Compared to a total of 158 ATP Challenger Tour events that took place in 2019, organizing just 59 (and finishing 56) seems like a failure. But considering what happened this year, men’s tennis’ second-tier circuit did well to manage to give the lower-ranked players great opportunities to compete while doing well to avoid an extensive spread of COVID-19 between the competitors. Some plans needed to be put off for the future, including the introduction of a new Challenger 50 category.
The events also went back to holding the qualifying events on the weekends before the event, instead of playing every match over just seven days. Hopefully, the coronavirus pandemic will soon be a thing of the past and the 2021 season will be a return to normality. But in the meantime, here is a look back at some of the numbers from 2020. (All stats refer to singles only, unless specified.)
ATP Challenger Tour: 2020 By The Numbers
Tournaments by surface
- 33 – Hard (17 – Outdoor; 16 – Indoor)
- 24 – Clay (23 – Outdoor; one – Indoor)
- 2 – Carpet
Number of events per country
- Nine – Italy
- Eight – United States
- Six – France (including New Caledonia)
- Four – Germany, Czech Republic, Australia
Usually very dominant in this statistic (26; eight over Italy in 2019), the United States were unable to organize the same number of events this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the tour restarted in August, only two tournaments were held in America. Another continent that was struck hard by the virus was Asia, especially the origin of the coronavirus, China.
Last year, China hosted a total of 13 Challenger events. This year they weren’t able to organize even a single one. In fact, Asia hosted just three competitions, two in Bangkok and one in Bangalore (the Istanbul Challenger is held on the Western side of the Bosphorus, therefore in Europe).
Titles won per country
- 11 – United States
- Seven – Spain
- Five – Germany
- Four – Argentina
- Three – Russia, Switzerland
This was topped by Italy last year (15 titles), who went all the way down to just two this season (Federico Gaio, Lorenzo Musetti). The second place in 2019 was a tie at 14 between the United States and Spain, who were the top two this shortened season.
Perhaps surprisingly, Americans enjoyed success away from hard courts. Sebastian Korda won on carpet in Eckental, while Frances Tiafoe proved he’s one of the best players from his country on red clay, taking the title in Parma. As for the Spaniards, all their trophies were won on the dirt.
Most titles won
- Three – Carlos Alcaraz, Francisco Cerundolo
- Two – Taro Daniel, Marc-Andrea Huesler, Ilya Ivashka, Aslan Karatsev, Steve Johnson, Arthur Rinderknech, Jurij Rodionov, Jeffrey John Wolf
Such a remarkable achievement from the Spanish youngster, at just 17 years of age. All three of his titles were captured on clay (he hasn’t contested a single hard court event on the ATP Challenger Tour yet).
Just like Alcaraz, Cerundolo’s three titles were won on the dirt, all after the tour restart. Between the players with two titles this season it was Huesler that made the biggest surface change. The Swiss captured titles on clay in Sibiu and on carpet in Ismaning.
- Six – Andrey Golubev
- Five – Ariel Behar
Andrey Golubev and Ariel Behar won three ATP Challenger Tour titles together this year. Golubev added to that tally another three with his countryman Aleksandr Nedovyesov, while Behar got two more under his belt with Gonzalo Escobar. Other than Golubev and Behar, no one else won more than three titles.
Most match wins
- 27 – Aslan Karatsev
- 23 – Dmitry Popko, Francisco Cerundolo
- 22 – Arthur Rinderknech
- 21 – Daniel Altmaier
- 20 – Carlos Alcaraz, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Daniel Elahi Galan
With 16 wins in just three weeks, Aslan Karatsev easily takes the top of this list. Despite collecting 23 wins, Dmitry Popko only reached a couple of semifinals (Prague and Bangkok).
Best win percentage (minimum 15 matches played)
- Steve Johnson 88% (15-2)
- Carlos Alcaraz 83% (20-4)
- Jeffrey John Wolf 83% (15-3)
- Aslan Karatsev 82% (27-6)
- Denis Kudla 78% (18-5)
- Tallon Griekspoor 75% (15-5)
- Marc-Andrea Huesler 75% (12-4)
Some surprisingly poor win/loss records
- Thiago Seyboth Wild – 4-6 (40%)
Okay, this is a bit of a stretch. Especially when you factor in a runner-up appearance that Seyboth Wild made in Aix-en-Provence. But in the other five Challenger Tour events the young Brazilian played all year, he failed to win a single match. In fact, after losing to Oscar Otte in the final in Aix-en-Provence he failed to win a match at any level up until the end of the season.
A very, very weird season for someone who won his maiden ATP title in February. The nadir has to be the last two weeks of the season. His confidence in losses against Orlando Luz and Alejandro Tabilo appeared to be extremely shaken. Maybe practicing during the off-season can allow him to regain the belief in his abilities.
- Steven Diez – 5/10 (33%)
Another player who will have some very mixed feelings about the year 2020 is Steven Diez. Qualifying for the French Open was perhaps the highlight of the Canadian’s career. However, making just one quarterfinal on the Challenger Tour all year and a dreadful 1-6 0-6 loss to John-Patrick Smith at Monterrey cast a bit of shade on Diez’s achievements this year.
- Juan Pablo Varillas – 2/8 (20%)
This was quite a surprise mostly because of how well the Peruvian was playing late last year, when he made four Challenger Tour semifinals in a row, including titles at Santo Domingo and Campinas. It all seemed very promising but the magic just wasn’t there anymore the next season. Varillas was yet to win a Challenger Tour match until November, before finally getting a couple of wins in Guayaquil and Lima.
- Hyeon Chung – 0/4 (0%)
Is it even a surprise at this point? The 2018 Australian Open semifinalist is still unable to heal up his injuries and come back fully fit. His long-lived comeback lasted until the French Open (where he actually won a match in qualifying) and we haven’t seen the Korean on the court since. On the 2020 ATP Challenger Tour, he failed to make any impact winning just a single set.
- Tommy Robredo – 0/5 (0%)
Turns out you can only fight Father Time for so long. Last year, the Spanish veteran was able to clinch two Challenger titles in Poznan and Parma, quite clearly enjoying his life and fighting off a ton of younger, seemingly more hungry competitors. In 2020, however, Tommy Robredo was able to take just two sets on the circuit, the lowlight being a loss to world #845 Remy Bertola in Biella.
- Carlos Alcaraz (Trieste)
- Francisco Cerundolo (Split)
- Cem Ilkel (Quimper)
- Sebastian Korda (Eckental)
- Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (Newport Beach)
- Tomas Machac (Koblenz)
- Felipe Meligeni Alves (Sao Paulo)
- Lorenzo Musetti (Forli)
- Brandon Nakashima (Orlando)
- Arthur Rinderknech (Rennes)
- Roman Safiullin (Cherbourg)
- Mohamed Safwat (Launceston)
- Carlos Taberner (Iasi)
- Bernabe Zapata Miralles (Cordenons)
Of the 14 first-time ATP Challenger Tour winners, just one was over 25 years of age at the moment of winning his maiden title. Mohamed Safwat proved that it’s never too late for a major achievement in your career and won the Launceston Challenger at 29.
Four of these titlists were teenagers at the time (Alcaraz, Machac, Musetti, Nakashima). For 20-year-old Sebastian Korda, this was actually his first professional title, having failed in eight previous finals (two on the Challenger Tour, six on the ITF World Tennis Tour.
Finals between the top seeds
- (2) Thiago Monteiro def. (1) Marco Cecchinato in Punta Del Este
- (1) Jaume Munar def. (2) Pedro Sousa in Lisbon
Finals made by qualifiers
- (Q) Carlos Alcaraz def. (Q) Ricardo Bonadio in Trieste
- (WC) Lorenzo Musetti def. (Q) Thiago Monteiro in Forli
- (PR) Maximilian Marterer def. (Q) Tomas Machac in Bratislava
- (7) Daniel Elahi Galan def. (Q) Thiago Tirante in Lima
One qualifier had to win a title this season since the final in Trieste was contested between two of them. Thiago Monteiro was a late sign-up for Forli, his ranking would have been way more than enough to get a main draw spot without going through the qualifying draw.
Tomas Machac also wasn’t your “regular” qualifier, having captured his maiden Challenger title earlier in the year in Koblenz. Thiago Tirante managed to find his breakthrough in Lima after posting very solid results on the ITF circuit and finishing 2019 as the junior world no. 1.
Finals made by wildcards
- Ernests Gulbis def. (WC) Jerzy Janowicz in Pau
- (1/WC) Adrian Mannarino def. Aleksandar Vukic in Monterrey
- (1/WC) Stan Wawrinka def. Aslan Karatsev in Prague
- (WC) Lorenzo Musetti def. (Q) Thiago Monteiro in Forli
Adrian Mannarino and Stan Wawrinka were top-seeded in their respective events but required wildcards from the organizers as top 50 players at the time (you can’t play Challenger events ranked this high unless you get an ATP-approved WC). Musetti and Janowicz were actual wildcards that wouldn’t have made it into the main draw without them.
- Aslan Karatsev def. Congsup Congcar 6-0 6-0 in Bangkok R1
- Mats Moraing def. Tung-Lin Wu 6-0 6-0 in Pau R1
In Karatsev’s case, it’s a typical example of a local wildcard that wasn’t exactly ready for Challenger level opponents yet. Moraing defeating Wu in this manner is a lot harder to explain.
- Harri Heliovaara/Szymon Walkow def. Cesare Carpano/Pietro Buscaglione 6-0 6-0 in Biella R1
- Inigo Cervantes/Oriol Roca Batalla def. Tommy Robredo/Steven Diez 6-0 6-0 in Barcelona QF
It’s usually harder to bagel your opponent in doubles where your partner is able to provide extra cover for your serve with his net presence. Yet, just as in singles, two double bagels were served on the 2020 ATP Challenger Tour.
Carpano/Buscaglione were a pair of local 14-year-old players that just didn’t stand a chance against fully-developed Challenger-level doubles specialists. The teenagers also received wildcards for singles qualifying and also failed to win a game, against Bjorn Fratangelo and Alexandre Muller, respectively.
The second case is a lot more interesting as Robredo/Diez actually made it through the first round, defeating Karol Drzewiecki and Szymon Walkow (three Challenger titles this season combined). Despite that victory, this interesting pairing of a legendary veteran and an experienced Challenger journeyman weren’t able to pick up even one game in their next match.
Which one of these was the most decisive victory? Unsurprisingly, Heliovaara/Walkow over Carpano/Buscaglione. The young Italians had three game points in one of their service games, but won just 10 points overall in about 35 minutes.
Wu was competitive in two of his service games early on before winning just five points in the last eight games of the match. Congsup Congcar, the Thai wildcard, almost managed to make his double bagel loss last an hour.
Top 50 participation
- #34 – Taylor Fritz (Newport Beach, 3R, lost to Mitchell Krueger)
- #50 – Frances Tiafoe (Newport Beach, 3R, lost to Denis Istomin)
- #42 – Ugo Humbert (Indian Wells, 2R, lost to Jack Sock)
- #41 – Adrian Mannarino (Monterrey, won the title)
- #17 – Stan Wawrinka (Prague, won the title)
- #15 – Stan Wawrinka (Prague Two, withdrew before the QF)
Longest super tie-break (doubles)
Marc-Andrea Huesler/Kamil Majchrzak def. Lloyd Glasspool/Alex Lawson 6-3 1-6 20-18
Interestingly, this was actually a match for the title in Hamburg. Despite going so deep into the sudden death scenario, Huesler and Majchrzak actually didn’t even save a match point. The Swiss and the Pole were always the ones in front, ultimately capitalizing on their 12th opportunity. This was the longest super tie-break of the year quite by far, surpassing the next one by a total of eight points (16-14).
Lowest ranked champion – Ulises Blanch – #419 – Ann Arbor
Despite his ranking, Ulises Blanch putting together a run to the title was actually not that much of a surprise after some good showings on the Challenger circuit in 2019. Before the pandemic, Blanch kept up the good form with a quarterfinal showing in Cleveland and a semifinal in Monterrey.
Sadly, after the season restarted, he was one of those who really lost their momentum. With just three wins in 9 events across all levels of competition, the 22-year-old will at least have some nice memories from his US Open debut, where he took Cristian Garin to five sets in the opening round.
Oldest champion – Philipp Kohlschreiber – 36 years and three months – Canberra
While the year 2020 wasn’t too kind for the German, his 20th season on the professional tennis circuit actually started nicely with a great run in Canberra. Beating Ruusuvuori, Johnson, Donskoy, Gojowczyk, and Vukic, it might even be a strong contender for this year’s toughest Challenger draw.
It was all downhill from there and Kohlschreiber now finds himself at the 97th spot in the ATP Rankings, very close to dropping outside the top 100. He’s been holding a position among the world’s hundred best players since the year 2006.
Unfinished events – Three
An all-time record? Quite possibly. First, it was Bergamo in February – Ilya Marchenko and Enzo Couacaud shared the prize money and the points as their final couldn’t be played out due to the outbreak of the pandemic.
Shortly thereafter, the entire tour followed suit with events in Nur-Sultan and Potchefstroom stopped mid-week. One singles match between Tobias Simon and Jack Draper was delayed until the next day and that next day never happened.