While some of the regular Challenger Tour contenders made big runs at the US Open, others contested two hard-court and one clay-court event in Europe. At St. Tropez, Benjamin Bonzi took the lone lead in titles won on the 2021 ATP Challenger Tour. Juan Manuel Cerundolo claimed a second trophy this year, while Lukas Lacko got back to winning ways after a long break.
The recently crowned maiden Challenger champion at Milan, Gian Marco Moroni made his fourth final at this level, and fourth on Italian soil. He was able to benefit from a quick retirement by Alexey Vatutin, before going on to take out three of his compatriots in a row. He fended off the veteran Andrea Arnaboldi, before defeating doubles specialist Andrea Vavassori in the finals. The former was the only player to win a set against him, while the latter made a stunning run despite barely playing singles this season.
Despite retiring in the first round at Barletta the week before, Juan Manuel Cerundolo managed to recover and start playing well again this week. Just like Moroni, the Argentinian also had a couple of opponents who weren’t able to continue the match. The only completed matches won by the 19-year-old were against Tristan Lamasine and back-to-back Challenger finalist Nino Serdarusic. Cerundolo took out top-seeded Daniel Altmaier after the German decided to call it quits at 4-6 0-3 down.
Moroni came out looking rather tight and Cerundolo was quickly able to take advantage with some stellar defense. The Argentinian’s serve is a liability though and he let his opponent back into the set, ultimately having to take it 7-5. But that was nothing in comparison to how dramatic the second part of the match was. Cerundolo missed a match point trying to serve out the match at 5-4, and the two went into a dramatic tie-breaker. The 19-year-old took it 9-7 as the second set lasted almost 90 minutes by itself.
Cerundolo claimed his 2nd Challenger title this year (Rome). It takes him up to World No. 118 in the Live Rankings, but his new career-high will be established with the official edition after the US Open. He will get the chance to improve it further in Banja Luka next week, while Moroni is featured in the main draw at Seville.
The new leader match-win leader on the ATP Challenger Tour this year (at 34 before the week, one behind Tomas Martin Etcheverry at the time), Benjamin Bonzi, came to St. Tropez after a disappointing loss to Aleksandar Kovacevic in the US Open qualifying. Bonzi’s return to his favorite circuit was again really successful. The recent addition to the ATP Top 100 dropped one set on his path to the final, interestingly defeating four Frenchmen in a row (Mathias Bourgue, Kyrian Jacquet, Enzo Couacaud, and Hugo Grenier).
For Christopher O’Connell, this was the first Challenger event of the season as the Australian tried himself on the main tour with rather mixed results. The 27-year-old was even more dominant than Bonzi, not losing a single set on his way to the championship match. In the final four, he eliminated the ever-dangerous Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-1 7-6, not having to face even a single breakpoint.
The two played a fantastic first set that ended in a 12-10 tie-break victory for O’Connell. Bonzi missed three set points, including a straightforward smash at 6-5. The Frenchman was the more aggressive player but O’Connell’s one-handed backhand stood solid and the Australian aced the most important moments of the set to take the lead. Sadly, the intensity soon dropped as O’Connell had to request a medical time-out on his thigh. The visit to the physio barely helped and with his movement visibly hampered, the 27-year-old retired at 7-6 1-6 0-0.
Bonzi took the lone lead in titles won on the 2021 ATP Challenger Tour circuit (before this week he was tied at 3 with Sebastian Baez, Zizou Bergs, Jenson Brooksby, Tallon Griekspoor, and Holger Rune). The Frenchman will also reach a new career-high ranking after the US Open, although it is yet unclear what number it will exactly be. Both finalists are signed for the Cassis Challenger next week.
Yasutaka Uchiyama had only won consecutive matches once this season (Wimbledon qualifying), before finally getting on a run at Mallorca. The top seed had a slice of luck in his opener as Steven Diez had to retire a set up. The Japanese had to survive a couple of thrillers along the way – he took out Ramkumar Ramanathan 7-6 in the decider, and Michael Geerts 7-5 in the decider. The 29-year-old reached his first Challenger final in almost two years (Playford 2019).
His opponent also had a bit of a resurgence this week. Lukas Lacko had been almost as disastrous as Uchiyama since the pandemic, making a Challenger semifinal at Quimper early in the year but exiting a total of 14 events at the first stage. The 33-year-old played some fantastic tennis throughout the week in Mallorca, not dropping a single set on the way to the finals. Only Dimitar Kuzmanov was able to take Lacko to a tie-break.
Uchiyama had a bit of a slow start, but quickly broke back and by the end of set one, he was clearly the better player. The Japanese took a monumental 19-minute game to break Lacko and take the set, capitalizing on his tenth set point. Riding high on the momentum, he soon went up 7-5 5-3 to serve for the match.
But Lacko wasn’t done yet and he forced a second-set tie-breaker, suddenly winning most of the extended baseline rallies and impressing with his consistency, which isn’t something often associated with his game. The 33-year-old saved a match point in the tie-breaker and went on to dominate the deciding set, claiming the title 5-7 7-6 6-1.
It was Lacko’s 14th ATP Challenger Tour title and first in almost two years (Ismaning 2019). Both finalists are signed up to play the Cassis Challenger next week.
Challenger Tour magic:
August’s top 5 ATP Challenger Tour hot shots:
August was hot, but the tennis was even hotter 🔥
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) September 5, 2021
Events held next week:
- NO Open Powered by EVN (Tulln, Challenger 100, clay)
- LVII Copa Sevilla (Challenger 90, clay)
- Srpska Open (Banja Luka, Challenger 80, clay)
- Cassis Open Provence (Challenger 80, hard)
- Kyiv Open (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Marco Cecchinato, Jiri Vesely, Thiago Monteiro (Tulln)
- Pablo Andujar, Pedro Martinez, Roberto Carballes Baena (Sevilla)
- Benjamin Bonzi (Cassis)
First-round matches to watch:
- (4) Kamil Majchrzak vs Holger Rune
- (5) Jozef Kovalik vs Yannick Hanfmann
- (1) Pablo Andujar vs Javier Barranco Cosano
- Michael Geerts vs Jack Draper
- Dimitar Kuzmanov vs Alexander Shevchenko
- (6) Danilo Petrovic vs (WC) Marko Topo
- Altug Celikbilek vs (6) Gregoire Barrere
- Kacper Zuk vs (7) Jurij Rodionov
- (8) Liam Broady vs Ernesto Escobedo
- (5) Lucas Pouille vs Joao Sousa
Three of the four 2021 Roland Garros boys’ singles semifinalists will be appearing at Cassis. Arthur Fils and Luca van Assche are featured in the main draw, while Giovanni Mpetschi Perricard has to start from the qualifying draw.
- (5) Jay Clarke vs Timofey Skatov
- Nuno Borges vs (3) Quentin Halys
- Franco Agamenone vs Stefan Kozlov
Main Photo from Getty Images