ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Youngsters Shining Everywhere

Holger Rune, a champion on the ATP Challenger Tour, in action.

Youngsters were successful all around Europe on the ATP Challenger Tour this week, with every single finalist being under 25 years of age. Three of them were even teenagers – Holger Rune, Juan Manuel Cerundolo, and Dalibor Svrcina. Here’s a look back at all the action you might have missed:

ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

San Marino

It’s been a very solid year on the ITF Tour for the 23-year-old Orlando Luz, but most of the Brazilian’s Challenger Tour appearances finished earlier than he would have liked. The first sign that good things were to come came in Trieste, as Luz got to the quarterfinals as a lucky loser. Not ranked high enough to get into the main draw, the Brazilian also had to qualify here and win six matches to get to the final. Luz had the best week of his career though and took advantage of a little softer half of the draw to make his maiden Challenger final.

Holger Rune was the junior world #1 not long ago and took the boys’ singles title at Roland Garros in 2019. The Dane is now having a brilliant transition to the pros, highlighted by a Challenger title in Biella earlier in the year. The 18-year-old has been pulling off one good result after another, but it was looking like his campaign in San Marino could finish early as Rune was down 2-6 0-4 to Salvatore Caruso in the second round. The youngsters somehow produced a stunning comeback and defeated Marco Cecchinato in the semifinals, his sixth top 100 win of the season.

Rune’s game contains very little margin for error and similarly to the Caruso match, the 18-year-old just couldn’t get going at all in the opening set. Luz’s FH brought him a fair few points too and the Brazilian took the opener 6-1. Rune didn’t stick to the losing tactic though and toned down his aggression. It turned out that playing it safer was the right idea as Luz started leaking errors. The Dane took complete control over the match and safely took a 1-6 6-2 6-3 victory.

At just 18 years and three months old, it’s a stunning achievement for Rune to own two Challenger titles. The youngster also upped his career-high ranking by almost 30 places, while his opponent will be the new world #272 on Monday. Luz got a special exempt to the main draw in Verona, where he’ll also be joined by Rune.

Meerbusch

Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera finished runner-up in two previous Challenger Tour events this year, losing to Sebastian Baez in Santiago, and Jesper de Jong in Almaty. By winning three deciding sets along the way to the final Meerbusch, the Chilean was able to buy himself another shot at a title of the circuit. The 23-year-old took out top-seeded Daniel Altmaier in the quarterfinals, eliminating him in a third set tie-break.

Juan Manuel Cerundolo might have won a tour-level event in Cordoba and a Challenger in Rome earlier in the season, but he came to Meerbusch on a six-match losing streak. Grabbing a three-set win over Kimmer Coppejans in the opening round seemed to have changed something in the Argentinian’s mindset as he was able to massively up his game for the rest of the week. Cerundolo had his best performance in a while defeating Botic van de Zandschulp in the semifinals by winning 78% of 2nd serve return points.

The first set of the final ended in a thrilling tie-breaker that Barrios took 9-7. The Chilean’s forehand is usually his money shot and with his backhand also setting up attacking points from the ground, he was able to punish Cerundolo for his ultra-defensive playstyle. The Argentinian’s serve didn’t bring him any sort of help as Barrios took 52% of points on 1st serve return. Cerundolo stuck around with his opponent until 3-3 in the second set as the Chilean made one final push to bring the match home 7-6 6-3.

Barrios improved his career-high ranking to 171 with this title, his opponent also made a small leap to a position he’s never held before (139). The Chilean will now look to rest up before playing the US Open qualifying, Cerundolo chose not to travel to New York and will play more Challengers in Europe instead, starting from Luedenscheid next week.

Prague

Dmitry Popko reached his maiden ATP Challenger Tour final in Almaty two years ago, losing to Andrey Martin. The 24-year-old was in the middle of a very mediocre year, until he finally managed to catch a rich vein of form by the time July rolled around.  The Kazakh reached the quarterfinals in Tampere and the semifinals in Poznan and with a slightly weaker field here due to Prague being in the Challenger 50 category, he was ready for another big run. Popko lost just 17 games on the way to the final, absolutely ripping the opposition apart.

Adding to the recent success of young Czechs like Jiri Lehecka or Vit Kopriva, 18-year-old Dalibor Svrcina managed to get to his maiden Challenger Tour final. He was able to survive a thriller against Evan Furness, before going on to face his compatriot Jonas Forejtek in the semifinals. The two captured the 2019 Australian Open boys’ doubles title together. Despite being a less successful junior, Svrcina had Forejtek’s number when they played in the past and he was able to once again defeat his friend and make the finals.

Perhaps a bit too aware of the opportunity in front of him, Popko played a horrific first set, not winning a single point on return and just six in total to lose it in just 20 minutes. He was able to stay a lot more competitive in the second, breaking Svrcina with the 18-year-old serving for the match. A massive game at 5-5 followed and the Czech broke again, not repeating the same error to take his maiden Challenger title 6-0 7-5.

As a result of this win, Svrcina broke through to the top 400 of the ATP Rankings for the very first time (jumped 90 spots). The 18-year-old will now play in 25K ITF in Prostejov, while Popko will feature in the main draw in Verona, before heading off to New York to play the US Open qualifying.

Events held next week:

  • Internazionali di Tennis Verona (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Platzmann-Sauerland Open (Luedenscheid, Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Pablo Andujar, Pedro Martinez, Roberto Carballes Baena (all Luedenscheid)

First-round matches to watch:

Verona

  • (1) Carlos Taberner vs Jesper de Jong
  • Vitalyi Sachko vs (WC) Giulio Zeppieri
  • (SE) Orlando Luz vs (2) Dmitry Popko

Luedenscheid

  • (3) Roberto Carballes Baena vs (ALT) Nicolas Kicker
  • Nicolas Jarry vs Lukas Klein
  • Duje Ajdukovic vs Evan Furness

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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