It was another busy week on the ATP Challenger Tour as five players were crowned champions on three different continents. That included two maiden winners – for one of them it was his third Challenger final, the other one had to withstand seven previous losses across seven years. Read back on this week’s action:
Filip Horansky‘s 2021 campaign is mostly following the trajectory of his whole career – occasional peaking with lots of first-round exits in between. The 28-year-old reached the finals at Quimper earlier in the season and found another good patch of play in Bucharest. Horansky scored a solid win over Vit Kopriva and defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis in a highly entertaining three-set clash.
19-year-old Jiri Lehecka is continuing his brilliant breakout season. While he recently had a bit of a slump following the title at Tampere and final in Poznan, the Czech benefitted from a rather soft section of the draw and managed to gradually play himself into form. The semifinal win against Stefano Travaglia was just his second over a top 100 opponent.
Lehecka easily dismantled Horansky 6-1 6-1 at Prostejov last year, and the 19-year-old continued that dominance by quickly going up 5-0 in the opening set. The Slovak fought back, but was unable to match Lehecka’s aggression from the baseline and left the youngster way too much initiative. Always in cruise control, the 19-year-old raced away to take the match 6-3 6-2.
The title allows Lehecka to debut in the top 180 of the ATP Rankings. Both finalists will feature on the Challenger Tour next week – the Czech will stay in Romania and play in Sibiu, while Horansky is supposed to travel to Murcia.
Thiago Monteiro had been seeking an opportunity to regain his confidence and it presented itself this week in Braga. The Brazilian was not posing enough of a threat from the baseline in his quarterfinal against Andrea Arnaboldi, allowing the opponent to play his all-court attacking tennis. Monteiro finally found some belief in his forehand again and turned the match around, going through to the semifinals. Due to rain, the ending of that match plus the following meeting against Hugo Gaston had to be played indoors. These conditions suited the Brazilian very well as he defeated the Frenchman soundly on Saturday.
Nikola Milojevic‘s second-round opponent, Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna, held six match points on serve to throw him out of the tournament. In a heartbreaking twist, the recent Banja Luka runner-up was somehow able to survive and make another championship match. He eliminated another promising Spaniard Nicolas Sanchez Izquierdo in the semifinals.
Milojevic didn’t really have enough weapons to hurt Monteiro off the ground, but the Serbian definitely wasn’t short on fighting spirit. Despite going down 0-4 right out of the gate, Milojevic stuck in and forced the Brazilian into two very tight sets. The 7-5 7-5 victory took over 2,5 hours and with Monteiro lacking the confidence in his topspin forehand, he was forced to slug it out from the baseline.
The Brazilian grabbed his 6th title, the previous one coming at Punta del Este in January 2020. Both players will stay on the Challenger Tour next week, contending the same event in Lisbon.
Still searching for his maiden Challenger title, Liam Broady managed to get himself another shot this week. The Brit lost all seven finals he previously contested at this level. Three of these came indoors as despite not having a game as big as most of the players that went far in Biel, Broady feels very comfortable playing under the roof. He was able to secure the final with relatively fresh legs, not losing a set on the way as his highly-anticipated clash against Dominic Stricker ended with the youngster retiring after eight games.
Marc-Andrea Huesler got a lot of recognition after the restart last year, reaching the semifinal at an ATP event in Kitzbuhel, and taking Challenger titles in Sibiu and Ismaning. The Swiss is a huge server and while he’s also very successful on clay, his peak potential probably lies in faster conditions. The 25-year-old barely survived the opening round against Ruben Bemelmans (deciding set tie-break) and had to withstand another close call versus Tim van Rijthoven in the semifinals, saving two match points and coming back from a set down.
Broady missed seven chances before and you could see the nerves early on. The Brit was able to calm down though, get the break back, and then find another one with Huesler serving to stay in the set. He was a set away from the glory for the fourth time in his career.
The 27-year-old wasn’t going to waste another opportunity and despite having a less natural indoor skillset than his opponent, he managed to find another break of serve to go just a game away from the title that had eluded him for so long. Broady closed out the match to love with a great volley, letting out two loud “Let’s Go!”s and displaying how much it meant to him.
This title also has him break through to the top 130 for the very first time. He will now take a week of break before taking part in the Challenger at Mouilleron-Le-Captif. Huesler intends to defend his last year’s crown at Sibiu.
Stefan Kozlov hadn’t made a Challenger final in four years, but ever since he started playing more frequently this summer, something’s changed in the American’s attitude, and his level drastically improved. The 23-year-old had a very difficult path to the finals, which included a first-round matchup against last week’s Cary champion Mitchell Krueger. What seemed like Kozlov taking advantage of an exhausted opponent at first, was in fact a preview of how good the American would play this week. He also eliminated both former Ohio State standouts (who played college tennis at this exact venue), J. J. Wolf and Mikael Torpegaard. The latter served for the match, but Kozlov stood strong.
Max Purcell had experienced success way more recently, just two months earlier when he won the title at Nur-Sultan. The Australian’s good form earned him a US Open wildcard and he continued playing very well after the last Grand Slam of the year. Purcell defeated Nicolas Mejia in three sets in the quarterfinals, before clashing with Aleksandar Vukic in an all-Australian meeting in the final four. He was able to get the job done in two dramatic tie-break sets as Vukic couldn’t handle the pressure quite as well as he did.
Purcell played a fabulous opening set, grabbing an early break and then loosening up to keep putting Kozlov on the back foot. But the American was able to do what he does best, stuck around, and never gave up. Kozlov’s serve worked really well in the indoor conditions and he was able to close out many points at the net. Purcell initially led the decider by a break, but the 23-year-old leveled right back and later took the match 4-6 6-2 6-4.
Kozlov won his 3rd Challenger title, the first in almost four years (Las Vegas 2017). He will find himself on the verge of top 250 in Monday’s ATP Rankings. Both finalists will now take a break before the American heads off to South America to play a series of clay-court Challengers. However, it’s possible that this success in Columbus could earn him a qualifying wildcard for Indian Wells. All in the hands of the tournament director now.
Juan Pablo Varillas came back to South America after a couple of months away (during which he secured a Challenger title in Biella, among other things). The Peruvian had a successful weekend in Davis Cup, defeating both Mirza Basic and Damir Dzumhur. He was still a bit short on match practice though and it showed as he was two points away from losing to Roberto Quiroz in the opening round. Having survived that, the top seed straight-setted his remaining opponents on the way to the title.
Former junior World No. 1 Thiago Tirante finished runner-up in Trieste earlier in the season, still seeking his first Challenger title. The fast altitude clay conditions were a double-edged sword for him at the beginning of the campaign, as he went through Cristian Rodriguez and Carlos-Gomez Herrera despite not breaking serve. But as the week progressed, it became clear that they were actually beneficial to his serve and forehand-oriented game. In the semifinals, he took out last week’s Quito champion Facundo Mena.
Tirante’s serve looked exceptional all week and it was no different in the final as he allowed the more experienced opponent just two breakpoints. The Argentinian was able to win more points from defensive positions and punished Varillas whenever he allowed him to go for the trademark inside-out forehand. A lone break towards the end of each set was enough to give Tirante a 7-5 7-5 victory.
This maiden Challenger title puts the 20-year-old very close to breaking through to the top 200 of the ATP Rankings. Unsurprisingly, both Varillas and Tirante intend to keep playing the South American Challenger Tour for the weeks to come.
Events held next week:
- Open d’Orleans (Challenger 125, indoor hard)
- Dove+en Care Legion Sudamericana Lima (Challenger 80, clay)
- Del Monte Lisboa Belem Open (Challenger 80, clay)
- Murcia Open (Challenger 80, clay)
- Sibiu Open (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Ugo Humbert, Benjamin Bonzi, Arthur Rinderknech, Richard Gasquet, Jiri Vesely, Gilles Simon, Corentin Moutet, Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Orleans)
- Thiago Monteiro (Lisbon)
- Roberto Carballes Baena (Murcia)
- Stefano Travaglia (Sibiu)
First-round matches to watch:
- (1/WC) Ugo Humbert vs Quentin Halys
- Feliciano Lopez vs Fernando Verdasco
- (7) Gilles Simon vs Holger Rune
- (1) Francisco Cerundolo vs Mathias Pucinelli de Almeida
- (3) Daniel Altmaier vs Guido Andreozzi
- Thiago Agustin Tirante vs (WC) Gonzalo Lama
- (7) Giulio Zeppieri vs Alessandro Giannessi
- Michael Geerts vs Nuno Borges
- Evan Furness vs Javier Barranco Cosano
- Alexander Shevchenko vs (5) Marco Trungelliti
- Nikola Kuhn vs Timofey Skatov
- Marius Copil vs (5) Zdenek Kolar
- Vitaliy Sachko vs (2) Radu Albot