ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: A Final For a Wimbledon Wildcard, Nerves and Big-Serving

Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera in ATP Challenger Tour action.

It was five events again on the ATP Challenger Tour, although this time only between grass and clay. Next week, most of the usual suspects will feature in the Wimbledon qualifying draw, therefore there will be just one event held in Milan. But before we get to that, read back on this week’s action:

ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Nottingham

Kamil Majchrzak failed to serve out the match against Denis Kudla in Nottingham semifinals last week, but he got another shot at the American just the week after. Despite having to play two matches in a day, the Pole got the revenge and then put up a very clean performance against Benjamin Bonzi in the semifinals. Majchrzak reached the semifinals in Ilkley two years ago and qualified for Wimbledon once, meaning he clearly feels very well on grass. Aided by his recent serve improvements, he can only get better and better on the surface.

Alex Bolt had to start his campaign from the qualifying draw, getting pushed by a British youngster Felix Gill in the opening round. The Australian managed to up his level as the week wore on, defeating Mackenzie McDonald in a very clean semifinal performance. But before that, he dropped a set to another promising Brit Aidan McHugh and was engaged in a thrilling contest against the top seed, Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman levelled the match but was forced to retire due to a lower back issue when Bolt broke to start the decider.

Majchrzak won a tight opening set where he converted his chances and Bolt didn’t, but the momentum soon shifted and the Australian started clearly edging ahead. His powerful game from the ground did damage and the Pole was hanging on through good serving and good play at the net. At 3-2 for Bolt in the decider, the players had to go off the court for a lengthy rain delay. Majchrzak wasn’t able to benefit from the break though and Bolt maintained the pressure, finally breaking for 5-3 with a stunning forehand return. The Australian then served out the match for his third Challenger title.

Bolt is now the eighth active player to hold Challenger Tour trophies on all three surfaces (Ricardas Berankis, Dustin Brown, Jeremy Chardy, Marton Fucsovics, Denis Kudla, Nick Kyrgios, Frances Tiafoe). It wasn’t officially disclosed by the LTA, but it was rumoured before the final that it might decide the last Wimbledon wildcard. About 15 minutes after it finished, it was announced that Bolt got it, while Majchrzak will be the top seed in qualifying.
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Aix-en-Provence

One of the most impressive performers of Roland Garros qualifying, Carlos Taberner completely underwhelmed in the main draw, losing a favorable opening round to Roman Safiullin. This match turned out to be the only flop the Spaniard had in a couple of weeks though, as he was in stellar form again in Aix-en-Provence. In the second round, he fended off 2020 Australian Open boys’ singles runner-up Arthur Cazaux, going on to defeat a home country surprise Kyrian Jacquet in the semifinals. Taberner had already captured a Challenger Tour title this season (Antalya).

Manuel Guinard had been among the best performers on the ITF circuit this year, winning 25K titles in Prague and Angers. The Frenchman was yet to take that disposition to Challenger level, but a first top 100 victory over Roberto Carballes Baena allowed him to start a brilliant run. Guinard eliminated fellow Frenchman Tristan Lamasine in the quarterfinals and was once again very convincing in his dismissal of Elias Ymer in the final four. With a series of brilliant matches, Guinard made his maiden Challenger Tour final.

The key to winning for Guinard was to keep the points short, similarly to his match against Carballes Baena. Maintaining aggression against a counter-puncher of Taberner’s class was never going to be easy though and of the two Spaniards, he also had a lot more to say in terms of pressuring Guinard. The Frenchman was barely winning points on return, taking just 4 out 36 in the entire match. Combined with getting broken four times, it meant that Taberner secured the win in just under an hour.

Guinard took a special exempt into the main draw inΒ  Milan, while Taberner will try himself in Wimbledon qualifying. The points earned for their runs also allowed both to improve on their career-high rankings.

Prostejov

Alex Molcan had a fantastic run at the tour-level event in Belgrade last month, beating such established names as Fernando Verdasco or Federico Delbonis, and definitely not giving Novak Djokovic an easy task. The Slovakian was just all-guns-blazing in Prostejov again, dropping a mere 17 games on the way to the finals. By far the most impressive wins came over Hugo Dellien and Gianluca Mager, both for the loss of just four games.

Federico Coria had a couple of nice runs at tour-level events this season, but most of his results in Challengers were subpar. The Argentinian almost made another early exit, this time against Andrey Kuznetsov in the second round. He was able to bounce back from 6-7 2-4 down though and improved his level towards the business end of the week. In the semifinals, he easily took out Zdenek Kolar, a player who made him go to 7-5 in the decider just three weeks earlier.

Molcan was dominant up until 5-3 in the first set, turning defense into offense with great efficiency. Nerves got to him serving out the set though and the Slovakian grew increasingly frustrated as the next games weren’t going in his favor like before. Coria played a stunning tiebreak and was asking all the right questions, not allowing Molcan to just feed off his pace and forcing him to inject it himself. The Slovakian would have a couple more bright moments in the second set but it was Coria who used his experience to slowly make his way to a 7-6 6-3 victory.

It was Coria’s second Challenger Tour title (Savannah 2019), which allows him to come back to the top 100 of the ATP Rankings. Molcan reached a new career-high, just behind the top 150. The Slovakian will now go to Wimbledon qualifying, while Coria has direct acceptance into the main draw and decided to feature in another clay Challenger in Milan (he will be the top seed).
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Almaty

A Challenger Tour semifinalist in Guayaquil last year, Jesper de Jong had been losing early in most of his events in 2021. The Dutchman had to qualify for the event and after two very straightforward wins, that’s where he managed to pick up a very rich vein of form. He did not lose a single set on the way to the final, outplaying players like Gran Canaria runner-up Kimmer Coppejans or Riccardo Bonadio. De Jong advanced to his maiden Challenger final with a solid win over Mirza Basic.

Runner-up in Santiago earlier in the season, Tomas Marcelo Barrios Vera maintained that good form with a semifinal appearance in Zagreb and now another final in Almaty. The Chilean was unlucky to run into eventual champion Zizou Bergs in the opening round last week (wasted a match-point), but he was able to prove that making the Belgian work so hard for the win was not an accident. Barrios Vera dropped a set to Pavel Kotov in the quarterfinals but was stellar otherwise, especially in his 55-minute routing of Andrey Martin in the final four.

Barrios tried to stay aggressive and force out errors off De Jong’s backhand but it was all to absolutely no avail. The Dutchman had his best serving performance of the week and moved extremely well in defense, cleaning up whenever an opportunity presented itself. The 21-year-old clinched his maiden Challenger title with a stunning 6-1 6-2 victory, not facing a single breakpoint and only dropping nine points on serve.

De Jong has been rewarded for his efforts by breaking through into the top 300 of the ATP Rankings for the very first time, while Barrios also makes a new career-high, inching closer to the top 200. The Chilean will play Wimbledon qualifying next week, while De Jong is signed up for a 25K ITF event in Alkmaar.

Forli

The final in Forli was definitely not your typical clay-court match with both players specializing in first-strike tennis and basing their games on potent serving. One of them, Mats Moraing had been broken only by Igor Sijsling before the final (four times), not dropping a service game against Jacopo Berrettini, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, and Robin Haase. Against the latter, the lefty German served at just 44% but lost only nine points on his delivery. Moraing recently played a very good match against Novak Djokovic in Belgrade, frustrating the world #1 by taking him to a tiebreak in the second set.

Quentin Halys was in the middle of an unspectacular year, highlighted by two semifinal appearances in Split and Lille. The Frenchman fell at the last hurdle in French Open qualifying and bowed out in the opening round in Bratislava next. Yet somehow, he was stellar from the get-go in Forli, not losing a single set on the way to the championship match. The quality of the competition wasn’t the highest looking at the whole week, but his semifinal win over the recent Oeiras champion Gastao Elias was absolutely top-notch.

It was definitely not a typical clay-court final with both players serving big and looking for first-strike tennis. Halys was just the second player to break Moraing the whole week and managed to take the opening set. The German started getting a better read on return though and was the better player in about the next hour or so. Halys was able to come back to holding consistently and even set up two match points on return at 5-4 up in the decider. With his big serve, Moraing was able to set up two put away forehands though and then broke the Frenchman in the next game to serve out the match. In the whole final, he won 41 out of 47 points on his first serve, only getting broken once.

At the time of writing, Moraing is the first alternate to Wimbledon qualifying. Halys has a direct spot in the competition. Their Forli runs allowed them for significant ranking jumps – the Frenchman is back in the top 200 of the ATP Rankings, while Moraing has risen to 213th in the rankings.
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Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Aspria Tennis Cup (Milan, Challenger 80, clay)

Wimbledon qualifying takes place next week, which means that most of the players ranked between 110-240 will be in Roehampton, fighting for a spot in the main draw of the Championships. There will be a ranking gap of about 135 places between the top seed, Federico Coria, and the second seed Holger Rune.

First-round matches to watch:

  • (1) Federico Coria vs Riccardo Bonadio
  • Jiri Lehecka vs (WC) Luca Vanni
  • Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs (3) Ulises Blanch

Main photo:
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