The focus of the tennis world may now be turning towards the first Grand Slam of the year, but there was plenty of entertaining tennis elsewhere. In fact, the second week of the 2021 ATP Challenger Tour brought an unusual number of tight matches, only for both of the finals leave something to be desired. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Despite being a significant underdog in each of his matches, Filip Horansky was able to make it all the way to the final in Quimper. The Slovakian first defeated former-world #10 Lucas Pouille, who was playing just his second match in the past 15 months. Pouille was able to link a few good points together, but the rustiness and commitment to aggression also saw him make a very high number of unforced errors. He will continue his comeback next week in the second Challenger event at Quimper.
Horansky had entered the week with a very poor win/loss record indoors and having lost his last five matches on the spin. But the Slovakian, who had shown a high level in the past but an inability to maintain it long enough to sustain a deep run, was able to come through three-set thrillers against Maximilian Marterer and Brandon Nakashima, either side of a comfortable 6-3 7-5 win over Kacper Zuk, to reach the final.
There were also plenty of nail-biting finishes on the other side of the draw. Six of the eleven sets played by Benjamin Bonzi, who was the runner-up last time out in Istanbul, were only decided by tiebreakers, with the Frenchman initially living a charmed live. He even saved a match point on return against Yannick Maden, before second seed Sebastian Korda brought his run to a halt in the semifinals.
Korda himself did not enjoy an entirely straightforward path towards the final. The young gun had to save a match point in the first round against Tristan Lamasine (doing so with an unreturned serve) and also had to take a medical timeout. But somehow, the American was able to keep improving throughout the week, which culminated in a superb performance in the final. The match lasted just 49 minutes, as Korda dominated to win 6-1 6-1, giving Horansky no chances to make it competitive.
It was a disappointing end to the tournament after a week full of nail-biters, but the 20-year-old Sebastian Korda surely will not mind. He secured himself a second Challenger title (Eckental, 2020) and more importantly has broken into the ATP’s top 100 for the first time as the new world #87. Both Korda and Horansky are set to feature in the Quimper II draw, with the American seeded third behind Pouille and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
There were many storylines at play in Antalya last week, but the tournament may be remembered more for rain delays than the tennis. Astonishingly, until Thursday, not one point of main-draw action had been completed. In fact, the delays were sufficiently disruptive that Lorenzo Musetti had reached the quarterfinals whilst his eventual opponent, Akira Santillan, was still playing in the qualifying.
Fortunately, the weather improved enough towards the end of the week to allow the organisers to schedule a Monday final, with most of the draw required to play two matches in a day at least once. Surprisingly enough, that didn’t effect two of the oldest players in the draw, with the 39-year-old Paolo Lorenzi coming to within a point of setting up a quarterfinal clash with the 38-year-old Tommy Robredo. However, the Italian couldn’t convert against Duje Ajdukovic.
Robredo managed to take out the young Croatian, but delivered a very flat performance in his Sunday semifinal against the top seed Jaume Munar. He won just seven points in the opening set on his way to a chastening 0-6 1-6 defeat. Still, both veterans were able to turn back the clocks on the Turkish coast and will surely come fairly pleased with their efforts.
The same cannot be said of Daniel Elahi Galan and Thiago Seyboth Wild. The Colombian lost in the opening round for the second week in a row (to Joao Menezes in Istanbul and Santillan in Antalya), whilst Seyboth Wild’s form had been expected to improve with the return to clay, but that clearly wasn’t the case as he lost in disappointing fashion to Tomas Martin Etcheverry. When he was leaving the court, a door could be heard being slammed off-camera.
Someone whose fortune did improve on his favorite surface was Lorenzo Musetti. The youngster was on the receiving end of a heavy defeat at Benjamin Bonzi. But with more time to set up his elegant groundstrokes on the clay in Antalya, Musetti raced through the first and second rounds in only 120 minutes. He did drop sets to Santillan and Cem Ilkel in the quarterfinals and respectively, but it was still like watching a different player compared with his efforts over the past few weeks.
The heavy schedule takes its toll
Musetti’s opponent in the final was the aforementioned Munar. With the opening set a very tight affair, it came down to a tiebreak and who would be willing to risk more in the important moments. The calmer of the two seemed to be Musetti, who wasn’t afraid to go for his trademark drop shots and edged ahead with a beautiful backhand up-the-line.
But a couple of very straightforward errors and overly passive use of his backhand slice allowed Munar to turn the tiebreak around and secure a set point. Musetti saved that with another beautifully crafted drop shot and he was ultimately the man to take the set home 9-7 with a successful serve plus forehand attack.
Creativity is one thing but selecting the right shot at the right moment doesn’t always come easy. Musetti’s drop shots or all-for-broke shots down-the-line will naturally sometimes lead to his demise. That was the case int the second set, with Musetti’s wayward play allying with Munar’s consistent groundstrokes to hand the Spaniard two service breaks and a rather quick turnaround.
In the decider, the Italian tried to turn the momentum of the match around, but it soon became clear that he simply didn’t have enough left in the tank. Musetti tried to finish almost every point as early as possible, a strategy that included several reckless attempts to serve-and-volley. But it was to no avail. It might have been a classic, but Musetti ran out of steam, allowing the Spaniard to wrap up a 6-7 6-2 6-2 win.
It secured a sixth Challenger title for Munar (fifth on clay), who finds himself just outside the top 100 in Monday’s ATP Rankings. Musetti, meanwhile, reaches a new career-high ranking of world #122. Both the finalists established themselves as the men to beat last week and can be expected to go deep again in the Antalya II event. Munar is seeded second (behind Joao Sousa) and opens against Turkish wildcard Ergi Kirkin, while Musetti will take on a very dangerous foe in former-world #21 Leonardo Mayer.
Challenger Tour magic:
Sebastian Korda’s hotshots will be the ones we’ll remember from this week’s action:
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) January 30, 2021
Just filthy, @SebiKorda 💪
The 🇺🇸 saves a MP, striking a pair of CLUTCH lobs to rally from 1/5 down in the deciding tie-break in Quimper.
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) January 26, 2021
Cheeky tactics working out well:
Musetti with a cheeky underarm serve 😂
— Alex | Tennis 🎾 (@Alex_Boroch) January 31, 2021
And for the laughs, that’s now how you want your 2nd serve to come out when you’re up a match point:
I've seen better 2nd serves when up a match point😂
Etcheverry still takes the match. No improvement from Seyboth Wild and we can't blame it on the surface anymore. Only about 50% of points won on serve. As he was leaving the court, a slamming the door noise could be heard. pic.twitter.com/HNjb7lU0zd
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) January 29, 2021
Events held next week:
- Open Quimper Bretagne II (Challenger 80)
- Club Megasaray Open II (Antalya, Challenger 80)
Last week’s Quimper event was a tournament of a higher category, Challenger 100.
Top 100 players in action:
- Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Lucas Pouille, Sebastian Korda (Quimper)
- Joao Sousa (Antalya)
First-round matches to watch:
- Hugo Gaston vs (8) Federico Gaio
- (7) Arthur Rinderknech vs Jurij Rodionov
- Yannick Maden vs (2) Lucas Pouille
- (1) Joao Sousa vs Carlos Taberner
- Leonardo Mayer vs (7) Lorenzo Musetti
- (SE) Tommy Robredo vs (3) Daniel Elahi Galan
- (5) Jozef Kovalik vs Cem Ilkel
Embed from Getty Images