Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Challenger Hero Benjamin Bonzi Debuts in the Top 100

Benjamin Bonzi French Open 2020

Benjamin Bonzi managed to join the world’s best hundred tennis players by taking his third Challenger title of the season in Segovia this week. In other news, Tomas Martin Etcheverry continued his dominance of Italian Challengers, while Bernabe Zapata Miralles lived up to his status as the top seed in Poznan. Read back on this week’s action:

Poznan

Top-seeded Bernabe Zapata Miralles didn’t have an easy route to the final, but somehow managed to stay in the tournament despite being down 1-6 1-4 15-40 to Dmitry Popko. The Spaniard also dropped another set earlier in the week to Mats Moraing. It was his fourth Challenger Tour event this season, and already a third final, following a title on clay in Heilbronn, and a runner-up appearance at Quimper.

Last week’s Tampere champion Jiri Lehecka kept up the incredible form, not dropping a single set on the way to the final. His run included wins over the second-seed Botic van de Zandschulp or the ever-dangerous Aleksandar Vukic. In the semifinals, he stopped a stunning run from the 20-year-old Challenger Tour debutant Alexander Shevchenko.

Zapata Miralles wasn’t satisfied with his game prior to the final, even saying that “If I play like this tomorrow, I will lose in 20 minutes”. To stop Lehecka in this form, he really needed to up his game and the 24-year-old showed the mentality of a champion by doing just that. The Spaniard’s forehand was on fire, allowing him to produce brilliant counters and turn defense into offense.

It was raining since the beginning of the match, but it intensified around set two. It wasn’t heavy enough to cause a rain delay, but the balls were getting heavier by the minute. It was getting even harder for Lehecka to hit through Zapata Miralles and he tried to make up for that with dropshots and serve-and-volley attempts. Sometimes the execution was absolutely on point, sometimes it wasn’t. The Spaniard continued to make his opponent’s life a nightmare and took the match 6-3 6-2, taking his third Challenger Tour title.

Zapata Miralles got to a new career-high ranking and now finds himself just about 40 points away from the top 100. With his brilliant fortnight at Tampere and Poznan, the 19-year-old Lehecka broke through to the top 200 for the very first time.  The young Czech will now compete at Liberec, while Zapata Miralles plans to go to the States for the North-American hard courts season.

Segovia

Benjamin Bonzi has been by far the most consistent ATP Challenger Tour competitor this year, racking up 29 wins before this week. The Frenchman already raised titles in Potchefstroom and Ostrava and despite an early loss at Pozoblanco, he managed to turn around his Spanish swing with his fourth final run of the season. Bonzi barely survived the opening round as Adrian Andreev served for the match, but got much more comfortable as the week went on. In the semifinals, he took down an inspired run from the 24-year-old Spaniard Nicolas Moreno de Alboran.

Tim van Rijthoven had made strong runs in a few Challenger events earlier in the season, he also took a very stacked 25K ITF in Biel. The Dutchman was already in great form at Pozoblanco, only losing to the eventual runner-up, Cem Ilkel. Just like Bonzi, van Rijthoven barely survived a blockbuster opening round (was three points away from losing to Marc-Andrea Huesler), before going on to play his best tennis towards the end of the week, making his first Challenger Tour final.

The first set featured no service games and by the time it got to a tiebreak, it seemed like the more aggressive van Rijthoven was going to be favored. The 24-year-old went up 6-1, yet failed to close it out, wasting seven set points. Still unable to perform in crucial moments, it took him a further four to then level the match. It remained a very tight affair, but guess what, Bonzi saved four break points in a pivotal game at 2-2 and found a single breakpoint with van Rijthoven serving for the match. The Dutchman made a lackluster approach and his opponent clinched the title with a forehand passing shot.

The win allows Bonzi to debut in the top 100 of the ATP Rankings, well-deserved after a year of consistently going deep on the Challenger Tour (he’s amassed more points than anyone else on this circuit this year). Van Rijthoven grabbed a special exempt into the main draw at Liberec, while Bonzi is signed up for all the events of the tour-level North-American hard court season, but so far he’s on the alternate list for each of them.

Lexington

Despite retiring in the final at Nur-Sultan, and a rather short turnaround between Kazakhstan and the States, Jason Kubler kept up his good form with another great run here. The Australian was almost out of the tournament at the first hurdle – Emilio Gomez led 5-3 in the decider and match point up, missed a smash off Kubler’s deep defensive lob. After one more thriller against Genaro Alberto Olivieri, the 28-year-old had his best performance of the week taking out Ernesto Escobedo 6-2 6-3 in the semifinals.

Usually a clay specialist, Alejandro Tabilo had a 2-6 win-loss record on hard courts before this week. The Chilean started from two dominant displays over Stefan Dostanic and last week’s Cary semifinalist Stefan Kozlov. The latter was a sign of great form and Tabilo would go on to defeat the runner-up of the aforementioned event, Ramkumar Ramanathan, before taking out Thanasi Kokkinakis in a thrilling semifinal clash. Tabilo hadn’t made a final on hard courts in over two and a half years (an ITF event at Santo Domingo). This run was also his maiden championship match appearance on the Challenger circuit.

Lasting just a bit under three hours, the final turned out to be an absolute dogfight. Kubler and Tabilo went toe to toe with no one being able to maintain their advantage. Despite hitting a total of seventeen double faults, the Australian was usually able to take the match by winning most of the extended rallies, either by moving Tabilo side to side or exposing the holes in the Chilean’s own attacking game.

Kubler took his 6th Challenger title, the first one in over two years (Gatineau). This run also allows him to jump over 40 spots in the ATP Rankings. It’s going to be a very short turnaround for Tabilo, who’s signed up to play in Cordenons now. The Australian will also likely be headed to Europe, but he’ll compete again in two weeks’ time (first and second alternate in Luedenscheid and Verona, respectively).

Trieste

Former junior World No.1 Thiago Tirante proved himself to be a worthy contender for titles on the Challenger circuit at Lima last year, where he finished runner-up to Daniel Elahi Galan. The 20-year-old made the semifinals at Salinas in 2021, but was yet to achieve the same kind of success on clay courts again. Tirante had to start his Trieste campaign from the qualifying draw and took out for Italians in a row to make the quarterfinals. On his way to the championship match, he never lost more than five games in a set. The final four saw him score a great win over World No. 122 Damir Dzumhur.

Tomas Martin Etcheverry is on a fantastic run of form at the moment, having taken the title in Perugia and made the semifinals in Todi. Italian clay has been very kind to him this season as even before this week, the Argentinian had an a 19-4 win/loss record in that country this year. Etcheverry was down a break in the decider to Robin Haase in the second round, but whenever in trouble this week, he was always able to step up and keep grabbing points with his deadly forehand.

It was a rather underwhelming final though as Etcheverry completely dominated the match, start to finish. The 22-year-old lost just six points on serve and won 58% of points on return to dismantle Tirante 6-1 6-1 in only 75 minutes. His second Challenger title allows Etcheverry to break through to the top 150 of the ATP Rankings. It’s a big milestone for his rival as well, as Tirante will debut in the top 300 following his runner-up run. Both Argentinians will stay in Italy to compete in the Challenger event at Cordenons.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Internazionali di Tennis del Friuli Venezia Grulia (Cordenons, Challenger 80)
  • Svijany Open (Liberec, Challenger 80)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Stefano Travaglia (Cordenons)
  • Jiri Vesely (Liberec)

First-round matches to watch:

Cordenons

  • Quentin Halys vs (SE) Thiago Agustin Tirante
  • (8) Federico Gaio vs Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves
  • Gian Marco Moroni vs (2) Gilles Simon

Liberec

  • (3) Kamil Majchrzak vs Dmitry Popko
  • (WC) Jonas Forejtek vs (WC) Dalibor Svrcina
  • (5) Botic van de Zandschulp vs Vitalyi Sachko

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