ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Sebastian Baez Remains Unbeaten

Bjorn Fratangelo in action on the ATP Challenger Tour.

It was a very diverse week on the ATP Challenger Tour with events taking place on three different continents. From an all-German qualifier final in Biella to a great battle between Americans in Cleveland, the tour delivered lots of excitement and tennis quality. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed:

ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Biella

Top-seeded Lucas Pouille fell in the second round to Ilya Marchenko, who was one of the only two players to compete in the main draw of all the four events in Biella, winning a title and compiling a stunning 13-3 win/loss record. Marchenko made the quarterfinals at each of the Biella Challengers, but was stopped in the final four this time by qualifier Daniel Masur. Formerly a very good junior, the 26-year-old didn’t make that much impact on the professional circuit, reaching the semifinals stage on the Challenger Tour four times (before this week) and getting one tour-level win in Hamburg 2018.

Masur’s stamina was really tested this week as playing Andrea Arnaboldi, Yuichi Sugita, and Jonas Forejtek saw him have to endure three consecutive 2,5-hour three-setters. He really improved as the week progressed though, which culminated with the aforementioned upset of Ilya Marchenko.

A fellow German qualifier, Matthias Bachinger, made a lot more impact on the Challenger circuit, reaching a total of 13 finals and winning his first title back 14 years ago. The 33-year-old also made a tour-level final in Metz three years ago and established himself as an always dangerous competitor on indoor surfaces. Bachinger also competed in all four events in Biella, but failed to make it through the qualifying in the second one.

He did so successfully this time, despite being two games away from losing to Luca Vanni in the final round. He then had to come back from 2-4 in the decider to beat Akira Santillan, but somehow the rest of the main draw saw him advance much smoother. In stunning fashion, he took out last week’s champion Andreas Seppi, and one of the best competitors of the Challenger circuit this year so far, Benjamin Bonzi.

Both players really like to keep their opponents on the back foot and dominate the rallies, but it was Masur who came out on the court on Sunday hitting his forehand with a brilliant mix of huge power and consistency. He was also absolutely stunning at the net, performing a few breathtaking stop-volleys to go up 5-1. Bachinger was able to erase one of the breaks but ultimately had to give up on the first set.

The state of play evened out though and the German qualifiers were going toe to toe in the second, only trading breaks in the fifth and sixth games of the match. The tie-break was extremely serve-dominated with the first seventeen points all going the way of the servers with hardly any rallies. Masur missed a first serve on the next one though and mishit a forehand which went way long to allow Bachinger to level.

Despite the fightback, Bachinger wasn’t able to put much pressure on his opponent’s serve, going down a break again. The 26-year-old Masur struggled to maintain focus though and quickly gave it away with a poor overhead miss. His more experienced opponent was able to grab more free points on serve but it didn’t really matter as when he got near the finish line again, Masur crafted a couple of great points based on his superior forehand wing and managed to find that decisive break at 6-5 up.

The win sees Masur inch closer to the top 200, a ranking floor he hasn’t broken yet in his career. His next event will be the Lille Challenger, where he’s supposed to face his Biella 4 semifinal opponent, Ilya Marchenko. Bachinger received special exempt to the main draw in Lugano and will play Hiroki Moriya in the first round.

Cleveland

A Challenger Tour champion in Potchefstroom recently, Jenson Brooksby had almost a month of a break between that run and the event in Cleveland. As it turned out, the 20-year-old didn’t lose anything of his stunning disposition in South Africa. Brooksby didn’t drop a single set on the way to the semifinals, proving himself especially in the clutch department as he took all four tie-breaks contested. He needed even more of that resilience in the final four as he found himself down 2-6 2-5 to Emilio Gomez.

The Ecuadorian had a match point on return and later on his own serve, but couldn’t quite convert it (backhand unforced error and Brooksby’s great backhand attack), allowing the 20-year-old to completely shift the match in his favor.

On the other side of the net stood former-world #99 Bjorn Fratangelo, who was yet to contest a Challenger Tour match in 2021. The 27-year-old played just five professional events in the previous season too, only reaching a single quarterfinal at Ann Arbor. But even handed a very tough draw with Thai-Son Kwiatkowski in the opening round, Fratangelo kept proving that class is indeed permanent this week. Just like Brooksby, he didn’t drop a set until the semifinals, where he had to face Aleksandar Kovacevic, a 22-year-old college tennis standout from the University of Illinois.

Fratangelo lost the second set 6-2 but managed to quickly gather himself to run away with it in the decider. And in the final, Fratangelo had the upper hand in most of the baseline rallies with the extra weight of his shots allowing him to dictate. Hitting through Brooksby isn’t that easy though and the youngster’s unusual backhand slice allowed him to get out of many defensive positions. A lot of the rallies went really long and so did the games with Brooksby holding on to his serve, but just barely.

The first set lasted almost 70 minutes and was ultimately decided with a break to love for the 27-year-old. Despite the age difference, the grueling contest took its toll on Brooksby way more than it did on Fratangelo. The 20-year-old faded away physically as the match wore on and despite breaking back with his opponent serving for the match, his resistance was getting weaker by the minute.

Fratangelo ultimately took the title 7-5 6-4, clinching his fourth Challenger Tour crown (Launceston 2015, Savannah 2016, Fairfield 2018). The American also made a significant ranking jump and finds himself situated at world #233, three spots behind Brooksby, who has reached a new career-high ranking. The 20-year-old is going to play the qualifying draw at the Miami Open next week. At the time of writing, Fratangelo is the first alternate.

Santiago

The field was very stacked as many players decided to finish their ATP Golden Swing at a Challenger event in Santiago. Top-seeded Roberto Carballes Baena went out to Chile’s Gonzalo Lama in a more than three hours long thriller, wasting a matchpoint and blowing a lead of a break in each of the sets he lost. Home country players did very well at the event with three of them reaching the quarterfinals, including Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera.

The 23-year-old’s best Challenger Tour result had been a semifinal in Lima in 2020, but the Chilean managed to go a step further this time and reach the championship match for the very first time. His campaign started with a tight deciding tie-break win over Christian Lindell but Barrios Vera seemed to improve with each performance as he took out the aforementioned Lama and took advantage of Felipe Meligeni Alves’ second-set retirement to make the final.

The 2018 Roland Garros juniors runner-up, Sebastian Baez, captured his maiden Challenger title in Concepcion last month but failed to make an impact during the Golden Swing. Despite drawing Holger Rune, whom he had easily lost to just six days before, Baez was able to take revenge and kick off his campaign with a very convincing win. That clearly sprung him with confidence and belief for the rest of the week to come. The 20-year-old didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final, only allowing Juan Pablo Varillas to even get to a tie-break in the final four.

Barrios Vera made a strong start, quickly grabbing a 2-0 40-15 lead on Baez’s serve. The Argentinian struggled to make any balls in the court and clearly struggled to find the right rhythm. Saving these two further opportunities for Barrios Vera massively helped him settle down though and the first set took a completely different path than it seemed so after the first few games. Baez’s defensive skills shined as he won eight out of the next nine games to take full control of the match.

Aided by lots of cheering from the crowd, Barrios Vera was not ready to give up on his maiden Challenger Tour final yet. The Chilean showcased his ability to punch hard from both wings and started constructing the points way better to start making dents in his opponents’ defense. It allowed him to take the set to a tiebreak and with a fantastic couple of volleys, Barrios Vera took an early 2-0 lead. Baez proved that such a run isn’t at all a coincidence though, peaking at just the right moment. The Argentinian barely missed a ball in the points that followed, finishing the match and the tie-break 7-4 with a stunning backhand inside-out winner.

Sebastian Baez is the only player left undefeated on the 2021 ATP Challenger Tour circuit to have played at least two events. His recent heroics sees him reach a career-high ranking of world #216. Barrios Vera also now sits at his best rankings, having broken into the top 250 for the very first time.

Challenger Tour Magic

Events held next week:

  • Play In Challenger (Lille, Challenger 90, indoor hard)
  • BSI Challenger Lugano (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Zadar Open (Challenger 80, clay)

After brief stints in South America and the United States, Europe regains its monopoly of the Challenger Tour (which it will maintain for the next three weeks). Zadar Open is the first sign of the upcoming clay-court season as Lugano and Lille will be some of the last indoor Challengers we see until autumn.

First-round matches to watch:

Lille

  • Mathias Bourgue vs (PR) Dustin Brown
  • (7) Maximilian Marterer vs Constant Lestienne
  • (WC) Evan Furness vs Benjamin Bonzi

Lugano

  • Adrian Menendez-Maceiras vs (WC) Leandro Riedi
  • Jay Clarke vs (WC) Dominic Stephan Stricker
  • Daniel Masur vs (5) Ilya Marchenko
  • (ALT) Altug Celekbilek vs (2) Evgeny Donskoy

Riedi and Stricker contested the 2020 Roland Garros juniors final between each other. It will be a Challenger Tour debut for Riedi, the runner-up at that event. His Paris conqueror has already shown up at Saint Petersburg a couple of weeks ago, defeating Duje Ajdukovic before going out to Cem Ilkel in three sets.

Zadar

  • Michael Vrbensky vs (7) Enzo Couacaud
  • Gian Marco Moroni vs (8) Dimitar Kuzmanov
  • (5) Alessandro Gianessi vs Riccardo Bonadio

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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