Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Cerundolo and Sousa Clinch Last Challenger Titles This Season

Pedro Sousa in action on the ATP Challenger Tour

The Challenger Tour events at Campinas and Maia were the last of the 2020 season. Campinas brought an end to a November/December South American swing, while Maia was the tour’s final visit in Europe, as well as the only event contested on an indoor clay court. As always, the players delivered with a bunch of exciting storylines and a high standard of play. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Maia

The Maia Challenger doesn’t have a long tradition, with this year’s tournament just the second edition of the event. But the curiosity that is indoor clay means that it certainly brings something new and interesting to the Challenger Tour. The key point of departure is that it is that much easier to play attacking tennis indoors in Maia than it is outdoors, a point best showcased by Andrea Arnaboldi, with the Italian pulling off two huge upsets over the top seed Pedro Martinez and Frederico Ferreira Silva.

He beat them by rushing then net frequently, a ploy that rarely succeeds on this surface, although it should be noted that Martinez put in a very lacklustre performance that suggested he lacked the necessary motivation to go far in Maia this week. Unfortunately for Arnaboldi, he proved unable to maintain his run when he took on Duje Ajdukovic, who broke through on the circuit with a surprise semifinal run in Split two months ago, with the Croatian winning 6-3 6-0 in the last eight.

Jozef Kovalik, who won the title in Maia last year without dropping a set, looked to be in good position to do well again. But although he returned to the quarterfinals, which cannot exactly be considered a failure, the manner of his 6-7 1-6 loss to Carlos Taberner was rather disappointing. The Spaniard, who won his first Challenger title earlier this year in Iasi, used the momentum he gained from that win to get the better of Ajdukovic in the semifinals.

He did not have things all his own way, far from it in fact, with Ajdukovic really putting Taberner’s defences to the test and saving three match points on his way to winning the second set in a tiebreak. And, in the earlier stages of the decider it appeared that the match could go either way, with the Croatian the man to break first, at 2-2. But he was only able to win one game after that, with the more experienced Taberner taking control of the match.

Taberner’s opponent in the final was Pedro Sousa, who was playing in his fourth final of the year, but without having won a title. The Portuguese finished as runner-up at the ATP-level event in Buenos Aires (lost to Casper Ruud), before making two further finals at Challenger-level in Lisbon and Split. In Maia, playing on home turf seemed to suit him, as did the faster conditions, and the Portuguese was able to edge past Kimmer Coppejans in a seesawing quarterfinal before putting in a very solid performance against an in-form Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the last four.

In the early stages of the final, Taberner’s long semifinal battle with Ajdukovic appeared to have taken a lot out of him and he was bagelled in the opening set. He had his chances, with Sousa’s advantage perhaps not as decisive as the scoreline suggested. But it cannot have felt good for Taberner, especially in a final. He was able to rebound, taking advantage of a loss of focus from Sousa to send the final into a decider, but ultimately, it was a false dawn.

Taberner did not play aggressively enough when he had his chances and that, coupled with his obvious fatigue, was enough to seal the deal in the Portuguese’s favour. Sousa wrapped up the eighth Challenger title of his career with a 6-0 5-7 6-2 win to end his season on a high note and leave himself on the verge of a place in the main draw at the Australian Open.

Campinas

Second-seeded Thiago Seyboth Wild had another poor showing in what has been an extremely inconsistent season for him. The Brazilian youngster has now lost seven matches in a row and his level of confidence seems to be extremely low. In a 1-6 3-6 loss to Alejandro Tabilo, who he beat in straight-sets in Aix-en-Provence in September, he did not at all resemble the player who won his maiden tour-level title earlier this year in Santiago.

19-year-old Thiago Tirante, the runner-up in Lima, failed to leave the same sort of lasting impression in Campinas as he lost to Dmitry Popko in the opening round. The same cannot be said about the winner of that event, however, with Colombia’s Daniel Elahi Galan making it all the way to the semifinals, beating another Argentinian teenager, Sebastian Baez, in a dramatic third-set tiebreak to reach the quarterfinals, where he dismissed Popko in straight-sets.

But in the semifinals, Galan lost to Roberto Carballes Baena, who he had managed to beat in Lima just nine days earlier. That win saw the Spaniard into his first final of the year, a culmination of his excellent form over the South American swing, which he had begun with a semifinal in Guayaquil and a quarterfinal in Lima. He did have an extremely tough time getting past the in-form Vit Kopriva in the second round, but, after a set and a half, managed to start drawing errors from the Czech by making him play an extra shot.

Carballes Baena also dropped the second set against Mohamed Safwat, winning just one game, but he rebounded well to win the decider to love. He then, as mentioned above, beat Galan in surprisingly comfortable fashion in the last four. Waiting for him in the final was another star of the late South American swing: Francisco Cerundolo. The 22-year-old, who clinched his first title at this level two months ago in Split, was crowned champion in Guayaquil before losing to Tirante in the quarterfinals in Lima.

Like Carballes Baena, he had a tough nut to crack on his way to the final, with his compatriot Facundo Mena keeping him on court for two hours and 40 minutes in the second round. In fact, Mena served for the match and held a match point, only for Cerundolo to reel off ten consecutive points to break back and then close out the match in the tiebreak. Cerundolo then delivered top-notch performances to beat Facundo Bagnis and Sao Paolo champion Felipe Meligeni Alves to reach the final.

It was a topsy-turvy final, with Cerundolo opening the match by blasting forehand winners and showing why he’s been so dominant on the Challenger Tour over the past three months. However, trailing 4-6 3-2, the Spaniard took a medical timeout and Cerundolo then completely lost his momentum and faded away mentally. Carballes Baena was not slow to take advantage, and with Cerundolo’s previously dominant forehand leaking errors, he levelled the match and took a 2-0 lead in the decider.

But Cerundolo rediscovered his game just in time. He won six of the next seven games to claim a 6-4 3-6 6-3 win and his third Challenger Tour title in less than three months. He also soared to a career-high ranking of world #139, a jump of over 100 places from where he started this season. Heading into 2020, a place in the top 100 will now surely be on his mind.

Challenger Tour magic:

Here’s how the Campinas champion saved a match point in the second round:

The Challenger Tour is set to return in 2021, when LWOT’s coverage will continue.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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