The ATP Challenger Tour was in Quimper and Antalya for the second week in a row. Jaume Munar almost repeated his trophy run from last week, while in the north of France, Brandon Nakashima won his 2nd title on this circuit.
Top-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was fully in control in his first-round match against Thomas Fabbiano. The Spaniard led 6-3 1-1 when suddenly, he rolled his ankle and had to retire off the court. He was later seen being driven around in a wheelchair. Only three seeds survived the opening round in general and none of them made it to the semifinals. Lucas Pouille’s comeback path was again cut short, this time by Tobias Kamke in his second match.
After making the semifinals last week, 19-year-old Brandon Nakashima managed to go even further this time around. Getting to the finals didn’t come easy as the American found himself a set down in a total of three matches this week. The hardest test came at the hands of Lukas Lacko in the semifinals as the Slovakian was up 6-4 3-1 and looked like he was going to cruise towards the finish. Nakashima performed very well under pressure throughout the event and managed to claw his way back into the match.
His championship match opponent, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, had a rough start to the year with two rather surprising losses. On top of that, the Spaniard drew the fifth-seed Denis Kudla in the opening round. One of the breakout performers on this circuit in 2020 finally managed to draw on some of that experience and steamrolled Kudla before going on to face Benjamin Bonzi, the recent Istanbul runner-up. This draw from hell couldn’t stop Zapata Miralles who defeated Bonzi 3-6 7-5 6-3 before finding the extra gear and advancing to the finals with demolition wins over Tobias Kamke and Peter Gojowczyk.
Often quite sluggish throughout the week, Nakashima’s defensive abilities were actually extremely on point in the final. He was able to reset many rallies with great shots on the run and put pressure on the Spaniard, forcing him to overhit. Zapata Miralles seemed to be getting a bit more comfortable as the match wore on, utilizing his unusual forehand to keep the initiative. As Nakashima served for the match at 6-3 5-4, the Spaniard couldn’t convert any of his four break-point opportunities and missed the last possible opportunity to keep himself in there.
Brandon Nakashima took his 2nd Challenger Tour title in Quimper (Orlando 2020) and broke the ATP top 150 for the very first time. Zapata Miralles also made a new career-high ranking and will be situated just eight spots below Nakashima on Monday. The Spaniard is the sixth seed in Cherbourg next week, opening against French wildcard Matteo Martineau. As the 7th seed, Brandon Nakashima will take on Denis Istomin.
Last week’s runner-up, Lorenzo Musetti, found out how tough competing in back-to-back weeks can be and lost in the opening round to the former world no. 21, Leonardo Mayer. Thiago Seyboth Wild finally stopped his 9-match losing streak (defeated Lorenzo Giustino), but was taken out a round later by Tomas Martin Etcheverry for the second week in a row. Etcheverry qualified for this week’s event and reached the semifinals where he lost to Carlos Taberner.
Taberner had the misfortune of drawing the top seed in both weeks in Antalya, losing to eventual champion Jaume Munar in the opening round last week. This time, however, seeded first was Joao Sousa and the Portuguese did not prove as difficult of an opponent. Struggling for form throughout 2020, Sousa was just a shadow of his former self and lost 1-6 4-6 to Taberner. The Spaniard dropped just a single set on his way to the final, throwing away a 6-1 4-1 lead against Emilio Gomez. He managed to regroup for the decider though, taking it six games to one.
A testament to Taberner’s quality is who awaited him in the finals. Jaume Munar did not slow down after winning the first event in Antalya last week and maintained a very high level throughout the fortnight. The quarterfinals saw him tested by Jozef Kovalik, who managed to level the match after over 2h and 40mins. It could have been a classic but the Slovakian’s body did not react well to the physical challenge and the decider was over in a flash. Munar then went on to win the semifinals against Alessandro Giannessi via retirement (at 6-0 2-0, he has now won the last 18 games against the Italian).
Both players are absolute experts when it comes to clay-court rallying and the first set was extremely tight. In crucial moments, Munar committed a few double faults and got stunned by a number of extremely well-hidden forehand drop shots from Taberner. Perhaps a bit gassed from all the action this fortnight, Munar became a lot more conservative with his shot selection. His rival smelled blood though and really upped the pace on his forehand to completely dominate the second set and secure a 6-4 6-1.
It’s a second ATP Challenger Tour title for Carlos Taberner (Iasi 2020) and a third final in the past six months. The Spaniard also made his way to a new career-high ranking of ATP no. 129. Meanwhile, Jaume Munar was a match away from returning to the top 100. Taberner has a week of rest now before he’s signed up to play at a Challenger 125 event in Biella, while Munar will head over to South America soon to contest the Golden Swing, a series of clay-court tour-level events.
Challenger Tour magic:
A ball kid doesn’t realize the match is over and hands the balls to Moroni for him to just; well, see for yourselves:
Funny end of Moroni vs Ramanathan (ended with Moroni df on 6-7 final tiebreak)… ballkid didn't realize match was finished and offered Moroni balls to serve…he sent them quite away and then destroyed racquet. pic.twitter.com/dtuy1nQpid
— Stefano Berlincioni (@Carretero77) February 2, 2021
In case you thought racket-breaking wasn’t an art, Jozef Kovalik tried his best and even went for the classic Stan Wawrinka move there at the end:
I'm afraid I can't do gifs but perhaps a video satisfies your needs!
The ending's the best! pic.twitter.com/glrCX5DCC0
— Damian Kust (@LWOSdamiankust) February 5, 2021
A compilation of the best shots from January:
It was a 🔥 start to 2021.
The best shots from January. 👇 pic.twitter.com/upldhlEzaD
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 3, 2021
Events held next week:
- Challenger La Manche (Cherbourg, Challenger 100)
- Potchefstroom Open (Challenger 80)
- Biella Challenger Indoor (Challenger 80)
No top 100 players will be in action on the ATP Challenger Tour next week. A wildcard to the main draw has been awarded for Andy Murray at the Biella Challenger. You’d think it must be a rare occurrence and you’d be right – in the past 15 years, the Brit played a Challenger event just once (Mallorca 2019).
First-round matches to watch:
- Denis Istomin vs (7) Brandon Nakashima
- (8) Sebastian Ofner vs Yannick Maden
- (1) Prajnesh Gunneswaran vs Dimitar Kuzmanov
- (PR) Jenson Brooksby vs (6) Cem Ilkel
- (1/WC) Andy Murray vs Maximilian Marterer
- (WC) Adrian Andreev vs Matthias Bachinger
- Lukas Lacko vs (2) Federico Gaio