The ATP Tour kicked off in Antalya this year and the first ATP Challenger Tour event of the season was also held in Turkey. The players must have been glad that, opposed to Antalya, it was an indoor event as for the first half of the week Istanbul was covered in snow. But regardless of the inclement weather, the Amex-Istanbul Challenger proved a brilliant spectacle, ending with a thrilling all-French final that went all the way to a third-set tiebreak. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:
ATP Challenger Tour Recap
Arthur Rinderknech’s tennis career blossomed in early 2020, when the former college standout for Texas A&M first broke into the top 300 after two months of stellar play. The Frenchman captured two Challenger titles in Rennes and Calgary, as well as reaching the final in Drummondville. Unfortunately for Rinderknech, that was all achieved before the pandemic-enforced break.
He struggled to rebuild his momentum after the restart, but the return to indoor Challenger tournaments at the start of 2021 seem to have put the Frenchman back in the frame. Rinderknech did fall at the final hurdle in his bid to qualify for the Australian Open (lost to Michael Mmoh), but he quickly overcame that disappointment in Istanbul.
As a qualifier, he faced one of the toughest draws possible, taking on five top 200 players on the way to the final. In a blockbuster second-round clash with Brandon Nakashima, he dropped the opener in a tiebreak, but Rinderknech responded to that challenge superbly. In the remainder of the match, he dropped just eight points on swerve, whilst breaking his opponent three times to seize control.
His path to the final didn’t get any easier with Marc-Andrea Huesler and Jozef Kovalik giving him stern tests in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. In fact, Kovalik led by a break in both sets, but couldn’t hold on to his advantage and Rinderknech performed admirably under pressure to claim a 7-5 6-4 win and a place in the final.
Benjamin Bonzi, meanwhile, saw his Australian Open qualifying campaign finish in a humiliating 0-6 2-6 defeat at the hands of his countryman Quentin Halys. After that loss, it would have been easy to write him off coming into the first week of the 2021 Challenger Tour.
But Bonzi had other plans, taking down young gun Lorenzo Musetti in the second round after Blaz Rola had retired trailing 4-6 1-2 in the first. Musetti is not at his best on faster, slicker surfaces and Bonzi did extremely well to expose that. Taking time away from the 18-year-old, he was able to secure the upset win, displaying his impressive tennis acumen.
His defensive abilities then shone as he beat Antoine Hoang 7-5 in the decider in the quarterfinals and Mohamed Safwat 7-6 6-4 in the semifinals. And whilst it was Rinderknech who had appeared more solid throughout the week, it was Bonzi who made the better start in the final. In fact, it was nothing short of a clinic, as Bonzi showcased his considerable ability.
His defence was superb and some of his forehand passing shots on the run clearly troubled Rinderknech. But with the second-set tiebreak just around the corner, the first signs of an upcoming momentum shift appeared.
Bonzi was able to get out of a 0-40 hole on serve at 4-4, with Rinderknech failing to persist with the aggressive game plan that had given him that advantage, instead hoping that his opponent would hand the game over to him. That error wasn’t repeated in the second-set tiebreak. Rinderknech smelled blood and Bonzi produced a string of poor points, losing it 1-7.
Bonzi did not give up though and even down 0-3 in the deciding set, he kept fighting. The 24-year-old lost both his previous Challenger Tour finals, in Drummondville in 2018 and in Bangalore last season) and appeared determined not to fall short again, fighting back impressively to take the match to a deciding tiebreak. But it was all to no avail as Rinderknech produced another clinic, masterfully balancing riskier shots and percentage play to win his third Challenger Tour title.
Both Bonzi and Rinderknech are set to feature in the draw at this week’s Open Quimper Bretagne. Bonzi will face a very tough opener against Istanbul quarterfinalist Marc-Andrea Huesler, while this week’s champion is awaiting a qualifier. But both will surely be full of confidence and find themselves at new career-high rankings as a result of their efforts in Istanbul, #134 for Rinderknech and #146 for Bonzi.
Challenger Tour magic:
First week, first tweener:
🚨 First tweener alert of 2021
Denis Istomin with the honours in Istanbul. 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/nt0WxTvUBO
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) January 20, 2021
Rinderknech was really firing on all cylinders this week:
As expected, Nakashima vs. Rinderknech is great to watch.
Look at this winner from Rinderknech to save a set point 🤯 pic.twitter.com/hhmlFOtkD4
— Alex | Tennis 🎾 (@Alex_Boroch) January 21, 2021
Crazy smash defense from Ramkumar Ramanathan:
If you want to watch actual tennis,, instead of hearing all about this AO mess, the Challenger streams are back to normal today.
The first hot shot of the year? ⬇️Courtesy of Mr. Ramkumar Ramanathan.
📷: https://t.co/FXhAyqYVlJ pic.twitter.com/pcqb9JsEqr
— Damian Kust (@LWOSdamiankust) January 18, 2021
Events held next week:
- Open Quimper Bretagne (Challenger 100, indoor hard)
- Club Megasaray Open I (Antalya, Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Lucas Pouille (Quimper)
The Frenchman played just one professional match last year, losing to Noah Rubin at Indian Wells Challenger. He’s been haunted by injuries recently and it’s probably a good choice to test the waters at a series of smaller events in France. Pouille is signed up for both Challengers events at Quimper.
First round matches to watch:
With no tour-level options for players who didn’t go to Australia, the Challenger draws in the next few weeks should be quite packed. And so they are in Antalya and Quimper:
Note – France has imposed a seven-day quarantine on people coming from outside the European Union. Therefore, the status of players who competed in Istanbul remains unclear. Seven of them (Istomin, Rosol, Rinderknech, Nakashima, Bonzi, Gulbis, Gaio) have been placed in the Quimper draw anyway, which might suggest the French government has decided to make an exception for them.
- (1) Lucas Pouille vs Filip Horansky
- Maximilian Marterer vs Sebastian Ofner
- (8) Marc-Andrea Huesler vs Benjamin Bonzi
- Hugo Gaston vs (3) Gregoire Barrere
- (WC) Evan Furness vs Roberto Marcora
- (1) Jaume Munar vs Carlos Taberner
- Rudolf Molleker vs Tommy Robredo
- Paolo Lorenzi vs (6) Daniel Altmaier
- Ernesto Escobedo vs Ramkumar Ramanathan
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