Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Galan Finds a Way; Meligeni Alves Gets His Maiden Title

Daniel Elahi Galan in action on the ATP Challenger Tour
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The penultimate week of the 2020 ATP Challenger Tour has come to an end. The focus was on South America, with clay-court events taking place in Lima and Sao Paolo and it proved to be a week of shocks, with three players reaching maiden finals on the circuit. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Sao Paulo

The Sao Paolo Challenger was an excellent tournament for some of the lower-ranked Brazilians in the men’s game, with a total of four Brazilians making the quarterfinals on home turf. One of them was the 19-year-old Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida, who was playing just his third ATP Challenger Tour event. Although he lost out to his countryman Joao Menezes, three Brazilians did make it to the final four in Sao Paolo.

But only one of them, 22-year-old Felipe Meligeni Alves, reached the final. Meligeni Alves, the 2016 US Open boys’ doubles champion, made headlines earlier this year when he took a set off Dominic Thiem at the Rio Open and he has also had a few deep runs on the Challenger circuit in 2020. He made a semifinal appearance in Punta Del Este and two runs to the last eight in Romania at the Iasi and Sibiu Challengers.

In Sao Paolo, Meligeni Alves opened his campaign with a 6-1 6-4 win over Benjamin Lock, before beating the third seed Mohamed Safwat and Dmitry Popko, seeded fifth. That set up a semifinal clash with fellow Brazilian Pedro Sakamoto. In the end, the 22-year-old was able to defeat his countryman quite convincingly, losing just six games in a straight-sets win, as he reached his first Challenger final. Perhaps tennis success runs in the blood, with his uncle Fernando Meligeni a semifinalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 1999 French Open.

Frederico Ferreira Silva, seeded sixth, ensured there would be a maiden titlist in Sao Paolo. The Portuguese has been a regular on the Challenger Tour over the past couple of years, but he had proved unable to progress past the semifinals on five previous occasions at this level. It had initially looked like he might be facing more disappointment when his campaign in Sao Paolo begun with an uninspired win against Aziz Dougaz, but as the week went on Ferreira Silva began to find his feet.

Ferreira Silva was able to find and use what’s best in his clay-court game, and he showed his potential with great wins over former-world #21 Thomaz Bellucci and Camilo Ugo Carabelli, which saw him into his sixth Challenger semifinal. Finally, he overcame his demons, defeating Joao Menezes 6-4 6-3 to book his place in the championship match in Sao Paolo.

There, however, despite being the more experienced of the two players, Ferreira Silva made the slower start. Whether it was due to nerves or not is unclear, but where Meligeni Alves came out blasting his heavy topspin forehand, for the first 15 minutes, Ferreira Silva couldn’t find any sort of response. His defensive movement, usually an asset of his, was especially lacking, which resulted in him missing regularly on the stretch. By the time he had settled down, the first set was gone.

It had lasted just 25 minutes, but Ferreira Silva finally managed to put some pressure on his opponent early in the second, creating two break points thanks to the depth and quality of his returning. Although Meligeni Alves saved both without too much trouble, it was an encouraging sign for Ferreira Silva, suggesting that he wasn’t going to hand the match away on a silver platter. Thereafter, the Portuguese played with increased confidence and was able to take the initiative more regularly.

But Meligeni Alves kept playing as if nothing could go wrong for him. After winning some absolutely spectacular rallies, he broke his opponent again to take a 3-2 lead in the second. But with Ferreira Silva’s defence improving, the Portuguese began to force Meligeni Alves to hit more shots to finish points and he was eventually rewarded. The Brazilian lost his composure for the first time, throwing his lead away with a couple of terribly mishit forehands.

The match then looked to be on a knife edge, with Ferreira Silva coming within two points of taking the second set. But Meligeni Alves proved that he wasn’t afraid to hit big when it mattered most and his willingness to take risks paid off. Ferreira Silva then lost his way, hitting two double faults as he lost serve to leave Meligeni Alves to serve for the match. The Brazilian failed to take his chance, however, sending the match to a tiebreak.

But in another unexpected twist, Meligeni Alves completely dominated it, winning it 7-1 as Ferreira Silva adopted a passive approach, leaving his fate entirely in the hands of his opponent. Clearly, that was not the best choice. Meligeni Alves’ victory saw him debut in the top 250 of the ATP rankings and he continued his good form by beating Carlos Gomez-Herrera in the first round in Campinas. Ferreira Silva, meanwhile, made the long journey from Brazil back to Portugal, where he will meet Hugo Grenier in the opening round in Maia.

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Lima

Amongst those in action in Lima was former-world #38 Nicolas Jarry, who was making his return after a 10-month doping suspension. Granted a wildcard for this event, he showcased both his quality and his lack of match practice in a 2-6 6-2 2-6 loss to Nicolas Alvarez in the first round. His comeback will continue at a 15K ITF event in Santo Domingo.

Thiago Tirante, a former-junior world #1 and 2019 Roland Garros boys’ doubles champion, is beginning to make a name for himself in the men’s game. In his first full season as a professional, Tirante impressed at a five-week-long series of ITF 15k events in Monastir, reaching the quarterfinals or better at every event and even winning his first title. Flushed with that success, Tirante returned to South America to test himself in the qualifying draws on the ATP Challenger Tour.

Qualifying into the main draw in Guayaquil looked to take a lot out of him, however, with the 19-year-old Argentinian visibly weary in his opening-round loss to Marcelo Tomas Barrio Vera. But in Lima, where he had to win just one match to make it into the main draw, he was a different beast entirely. He stormed into the final, not losing more than four games in a single set as he picked up extremely impressive wins over Pedro Sousa and Francisco Cerundolo, the champion last week in Guayaquil.

In the semifinals, Tirante defeated Vitaliy Sachko, who recently beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert before giving Dominic Thiem a real test in Vienna, in straight-sets 6-2 6-4. That win sent him into his first Challenger Tour final in what was just his fourth appearance in the main draw at this level.

Colombia’s Daniel Elahi Galan, meanwhile, made headlines at the 2020 French Open where he made the third round as a lucky loser. While he didn’t pose any danger there to eventual runner-up Novak Djokovic, losing 0-6 3-6 2-6, it was still surely a fantastic experience for the 24-year-old, as well as a great opportunity to test his game against some of the best in the world. Galan maintained that fine form by reaching the semifinals at the Cary Challenger, losing there in three sets to Denis Kudla.

Seeded seventh in Lima, the Colombian made light work of his first two opponents, but at the quarterfinal stage, he found himself engaged in a very tight first-set tiebreak against Roberto Carballes Baena. But after winning it, albeit in nerve-wracking fashion, he had enough momentum to pull away in the second set, which he won comfortably.

Then, in the semifinals, Galan was 2-4 down in the deciding set against the in-form Barrios Vera, who beat Tirante in Guayaquil, but the Colombian managed to find the extra gear when it mattered most, rallying to win the last four games of the match to reach the final.

There, Tirante’s serve proved itself something of a liability. His forehand-orientated game also did not match up at all well against Galan, who was able to overpower his opponent off that wing. To add to Tirante’s problems, Galan was able to cope well when pushed deep into his backhand corner, leaving the Argentine few avenues to hurt his opponent. As a result, two breaks of serve gave the Colombian the first set after just 26 minutes.

But those who wrote the 19-year-old off after the first set were quickly proved wrong. Tirante found his game whilst Galan, despite seemingly having had his opponent on the ropes, resorted to pushing whilst standing a couple of metres behind the baseline, perhaps in the hope that the young Argentine would simply hand him the win.

That was not the case. Instead, when given more space, Tirante showed exactly how he had reached the final, by a using a forehand dangerous enough to give his opponent’s nightmares. Steadying his nerves and apparently no longer feeling out of place in the final, Tirante put the disappointment of the first set behind him. Galan belatedly realised his mistake, but it came too late for him to rescue the set, with the 19-year-old taking it 6-3 to level the match.

With the Argentinian now in full flight, it proved much harder for Galan to keep him under pressure and pinned behind the baseline. With his forehand booming, Tirante got the early break in the decider. But the more experienced Galan was not willing to go down without a fight and had settled on a winning game plan. He seized the initiative and, crucially, began to play a much higher percentage of his shots from inside the baseline.

Galan won the next four games on the spin and even held two more break points at 4-1, which would surely have been the end for the Argentinian. Tirante still had the will to fight, however, and he made the Colombian work hard for his win. But in truth, the match had gotten away from him. He did force a break point at 2-4, but Galan played one of his best rallies in the match to win it, which proved decisive. Shortly afterward, he wrapped up a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win.

Still, whilst his defeat in the final exposed a lot of the issues in Tirante’s game, the week was still an extremely good one for the teenager. It will surely serve as a useful springboard as he looks to continue to make strides in the professional game, not least because the Argentine’s ranking jumped up over 160 spots on Monday, handing him a debut in the top 400. He will be hoping to make further improvements on that score in Campinas, where he received a spot in he main draw via special exemption.

In the opening round, he will take on the eighth seed, Dmitry Popko. Galan, meanwhile, has also reached a new career-high ranking as a reward for his efforts in Lima, finding his name in 117th place when the ATP rankings were updated on Monday. He too returns to action in the main draw in Campinas, where he is seeded fourth and takes on Holland’s Jelle Sels in the first round.

Challenger Tour magic:

There a lot of different ways to play a winning dropshot:

A couple of great defensive gets from Thiago Tirante:

Events held next week:

  • Campeonato International de Tenis de Campinas (Challenger 80)
  • Maia Challenger (Challenger 80)

The circuit comes back to Europe for one more event, while those who competed in Sao Paulo and Lima have the option to stay on the Southern Hemisphere and play in Campinas. Those who played Sao Paulo will have the opportunity to make light of a quick turnaround, with the tournament sites just an hour apart by car. The event in Maia, meanwhile, is something of a curiosity on the Challenger Tour as the only indoor clay-court event.

Top 100 players in action:

  • Pedro Martinez (Maia)

First round matches to watch out for:

Campinas

  • Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera vs (5) Mohamed Safwat
  • (SE) Thiago Tirante vs (8) Dmitry Popko
  • Alejandro Tabilo vs (2) Thiago Seyboth Wild

Maia

  • Tristan Lamasine vs Arthur Rinderknech
  • (3) Jozef Kovalik vs Julian Lenz
  • (WC) Nuno Borges vs Bernabe Zapata Miralles

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