Zandschulp, who, unlike Huesler, is generally at his best under a roof, having scored 30 wins indoors in 2019. He demonstrated just how effective he can be indoors by demolishing Juan Pablo Varillas in 42 minutes and Ramkumar Ramanathan, who kept him on court for only six minutes more than the Peruvian.

Van de Zandschulp then looked to have all but sealed his place in the semifinals when he led Tobias Kamke 6-3 3-6 5-3 40-15 only for the German to battle back into contention. Kamke even forced a match point of his own up 6-5 in the deciding tiebreak. But the Dutchman was not to be denied, eventually winning the tiebreak 11-9 to reach the semifinals, where he beat India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran 7-6 6-1.

In the final, both men looked to dominate with their serves and big forehands, but it was Huesler who made the better start, creating a break point in both of van de Zandschulp’s first two service games. However, he was unable to convert and, ultimately, was punished for that. Van de Zandschulp began to make inroads against the left-handed Huesler’s serve, even forcing two break points in the 12th game of the set.

Huesler saved them, but when van de Zandschulp took a 6-3 lead in the resulting tiebreak, there was to be no escape for the young Swiss. Indeed, his challenge looked to be almost over when van de Zandschulp broke Huesler again to start the second set. But van de Zandschulp was unable to capitalise, landing a weak second serve right into Huesler’s strike zone and the Swiss took advantage to break back with a backhand return winner.

Neither man came close to breaking again as the second set went to a tiebreak, but this time it was Huesler who came out on top. He then pressed his advantage by breaking the Dutchman’s serve in the third game of the decider. Van de Zandschulp managed to battle his way back into contention, but Huesler continued to put pressure on his opponent’s serve and that paid off decisively as he broke for a 6-5 lead before serving out the match to 30 to claim his third ATP Challenger Tour title.

As a result of his efforts, the Swiss finds himself at a career-high world #154, having jumped over 200 places in the rankings in less than three months since the season resumed. Van de Zandschulp, meanwhile, has also reached a career-high ranking of 157th in the world. Both men will next be in action in Hamburg where Huesler faces eighth seed Oscar Otte, whilst van de Zandschulp, who is the defending champion in Hamburg, will open his campaign against Benjamin Bonzi.

Istanbul

Martin Klizan made his first final since the 2018 ATP St Petersburg Open at the Istanbul Challenger. Remarkably, the Slovakian had failed to even reach a semifinal in the intervening 24 months, with Klizan, who has been ranked as high as 24th in the world, seeing his ranking collapse in the second half of 2019. Even the decision to drop down to Challenger-level did not help the 31-year-old, who has won six titles, including two at 500-level, on the ATP Tour.

He arrived in Turkey’s second city with an indifferent 5-7 record on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2020. But after coming through testing encounters against Ilya Marchenko and Roberto Marcora in straight sets, Klizan looked to have found his touch. That served him in good stead when he found himself down 4-6 2-6 to Mackenzie Macdonald in the quarterfinals, with Klizan rallying to win in three and reach his first semifinal in two years.

There, he got the better of Croatia’s Borna Gojo 6-4 7-5 to set up a meeting with Ilya Ivashka in the final. The Belarusian, seeded seventh in Istanbul, had been struggling since the restart, although he did impress in reaching the second round at the tour-level St Petersburg Open as a qualifier. That appeared to have given him some confidence and he stormed into the semifinals in Istanbul, annihilating his first three opponents, including the in-form Dmitry Popko, who he beat 6-4 6-0.

His semifinal opponent was Benjamin Bonzi and the talented Frenchman provided Ivashka with his first test of the week. Bonzi deservedly took the first 6-3 and forced a break point early in the second. But that was to prove as good as it got for Bonzi, with Ivashka seizing control of the match thereafter to record a 3-6 6-2 6-2 win and book his place in his second Challenger Tour final of the season (Canberra, lost to Hubert Hurkacz).

He made a poor start to the final, finding himself in a 0-40 hole in the second game of the match. But Klizan failed to capitalise. The Slovakian only got one of his next three returns back into play, and that was a floated slice that Ivashka put away at the net with ease. Ivashka then took control of the opening set, winning seven games on the bounce thanks to consistent depth and counter-punching, which frustrated Klizan’s attempts to impose himself with his powerful forehand and signature drop shots

The Slovakian eventually stopped the rot in the second set, even breaking for a 2-1 lead, but it proved to be a false dawn. Ivashka broke straight back and, although Klizan briefly maintained a rearguard action, the writing was on the wall. Serving to stay in the match down 4-5, Klizan was broken as Ivashka claimed his third ATP Challenger Tour title.

That solidified his place in the top 120, whilst Klizan’s efforts saw him return to the top 150 at world #148. Ivashka will not be playing this week after he had to withdraw from the qualifying at Nur-Sultan due to his run to the title in Istanbul, but Klizan will return to action in Hamburg, where he faces third seed J.J. Wolf in the first round.

Challenger Tour magic:

Tweener lob from Johannes Haerteis:

One thing is certain when Dustin Brown takes the court – magic will happen:

Events held next week:

  • Tennis Challenger Hamburg (Challenger 80)
  • Marbella Tennis Open (Challenger 80)

Hugo Gaston, one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 French Open, played the qualifying in Hamburg as his first tournament after his potentially career-defining loss. Gaston defeated his compatriot Hugo Grenier in the first round but failed to beat Matthias Bachinger. However, Gaston was handed a reprieve as a lucky loser and will play Sumit Nagal in the first round.

Top 100 players in action:

  • Federico Coria, Pedro Martinez, Gianluca Mager, Roberto Carballes Baena (all Marbella)

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.