Although the French Open may have captured most of the headlines, it was a week of ATP Challenger Tour tennis not to miss. For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, five events were held in one week, with players competing on all three surfaces in locations as far apart as Kazakhstan and the United States. Here’s a look back at the best of this week’s action:
ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Denis Kudla scored a massive upset over world #27 Dan Evans in the quarterfinals. That win took a lot out of him and by the time he clashed with Kamil Majchrzak in the semifinals, he was already running on fumes. The Pole couldn’t serve out the match though and Kudla was able to secure the final appearance in a dramatic tie-breaker. Kudla dropped a set in all four matches he played in order to get to the championship match.
Second seed Frances Tiafoe had been fending off tough grass-court challengers from the very beginning of the week. Marc-Andrea Huesler’s serve wasn’t easy at all to keep up with, while against Ilya Marchenko, Tiafoe saved all nine break points faced. The American also lost a set to Evgeny Donskoy but raised his level as the week wore on. His semifinal victory against Marius Copil was very comfortable already.
The all-American final turned out to be rather an anti-climax. Kudla clearly didn’t have much left in the tank and while he was able to drag Tiafoe into long games with multiple deuces, it was the younger of the Americans who was coming out on top. After just 71 minutes, Tiafoe was able to clinch the trophy with a 6-1, 6-3 victory. His win/loss record in Challenger finals improved to 6-5, which is astonishing given he started with five losses. Kudla will now play the second event in Nottingham, while Tiafoe has entered the ATP 500 event at Queen’s Club.
Pablo Cuevas had caught some fine form recently and had a very respectable showing against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. The Uruguayan was almost out at the first hurdle here though, at one point three points away from defeat at the hands of Pedro Cachin, this year’s Oeiras champion. Experience can be a big asset though and the top seed ripped through the rest of the draw in straight sets. The quarterfinals saw him defeat the recent Rome sensation Andrea Pellegrino before he was able to very comfortably take out in-form Facundo Bagnis.
After a very disappointing Roland Garros qualifying campaign, Elias Ymer managed to turn it around completely in Lyon. The Swede benefitted from two retirements, but there’s no taking away from how top-class his wins over Taro Daniel and Oscar Otte were. Ymer was able to find a lot more success on his own serve than usual and played two very clean matches to dismantle his in-form opponents.
The final did not prove to be competitive however. Cuevas’s solid baselining and working the angles was getting Ymer in trouble from the very beginning, on top of that the Swede managed to win just 10 points on return. Cuevas earned a very comfortable 6-2 6-2 victory in just under 80 minutes. It was his 15th Challenger Tour title. The Uruguayan then decided to withdraw from next week’s Aix en Provence Challenger, while Ymer chose to compete there anyway.
Three-time Challenger Tour champion this season, Sebastian Baez also flopped in Roland Garros qualifying, losing in the opening round to Marco Trungelliti, the runner-up in Biella last week . The Argentinian’s brilliant form is definitely not going anywhere yet though, as the 20-year-old was amazing at clutching out wins this week. Baez was down a break in deciding sets against Frederico Ferreira Silva and Filip Horansky, but somehow found the way to come out on top. The match against the latter was especially dramatic, finishing 9-7 in the tie-break after just under three hours of play.
Awaiting him on the other side of the net was Tallon Griekspoor, who recently captured the title in Prague. The Dutchman also impressed with his ability to compose himself at the business end of matches. Steven Diez led him by a break in the deciding set, while Martin Klizan, who was playing one of his last events before retiring at Wimbledon, also made him work really hard for the victory in the semifinals.
The final was a very evenly split affair full of gruelling rallies, but it was the Dutchman who was doing more damage with his aggressive ball-striking. The pivotal moment of the match came when Baez missed a set point in the tie-break with a netted second serve return, and the momentum completely shifted into Griekspoor’s favor. He was able to impose himself on the Argentinian more and more and ultimately clinched the victory 7-6 6-3.
Griekspoor’s second title this season allows him to reach a career-high ATP Ranking of world #121. Both him and Baez will feature in Challenger Tour events next week as well – Griekspoor in Forli, the Argentinian in Prostejov.
Two-time champion on the Challenger Tour this year already (St Petersburg and Lille), Zizou Bergs hit a massive slump once the circuit switched to clay courts. The Belgian failed to progress past the qualifying stage three consecutive times, and when he finally managed to do so in Oeiras, he bowed out in the opening round to Hugo Gaston.
Finding his footing on the surface didn’t come easy as Bergs had to save a match point on return in the opening round against Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera. The Chilean had the advantage in the point, but ended up netting a straightforward backhand and Bergs found a way to mount a comeback. It turned out that this win set him up for his first truly great week on clay on the Challenger circuit. The Belgian defeated his compatriot Kimmer Coppejans in the quarterfinals, before benefitting from a third-set retirement from Dmitry Popko.
20-year-old Timofey Skatov had just one match win on the Challenger Tour before this season, but the youngster has made great progress recently. Two weeks ago, he played his first event at that level outside of Kazakhstan and reached the semifinals, losing to eventual runner-up Holger Rune in three sets. Coming back to his country, Skatov kept up his good form but had to win a total of three deciding sets on the way to his maiden Challenger final.
The toughest came against Evan Furness in the quarterfinals, as the Kazakh constructed a great attacking point with his forehand to save a match point in the second set tie-break. His most convincing performance came in the final four as he was able to easily fend off 2018 Roland Garros and Wimbledon boys’ singles champion, Chun-Hsin Tseng.
Clay gave Skatov the upper hand in this matchup as with his excellent defending, he was able to lure out errors from the more aggressively-minded opponent. Bergs was outplayed at first, constantly failing to hit through his opponent. But the 22-year-old was conscious enough to recognize it and started employing more variety, drop shots, serve-and-volley approaches.
Less rhythm made Skatov suddenly lose his way and by the time the third set rolled around, it was now Bergs winning even the extended rallies. A third Challenger title this year sees him match Jenson Brooksby and Sebastian Baez for the most titles won this year.
As a result of his win, Bergs managed to break the top 250 in the ATP Rankings for the first time and is now situated on a spot that should land him an appearance at US Open qualifying (his efforts came too late for Wimbledon with the cut-off was before this week). Both finalists will contend the second event in Almaty. Skatov received special exempt to the main draw.
Christopher Eubanks only made a couple of quarterfinals earlier in the season, but with the American’s big serve, it was seemed like it would only be a matter of time before he got on a roll. That shot was certainly the star for him this week as on the road to the final in Orlando, Eubanks was broken just twice. In the quarterfinals, he was able to take out Salinas champion Nicolas Jarry, then taking out the recent NCAA singles champion Sam Riffice.
His opponent was Nicolas Mejia, the former junior world #4, who lost his first Challenger Tour final to the aforementioned Jarry at Salinas in April. The Colombian qualified for the event and was due to face three-time champion this year Jenson Brooksby in the quarterfinals. However, he received a walkover victory due to Brooksby’s right elbow injury. The final four had him down a break three times in the second set against JC Aragone but Mejia showcased his tremendous grit to level the match and later enter another final this season.
Mejia started really well, easily neutralizing Eubanks’ big-serve to win 42% of first-serve return points and break twice in the opening set. However, because of rain, the final had to be completed indoors. The faster conditions were of course advantageous to Eubanks and the match became very even once the players had to move. In the second set, Mejia won just 8% of points on first serve return. This metric went up in the decider but only to 16% and along with Eubanks’ first break of the match, it culminated in a 2nd Challenger Tour victory of his career (Leon 2018). The American remained unbroken since the match was moved indoors.
Challenger Tour magic:
You liking the 🌱, @FTiafoe? 😏
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) June 12, 2021
That's just ridiculous, @AragoneJC!
What a get from the 🇺🇸 in Orlando. pic.twitter.com/NZxFRw1tdw
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) June 11, 2021
Events held next week:
- Nottingham Trophy (Challenger 125, grass)
- Open du Pays d’Aix (Aix en Provence, Challenger 125, clay)
- Moneta Czech Open (Prostejov, Challenger 100, clay)
- Almaty Challenger II (Challenger 80, clay)
- Internazionali di Tennis di Citta di Forli (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Richard Gasquet, Soon-Woo Kwon, Andreas Seppi, Mikael Ymer (Nottingham)
- Roberto Carballes Baena, Facundo Bagnis (Aix en Provence)
- Pablo Andujar, Jiri Vesely, Gianluca Mager, Federico Coria (Prostejov)
First-round matches to watch:
- (7) Yuichi Sugita vs Kamil Majchrzak
- Denis Kudla vs (4) Kevin Anderson
- (PR) Tomas Machac vs (2) Soon-Woo Kwon
- Tristan Lamasine vs (8) Sumit Nagal
- Tommy Robredo vs (7) Hugo Gaston
- (5) Juan Pablo Varillas vs Andrea Collarini
- (3) Gianluca Mager vs (ALT) Jonas Forejtek
- Matthias Bachinger vs (WC) Dalibor Svrcina
- Jiri Lehecka vs Lukas Klein
- (PR) Andrey Kuznetsov vs Martin Klizan
- (1) Andrej Martin vs Felipe Meligeni Alves
- Chun-Hsin Tseng vs Carlos Gimeno Valero
- Gian Marco Moroni vs Dimitar Kuzmanov
- (WC) Flavio Cobolli vs Giulio Zeppieri
- Andrea Arnaboldi vs (4) Steven Diez
- (WC) Jacopo Berrettini vs (2) Alessandro Giannessi
Embed from Getty Images