ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Benjamin Bonzi and Juan Manuel Cerundolo Go Back-to-Back

Pedro Martinez in action on the ATP Challenger Tour.

Plenty of interesting storylines happened in five events across Europe. Tulln was host to the shortest final of the season so far, while Benjamin Bonzi and Juan Manuel Cerundolo just couldn’t stop winning. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Tulln

Runner-up in Rome and Iasi earlier in the season, Hugo Gaston was still looking for his first Challenger title. The Frenchman has added a bit more power to his serve and to his game in general recently, allowing him to grab more free points. This improvement helped him make his way to a third final at this level, scoring impressive wins over Sebastian Ofner and Kamil Majchrzak.

Mats Moraing triumphed in Forli in June, and has been playing at a very high level recently, just missing out on qualifying for the US Open. The German plays fast-paced first-strike tennis on clay courts, but despite very low margins he’s managing to make that work. Moraing won a thriller over Thiago Monteiro and came back from a set down to beat Jozef Kovalik and Jiri Vesely in a very high-quality road to the final.

The final, however, was a massive let-down. Moraing started imposing himself from the baseline very early, punishing shorter balls from Gaston and not allowing him to employ his favorite tactics like the dropshot. The German lost just four points on serve in a 6-2 6-1 affair that lasted only 46 minutes. Gaston mentally checked out by the middle of the second set and started throwing double fault after double fault. He managed to play a few attacking rallies from the baseline when he loosened up at 1-5, but he just wasn’t ready to play these points when it actually mattered.

Moraing took his fourth Challenger title, and second clay courts and the German returns to the top 200 after 19 months. Gaston is now playing in Szczecin, while Moraing has elected to change surfaces and feature in an indoors ATP Challenger Tour event in Rennes.

Seville

Pedro Martinez has enjoyed a very solid season on the main tour, but his efforts on the ATP Challenger Tour were rather disappointing (three wins across three events). The 24-year-old managed to turn that trend around in Seville, despite a quick surface turnaround after losing in the US Open second round to Andrey Rublev. Martinez lost just one set on the way to the final (to Raul Brancaccio), and scored a great win over Carlos Taberner in the semifinals. The latter Spaniard was just one match win away from debuting in the top 100.

Roberto Carballes Baena also struggled with an Italian early on (Julian Ocleppo), only to massively raise his level for the remainder of the week. The Spaniard was put to another really tough test by 19-year-old Luciano Darderi but played his best match of the tournament taking out Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera 6-1 6-3 in the final four.

Martinez went up an early break and was enjoying a lot of success taking the initiative with his forehand. That shot was what set the Spaniards apart with its ability to punish Carballes Baena’s ultra-defensive style. The 28-year-old produced a small fightback from 2-5 down in the opening set, but never really looked close to levelling the match again, losing to his countryman 4-6 1-6.

The 24-year-old won his third Challenger title (Bastad 2018, Marbella 2020), and upped his career-high ranking to world #59. Carballes Baena is now playing in Szczecin, while Martinez chose to withdraw from that event in order to rest.

Banja Luka

Juan Manuel Cerundolo raised the title in Como the week before Banja Luka. The 19-year-old had previously struggled when trying to go for back-to-back titles (passed the first round just once in six attempts) and he looked close to going out once again as he had to come back from a set down to Malek Jaziri. Luckily for him, Matija Pecotic’s walkover gave him some time to rest up and Cerundolo came back stronger, steamrolling to yet another ATP Challenger Tour final.

A Challenger champion in Zadar this year, Nikola Milojevic has been enjoying a very good season, although it recently started trending downhill for the Serbian. The 26-year-old found a rich vein of form in Banja Luka though, barely losing games on the way to the final. Milojevic dropped just fourteen of them, aided by Pedja Krstin’s retirement at the beginning of the second set.

Cerundolo’s quality and consistency towards the end of the week were just unmatched though, and the Argentinian managed to take back-to-back Challenger titles losing just one set in the process. In Monday’s new edition of the ATP Rankings, the 19-year-old will find himself just 24 points outside the top 100. Both finalists will take a rest now, Cerundolo will be back in a couple of weeks in South American Challenger events.

Kyiv

The champion at the Challenger 50 event in Prague, Franco Agamenone had another stunning run, this time at an event of even higher category. The 28-year-old is having a breakthrough season, taking five ITF titles and 59 match wins on that circuit in the first six months of the year. The Italian then took this level to the ATP Challenger Tour and has already made two finals, despite appearing in just two Challenger main draws before this year. Agamenone stormed through his half of the draw, losing just one set to Tristan Lamasine.

Sebastian Baez had already won three Challenger titles this season (Concepcion, Santiago, Zagreb), and was coming to Kyiv after barely missing out on qualifying for the US Open. The 20-year-old got a rather soft draw but was nevertheless impressive in dispatching all four opponents on the way to the final in straight sets.

It looked like Baez was going for yet another comfortable victory as he went up 5-1 in the opening set. But Agamenone would save a set point and produce the incredible comeback to take it 7-5. With all the momentum on his side, the Italian raced away to his second Challenger title. Having started the year ranked 679th in the world, Agamenone has already jumped 449 ranking spots, compiling a 75-19 win/loss record across all levels of competition. As a result of his final run, Baez will debut in the top 150 of the ATP Rankings. Both players will now take a short rest.

Cassis

The best player on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2021, Benjamin Bonzi, just cannot be stopped. The Frenchman took his fourth title in Cassis last week, and showed no signs of slowing down the week after in Cassis. The only player to take a set off him on the way to the final was Luca Van Assche, the 2021 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion, who enjoyed a very solid week and scored a great win against Altug Celikbilek.

Lucas Pouille made his first final in over two years (Bordeaux Challenger 2019). The 27-year-old played just one match in the entire 2020 season and struggled with injuries that kept delaying his back. Pouille’s comeback has been a struggle, but the Frenchman finally managed to string together a couple of victories, playing some very clutch tie-breakers along the way.

But Bonzi is a machine right now and the Frenchman added another title to his 2021 tally. His win/loss record in Challenger events this year is now 44-12 and the 25-year-old is just one trophy away from tying the all-time record of most Challenger trophies in a single season. It currently stands at six and belongs to Younes El Aynaoui (1998), Juan Ignacio Chela (2001), and Facundo Bagnis (2016). Bonzi took the final 7-6 6-4 and got to a new career-high ranking, landing a top 80 debut.

Events held next week:

  • Pekao Szczecin Open (Challenger 125, clay)
  • Open Blot Rennes (Challenger 90, indoor hard)
  • Atlantic Tire Championships (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Dove Men + Care Quito Challenger (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Istanbul Challenger Ted Open (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Pablo Andujar, Marco Cecchinato, Jiri Vesely, Thiago Monteiro, Roberto Carballes Baena, Stefano Travaglia (Szczecin)
  • Richard Gasquet, Arthur Rinderknech, Benjamin Bonzi (Rennes)
  • Tennys Sandgren, Denis Kudla (Cary)
  • James Duckworth (Istanbul)

With no tour-level events next week, the ATP Challenger Tour gets a chance to shine and host a total of thirteen top 100 players, seven of them at the Pekao Szczecin Open. The Open Blot Rennes awarded a wildcard to Andy Murray, who’s currently not in the top 100. Alexander Bublik plays doubles with Daniil Golubev at Istanbul, but didn’t choose to sign up for the singles event.

First-round matches to watch:

Szczecin

  • Zdenek Kolar vs (5) Jiri Vesely
  • (WC) Pawel Cias vs Vit Kopriva
  • Dennis Novak vs (4) Marco Cecchinato
  • Carlos Taberner vs (2) Pablo Andujar

Rennes

  • Yannick Maden vs (5/WC) Andy Murray
  • Mats Moraing vs (WC) Harold Mayot
  • Elias Ymer vs (3) Benjamin Bonzi

Cary

  • (1) Tennys Sandgren vs Christopher Eubanks
  • (3) Salvatore Caruso vs Christian Harrison
  • Stefan Kozlov vs (WC) Zachary Svajda
  • (6) Mitchell Krueger vs Jason Kubler

Istanbul

  • Andrey Kuznetsov vs (6) Evgeny Donskoy
  • Thomas Fabbiano vs (7) Ilya Marchenko

Kuznetsov coached Donskoy for some time during his long period of inactivity.

Quito

  • Lucas Catarina vs (5) Juan Pablo Ficovich
  • (8) Roberto Quiroz vs Diego Hidalgo

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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