Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: All-Slovenian Final in Split; Borges Fails to Cope with the Pressure

Blaz Rola ATP Doha

It was just a second all-Slovenian championship match on the Challenger Tour ever and even more remarkably, both players even share the same first name. In Oeiras, recent college alumni (Mississipi State) Nuno Borges made his first Challenger Tour final and faced off against a qualifier, Pedro Cachin. Next week, the Challenger Tour is going to be back in North America with an event in Orlando. There’s also a Challenger 125 event in Belgrade which has a really stacked entry field.

Split

17-time Challenger Tour champion Blaz Kavcic had to make his way into the event from the qualifying draw. The Slovenian even dropped a set in his campaign but managed to turn it around against Matteo Martineau. After eliminating the 4th seed, Mohamed Safwat, the 34-year-old played a marathon battle against Elias Ymer. The Swede served for the match and held two match points in a dramatic second set tie-break. Kavcic gave nothing away for free though, hitting a backhand winner up the line and coming up with a ridiculous defensive point on the next one to level the match. In the semifinals, the Slovenian faced Kacper Zuk, who made his fifth consecutive Challenger Tour quarterfinal and defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis in stunning fashion in the previous round. Zuk came out completely dominating the opponent but his level dipped from set two onwards and Kavcic was allowed back into the match. As such an experienced competitor, the 34-year-old didn’t waste that opportunity and got into the final looking for his first title since Shanghai 2018.

Quite hilariously, waiting there was his namesake and compatriot, Blaz Rola. The 30-year-old also enjoyed a lot of success on the Challenger Tour in the past, claiming four titles (last – Leon 2019). Seeded sixth, Rola had a much easier route to the final four, taking out players such as Duje Ajdukovic or Mirza Basic all in straight sets. He too had to pull off a nerve-racking victory though, going deep into the decider against Andrea Collarini in the semifinals. With both playing a similar style and willing to grind it out, the match went on for over 3 hours before Rola finally managed to grab a decisive break at 5-4 in the third. He was down 1-3 in the final set but just like Kavcic, didn’t let the pressure get to him in the important moments.

The two met twice before on the professional circuit with the older of the Slovenians clinching the win both times (most recently – Biella 2020). Rola tried to be the dominant force in the rallies early on but he was held back by inconsistency and brilliant backhand counters from Kavcic. It was much closer than the scoreboard would suggest but the more experienced of the two claimed the first set six games to two. Matches between players who know each other well are never that easy though and Rola’s forehand grew much more dangerous towards the beginning of the second set. The 30-year-old managed to grab an early break of serve and rode that advantage all the way to level the match, despite encountering a few tricky situations along the way.

After trading early breaks in the third, the set followed a similar path as the second one. Rola played a much more aggressive brand of tennis, utilizing his superior forehand to keep Kavcic on the backfoot. He played really well behind his serve from there on, saving a couple of breakpoints in the most pivotal moments to secure a 2-6 6-3 6-2 victory. The 30-year-old took his 5th Challenger Tour title, seven years after winning for the first time in Guangzhou. He will now travel to Belgrade, where he received a special exempt to enter the main draw and will take on a qualifier in the opening round. Kavcic was offered a spot in the second event at Split but decided to withdraw.

Oeiras

Recent college alumni at Mississipi State, Nuno Borges had been dominant on the ITF circuit but yet to land his first deep run in the Challengers. The Portuguese missed a matchpoint against Zdenek Kolar in the first event in Oeiras, which must have hurt much more once it turned out that the Czech steamrolled through the rest of the week to grab his maiden title. Borges was once again faced with a tough draw but didn’t look back and eliminated the second seed Enzo Couacaud in the opening round. The wildcard struggled much more in the next matches against Raul Brancaccio and Marcel Guinard but always found the extra push when it mattered. In the semifinals, he met former World No. 57 Gastao Elias, whom he already faced five times in the past year or so on the ITF Tour and in Portuguese exhibition events. This was their first meeting on clay and Borges managed to improve the head-to-head to 5-1 and make his first Challenger Tour final.

Just like Borges, Pedro Cachin had also been one of the best players of the ITF World Tennis Tour of late, winning two titles in 2021 already and holding a 20-5 win/loss record this year. The Argentinian has much more experience on the Challenger Tour though, having triumphed in Seville six years ago. Stuck between the two tours for a lot of his career, a Challenger 50 event was a perfect opportunity for Cachin to get on a deep run. His campaign started from the qualifying draw as 16-year-old Portuguese Henrique Rocha gave him a real stern test. The youngster should be really pleased with his performance, especially looking at how the rest of the week played out. Cachin steamrolled through his first two opponents before only Gian Marco Moroni was able to give him as much trouble as Rocha. His semifinal match against Goncalo Oliveira had to be finished on Sunday due to rain delays. That break really helped Cachin though who only lost one game on the second day before Oliveira retired down 6-7 0-4. Finishing that match quickly kept his chances in the final alive, even though Borges didn’t have to play twice in a day.

Borges and Cachin had already played at an ITF event in Antalya in 2021 as the Portuguese took the win 7-6 7-5. In a rather atypical clay-court fashion, the opening set featured no service breaks and even not a single break point as both players were really focused on getting their service games ticked. Cachin managed to grab the upper hand in the tie-break, hitting a few spectacular backhand winners and impressing with his clay-court artistry.

He continued to return aggressively at the beginning of the second set, creating the first breakpoints of the match. The dynamics of the match were clearly changing and while Borges fought back to save them and even grab a 2-0 lead, Cachin found an instant re-break with another stunning backhand return winner. Unexpectedly, Borges raced to 5-1 40-0 in that set playing a very clean set (well, almost) of tennis. The Portuguese tightened up at the worst possible moment and threw away five set points. He got another chance at 5-3 40-0 and once again couldn’t convert. Cachin took the set to a tie-break and found the way to win over a very frustrated Borges. The missed set point count totaled eight, including three double faults.

Despite that, Borges still had the best week of his career and managed to improve his career-high ranking to 332. Cachin will be back in the top 300 after 17 months and won his 2nd Challenger title (Seville 2015). Borges is signed up for a 25K ITF event in Spain next week.

Events held next week:

  • Belgrade Challenger (Challenger 125, clay)
  • Orlando Open (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Split Open II (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Roberto Carballes Baena (Belgrade)
  • Steve Johnson (Orlando)

First-round matches to watch:

Belgrade

  • (1) Roberto Carballes Baena vs Arthur Rinderknech
  • Maxime Cressy vs (4) Philipp Kohlschreiber
  • (5) Fransisco Cerundolo vs Jozef Kovalik
  • Jurij Rodionov vs (2) Facundo Bagnis

Orlando

  • (1) Steve Johnson vs Christopher Eubanks
  • Yosuke Watanuki vs Jack Sock
  • (WC) Christian Harrison vs (3) Mackenzie McDonald

Split

  • (PR) Thanasi Kokkinakis vs (WC) Duje Ajdukovic
  • (8) Steven Diez vs Maximilian Marterer

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