Three of the four finalists on the Challenger circuit this week came from South America. While many of the clay-court specialists coming from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, etc., only peak on the Southern Hemisphere, Juan Pablo Varillas, Sebastian Baez, and Daniel Elahi Galan showed this week that it doesn’t have to be the case. Read back on this week’s action.
Bernabe Zapata Miralles made the finals at Quimper earlier this year and went on to test himself at numerous tour-level events, without much success. Heilbronn was his first Challenger in three months and dropping down a level he achieved the desired results. In the second round, he completely demolished last week’s Prague runner-up Oscar Otte, before going on to give just one more game to Sumit Nagal. The only set he lost on the way to the finals came against Denis Novak, but the Spaniard was able to regroup very well for the decider.
Veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber appeared to be catching fire, taking out Brandon Nakashima in the second round and playing some of the best tennis he’s showed recently. That throwback run was stopped by Daniel Elahi Galan in a thrilling contest decided by a tie-break at the end. Somehow, that wasn’t even one of the two most dramatic matches the Colombian had to survive on the way to reaching the final. It took him over three hours to dispatch Alessandro Giannessi and in the semifinals, he was able to take out Mackenzie McDonald 7-5 in the third set.
Galan let Zapata Miralles off the hook by wasting two break points in the opening game. The Spaniard committed a few straightforward errors but it was pretty much the last bit of help that he gave his opponent throughout the match. His consistency from the baseline was just spectacular and with great court coverage, he was able to turn defense into offense with great efficiency.
The 6-3 6-4 victory gave Zapata Miralles a 2nd Challenger title of his career (Cordenons 2020) and a new career-high ranking of World No. 126 on Monday. The Spaniard has never played the qualifying at Roland Garros, so the next few weeks will be a big step forward in his career. But before that, he’ll also feature in a Challenger event at Oeiras, facing Nuno Borges in the opening round.
Despite clinching Challenger titles in Concepcion and Santiago earlier this year, Sebastian Baez struggled to quickly translate that form to European clay. In Ostrava, he was forced to retire cramping and later couldn’t make it past the qualifying stage at Prague. With the incredibly high Challenger cut-offs these days, Baez was once again forced to fight for his main draw spot in Zagreb. The first issues came in the second round with the seasoned veteran Damir Dzumhur, as Baez had to pull off a dramatic comeback from 1-4 in the deciding set. Due to rain delays, the youngster had to play two matches on Friday, first taking out Pedro Martinez in a high-quality three-setter, then impressively taking care of Tomas Marcelo Barrios Vera, the only semifinalist who completed his quarterfinal on Thursday.
Last week’s Biella champion, Juan Pablo Varillas, clearly received a massive confidence boost by taking the final over Guido Andreozzi. The Peruvian survived a set point against Pedro Sousa in the opening round and only needed one more tie-break against Nikola Milojevic. The semifinal clash facing Juan Manuel Cerundolo was expected to be an extremely exciting one, yet Varillas’s opponent had to pull out after just six games with a left ankle injury. The Peruvian’s only Challenger titles before Biella came in back-to-back weeks and he was about to get a great chance to repeat that feat.
Varillas came out playing his best brand of powerful tennis, keeping Baez on the back foot before securing a pivotal break at 4-3 in the opener. The Argentinian sure knows how to fight though and his grit managed to let him keep with the opponent. Since 3-3 in the second, Baez reeled off 7 games in a row, impressing with his stellar defense and taking more and more initiative. While Varillas was able to get back on the scoreboard, the 20-year-old never blinked and secured the 3-6 6-3 6-1 victory.
A third Challenger title this season gets Baez a top 200 debut. Both players will be aiming at a good performance in Roland Garros qualifying now. Varillas almost certainly secured a seeding for that event, while Baez will surely be one of the most dangerous unseeded floaters in the draw.
Challenger Tour magic:
Oscar Otte is doing some weird stuff on serve recently:
A beautiful combination first and second serve by Oscar Otte pic.twitter.com/bxRGgXR7fk
— Stefano Berlincioni (@Carretero77) May 12, 2021
These articles may rarely mention it, but there’s some great doubles on the Challenger circuit too:
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) May 13, 2021
Events held next week:
- Open de Oeiras III (Challenger 125, clay)
- Biella Challenger VI (Challenger 50, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Jiri Vesely, Steve Johnson, Federico Coria, Pedro Martinez, Yannick Hanfmann, Juan Ignacio Londero (all Oeiras)
First-round matches to watch:
- Maxime Cressy vs (WC) Gastao Elias
- Brandon Nakashima vs (7) Yannick Hanfmann
- (WC) Nuno Borges vs Bernabe Zapata Miralles
- Tristan Lamasine vs Dimitar Kuzmanov
- Cem Ilkel vs (8) Bjorn Fratangelo
- Mitchell Krueger vs (WC) Flavio Cobolii