Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Holger Rune Claims First Challenger Title, Jack Sock Fights off Six Match Points

Holger Rune Barcelona 2021

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Challenger Tour will host five events in the same week, something that used to happen quite regularly before. What’s crazy is that all three surfaces will be in play – grass in Nottingham, hard courts in Orlando, and three other clay-court tournaments. But before we get to that, read back on this week’s action:

Biella

Holger Rune made back-to-back Challenger Tour finals, despite not even having a single quarterfinal on this circuit before last week. The 2019 Roland Garros champion lost a dramatic final to Gastao Elias in Oeiras, but got another shot at the Portuguese in the second round here. But before he was even able to get to that match, he had to come through a thriller against Daniel Altmaier that included two match-point saves – one via a good serve plus one forehand the other through a high-quality rally finished on a backhand winner. Rune’s fitness used to drag him down in the past but the Dane survived the long physical clash in good shape and despite having to play ten matches in thirteen days, he was able to perform at the top of his abilities. In the semifinals, he defeated Tomas Martin Etcheverry in three sets.

Marco Trungelliti was among the better performers of Roland Garros qualifying, yet he failed to make it to the main draw at the hands of Mackenzie McDonald. The Argentinian confirmed his great form in Biella though, basically ripping through his draw up until the quarterfinals. Slight issues were caused to him by Matteo Berrettini’s brother, Jacopo, but once Trungelliti survived the initial attack he regained control. In the semifinals, he gave up a set and a break lead against Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves, but managed to regroup nicely and win in the decider. The Argentinian made his eighth final on the Challenger circuit.

Rune came out playing very aggressively, especially from the backhand side that is usually quite tame. But this couldn’t last long and Trungelliti would soon start getting more initiative, able to work through his dropshot. The dead-even contest seemed to be shifting in the Argentinian’s favor as Trungelliti first led 4-2 and then served for the match at 6-5. Rune managed to a tie-break though and at the business end of the deciding set, he showcased a lot more intent off the baseline. Using his forehand aggressively, he was able to navigate it to a 7-5 win.

While the next edition of the ATP Rankings will be released after the French Open, it’s extremely unlikely that Rune would be stopped from making his top 250 debut. Both Biella finalists are due to play in Lyon next week.

Little Rock

Often times struggling with his motivation in recent years, it was clearly not the case with Jack Sock this week. The American saved six match points on the way to the final, three in a 3h 28min clash against Ernesto Escobedo and then another three in another almost three-hour-long battle against Thai-Son Kwiatkowski. Sock was also in the doubles draw with Mitchell Krueger but after all the marathons he had to play, the 28-year-old opted to pull out before the quarterfinals. In the final four, he faced his doubles partner and once again won in three, although this time the conditions weren’t as dramatic.

Emilio Gomez, the son of 1990 Roland Garros champion Andres, made noise in Paris last year by qualifying to the main draw. As he couldn’t repeat that feat in 2021, he went straight to Little Rock, Arkansas and enjoyed a lot more success there. On the route to the final, he did not drop a single set, taking out the likes of North Carolina State standout Alexis Galarneau or the great Portuguese doubles player Goncalo Oliveira. Admittedly though, the bottom half was a lot weaker than the top and featured no names of the class of Sock, Escobedo, or Kwiatkowski. Therefore, coming into the final Gomez’s form was still under a slight question mark.

The whole week had constantly been slowed down by rain delays, but outside for a minute in the second set, the final was played out without any issues. Sock performed great on serve from the get-go, dominating his games and being able to look for openings on the Ecuadorian’s delivery. He finally found one just before the tie-break in the opener and went on to catch an early break in the second. Gomez’s chance to come back to the match was a three consecutive break points opportunity at 3-4 down but it was all to no avail, as Sock was once again able to raise his level.

The American claimed his third Challenger title (first in eight years) and his first trophy since the famous Paris Masters run, which helped him get up the 8th spot in the ATP Rankings. Perhaps this week can be a nice springboard to get at least some of the ranking places back. Both finalists will play on the Challenger Tour next week, this time at Orlando.

Challenger Tour magic drama:

Holger Rune exclaimed multiple homophobic remarks towards Tomas Martin Etcheverry. He later apologized on his Instagram, saying that “he loves diversity more than anyone he knows”. Nevertheless, the whole situation kinda leaves a sour taste in your mouth:

This might look bad, but other than the occasional point 0-40 down, Sock was really focused this week:

Events held next week:

  • Nottingham Open (Challenger 125, grass)
  • Open Sopra Steria de Lyon (Challenger 100, clay)
  • Slovak Open (Bratislava, Challenger 90, clay)
  • Almaty Challenger (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Orlando Open II (Challenger 80, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Dan Evans, Frances Tiafoe, Andreas Seppi, Kevin Anderson (Nottingham)
  • Pablo Cuevas, Fernando Verdasco (Lyon)
  • Norbert Gombos, Federico Coria (Bratislava)

First-round matches to watch:

Nottingham

  • (1/WC) Dan Evans vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
  • Prajnesh Gunneswaran vs (8) Kamil Majchrzak
  • Marc-Andrea Huesler vs (2) Frances Tiafoe

Lyon

  • Marco Trungelliti vs Tristan Lamasine
  • Alejandro Tabilo vs (4) Daniel Elahi Galan
  • (6) Benjamin Bonzi vs Oscar Otte
  • Sumit Nagal vs (2) Fernando Verdasco

Bratislava

  • Maximilian Marterer vs Filip Horansky
  • Sebastian Baez vs Renzo Olivo
  • (PR) Andrey Kuznetsov vs (3) Hugo Dellien
  • Zdenek Kolar vs (2) Federico Coria

Almaty

  • Zizou Bergs vs Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera
  • Chun-Hsin Tseng vs Felipe Meligeni Alves
  • (5) Lorenzo Giustino vs Timofey Skatov

Orlando

  • (WC) Oliver Crawford vs (5) Emilio Gomez
  • (6) Ernesto Escobedo vs Thai-Son Kwiatkowski
  • (8) Mitchell Krueger vs Jack Sock
  • Nicolas Jarry vs (2) Jason Jung

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