It was all very familiar for ATP Challenger Tour competitors this week. Oeiras hosted a third event this year, while Biella invited the players for a mind-blowing sixth-time (second at its clay court venue). It was the last week before Roland Garros qualifying, which is an extremely important event for players ranked between about 110 to 230. But who will be able to take advantage when the French Open qualifying starts?
ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
After clinching three Challenger titles last year, teen prodigy Carlos Alcaraz is mostly playing on the main tour now and the third event in Oeiras was only his second appearance on the circuit this year. The previous one was a second-round exit and it was looking like the Spaniard was going to disappoint again as he went down a set and a break to Brandon Nakashima. Alcaraz cleaned up his game to defeat the fellow promising youngster and remained at that very high level towards the end of the week, dropping one more set against Taro Daniel in the semifinals.
His opponent in the final, Facundo Bagnis, found himself in a similar spot against two Portuguese players in a row, first a set and a break down to Frederico Ferreira Silva and then down a break in the decider to Nuno Borges. This year’s ATP Santiago runner-up got himself out of jail each time though and then had a very easy time dispatching Hugo Gaston in the semifinals, dropping only two games.
Playing behind his serve is usually one of Alcaraz’s weaknesses but the youngster only struggled in one of his service games, allowing Bagnis to break back at 4-3 up in the second. That was pretty much the only blip he had all match though as he came up with a performance free of the inconsistencies that youngsters are famous for. That setback also wasn’t enough to hold him down as he clinched the next two games to win the match by hitting forehand winners from everywhere on the court.
This win allowed Alcaraz to break through to the top 100 for the very first time. At age 18, only Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet had collected more ATP Challenger Tour titles. The Spaniard will be contesting the qualifying for Roland Garros, whereas Bagnis managed to grab one of the last main draw spots.
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Constantly hampered by injuries over the course of his relatively young career, Thanasi Kokkinakis seems to be back on the right track. The Australian reached the quarterfinals at three of his last four ATP Challenger events, playing very well but somehow not getting the results. His Biella run started with dropping a set to Denis Istomin but Kokkinakis only needed a couple more matches to get into an even better rhythm. In the semifinals, he took out second-seeded Zhizhen Zhang in three sets, reaching his first final in 20 months.
Enzo Couacaud is in the middle of a very polarizing season that saw him clinch his second Challenger title at Gran Canaria, only to reach rock bottom and a 7-match losing streak a short while after. The Frenchman won the opening set in each of his matches before the final but let his opponents take it to the decider in three of them. When given a chance to finish off Bjorn Fratangelo or Tomas Martin Etcheverry he would suddenly become very passive, allowing them to force a third. Nevertheless, his deciders game was on top and Couacaud was able to quickly forget about the losing streak he’s had.
Against a defender as good as Couacaud, Kokkinakis needed to limit the error count on the forehand and put up a very clean attacking performance. Luckily for him, that’s just what he did. The Australian was clinical on serve and impressed with his brilliant volleying technique. One break in each set was enough for Kokkinakis to secure the fourth Challenger title of his career.
On Monday, the Australian will climb back to the 180th spot in the ATP Rankings. He will be one of the most dangerous unseeded floaters in Roland Garros qualifying as the reciprocal wildcard went to Christopher O’Connell instead of him. Enzo Couacaud, meanwhile, has received one into the main draw and will now rest up before the first Grand Slam appearance of his career.
Events held next week:
- Open de Oeiras IV (Challenger 50, clay)
There will be no top 100 players in action (the Challenger 50 format is designed for players ranked 151 and under).
First-round matches to watch:
- Jonas Forejtek vs (8) Riccardo Bonadio
- Nuno Borges vs (5) Roberto Quiroz
- Holger Rune vs Tim van Rijthoven
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