Although the majority of the headlines focused on action on the main tour, there was plenty of entertainment and intrigue to be had last week on the ATP Challenger Tour, with action in Rome, Ostrava and Salinas. Here’s a look back at everything you might have missed:
ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Despite breaking through on the ATP Tour with a title in Cordoba in February, Juan Manuel Cerundolo was still seeking his first final appearance on the ATP Challenger Tour. The 19-year-old had to make a short turnaround from green clay in Tallahassee, losing to Brayden Schnur eight days before playing his first match in Rome. But he went through his first three opponents without dropping a single set and only had to work for the win really hard against the Italian veteran Alessandro Giannessi. Despite being two points away from losing on return, Cerundolo preserved more energy for the final few games and reached his maiden Challenger final by coming out on top 7-5 in the deciding set.
Another youngster making rapid progress is 18-year-old Flavio Cobolli, for whom Rome was only a fourth main draw appearance at Challenger-level. Interestingly, that was the exact same number of times Jannik Sinner played this circuit before winning a title in Bergamo in 2019. While perhaps we shouldn’t expect quite the same astronomical rise from Cobolli, it was still a hugely impressive week from the Italian prodigy.
Only losing to eventual champion Andrea Pellegrino last week, the 18-year-old managed to take revenge on him in the quarterfinals and advanced to the championship match without dropping a single set. Nerves seemed to have gotten the better of Cobolli in the opening set as he allowed Cerundolo complete control over the state of play.
The Argentinian rarely goes for his shots and has rather insufficient attacking weapons but the confidence allowed him to come out of the comfort zone and hit his forehand with aggression that you rarely see from him. That didn’t last too long though and aided by the Italian crowd, Cobolli managed to level the match and take the racquet out of his opponents’ hands. It feels weird to talk about experience in a match between two teenagers but Juan Manuel’s tour-level success seemed to have granted him a lead in the deciding set. Cobolli started fading away a bit as Cerundolo pounced to take his first ATP Challenger Tour title.
The 19-year-old found himself at a career-high world #152 on Monday. He is also set to play in Biella next week, where he’s due to face Mackenzie McDonald in a blockbuster first-round clash. As for Cobolli, a performance like this could open doors to future appearances on the ATP Challenger Tour, especially as there are two Challenger 50 events coming later in the month.
Benjamin Bonzi has been perhaps the most consistent performer of the 2021 ATP Challenger circuit. The Frenchman won his first title at this level in Potchefstroom and reached three other semifinals before this week. Seeded third for the event, Bonzi advanced to the final four without dropping a set and only getting broken once by Marc Polmans. But the rest of the path wasn’t going to be so comfortable and the 24-year-old engaged in a gruelling contest with Elias Ymer, having to break to stay in the match twice. Despite losing seven of his own service games, Bonzi was the better player in the key moments and clinched the win in a deciding set tiebreak.
Arthur Rinderknech, Bonzi’s conqueror in the final in Istanbul back in January, looked on to be on course to set up another meeting with his compatriot. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old had to retire down 4-5 in his semifinal against Renzo Olivo. Having struggled to beat Lukas Miedler in the opening round, Olivo managed to shift up a gear in the latter stages of the Ostrava Challenger, taking out such dangerous clay courters as Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Martin Etcheverry in straight sets.
Despite being down a break in both sets, Bonzi managed to stick around and find a way to come back each time. The Frenchman really improved his game behind his serve this year and with fantastic physical preparation, he was able to run down anything Olivo could throw at him. Bonzi’s 6-4 6-4 win was the 25th that he scored on the ATP Challenger Tour this year already, only recording seven losses. In nine events played, only twice did he fail to reach the quarterfinals.
That incredible breakout season has already led him to a new career-high ranking of world #115. He is scheduled to return to action in Zagreb in two weeks’ time, while Olivo received special exempt to the main draw in Prague, being unable to play in the qualifying.
Salinas and Salinas 2
The first event in Salinas was completed on Monday due to Ecuador’s COVID-19 restrictions. Despite throwing up on the court in his semifinal against Camilo Ugo Carabelli, former-world #38 Nicolas Jarry took the title with a 7-6 6-1 win over Nicolas Mejia. The Chilean, who’s making his come back from a doping suspension, was next to untouchable behind his serve during the run. He won 86% of his first service points, blasted 36 aces and saved 13 of the 14 break points he faced that week.
For Mejia, this was by far the biggest week of his professional career. He stuck with Jarry up until dropping the first set tiebreak in dramatic fashion (was down 1-6, got it back to level but missed a set point and lost 7-9). Jarry’s fantastic serving continued into the second week. Once again, he was only broken by one opponent on the path to the final, this time by Dutchman Tim van Rijthoven. Having saved five set points in that encounter, Jarry kept proving he was in much better form than anyone in the field. In the quarterfinals, he had a rematch against Mejia and managed to fend him off in just 74 minutes.
Thiago Tirante, the former junior world #1 seemed to be the brightest shining star of the other half of the draw. The Argentinian was yet to prove himself on hard courts at Challenger-level but with only a loss to Jarry the week before, it was clear that he might be one of the few who’d actually have a shot at the Chilean in Salinas. Unfortunately, Tirante injured himself in the semifinals against Emilio Gomez, a match he seemed to be in control of until that point. The top-seeded Ecuadorean, whose father Andres Gomez won the French Open in 1990 and is the tournament director of the Salinas Challenger, went through to the final despite never really playing his best tennis.
Not much can be said about Gomez’s performance there though besides that he took his chances. The Ecuadorean created six break points in Jarry’s first two service games and never managed to convert any of them. Yet forced to serve to stay in the set himself, Gomez played a lousy approach shot down a breakpoint that was instantly punished by a good lob from the Chilean. Despite having eight break points in total, Gomez just couldn’t manage to break Jarry, struggling to even touch his first serve.
It all led to a second set tiebreak, the third that Jarry had to play in Salinas. Just like in the previous two, the Chilean’s aggression and clutch-serving paid off in the most important moments as he got to a favorable position. But nerves were visible as well and Jarry wasted his first two match points despite having a significant advantage in both of the rallies.
The match had to be suspended at 3-3 in the final set due to darkness and completed on Monday. Despite having to save two break points right off the gate, Gomez kept up his good disposition from the last moments of Sunday’s final. At 5-4 down, Jarry played an error-filled game and allowed the Ecuadorean his 11th break point. It was just the second time that Jarry had been broken that week but Gomez played a stunning lob to win his second Challenger Tour event (Tallahassee 2019).
Challenger Tour magic:
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) May 2, 2021
Danilo Petrovic really wanted to get off the court:
Double fault of the year 😂
— Alex | Tennis 🎾 (@Alex_Boroch) April 29, 2021
Events held next week:
- Biella Challenger V (Challenger 80, clay)
- I.ČLTK Prague Open (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Norbert Gombos (Prague)
First-round matches to watch:
- (WC) Hamad Medjedovic vs Ruben Bemelmans
- (7) Alessandro Giannessi vs Juan Pablo Varillas
- (3) Mackenzie McDonald vs Juan Manuel Cerundolo
- (PR) Thanasi Kokkinakis vs (4) Cedrik-Marcel Stebe
- (1) Norbert Gombos vs Henri Laaksonen
- (4) Denis Novak vs (SE) Renzo Olivo
- Frederico Ferreira Silva vs (6) Kamil Majchrzak
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