It was another entertaining week of ATP Challenger Tour action with tournaments in Orleans, Sibiu, Murcia, Lima and Lisbon and plenty of thrilling matches. Here’s a look back at everything you might have missed:
ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Dennis Novak’s 2021 campaign had been mostly disappointing, but getting back to indoor conditions definitely helped him regain confidence. His run was mostly built on winning three difficult 8-6 tie-breakers, two against Ruben Bemelmans in the quarterfinals, and one that allowed him to stay in the match versus Corentin Moutet. The Austrian hadn’t reached a final since his title run in Bratislava 2019.
Henri Laaksonen made the third round at the US Open and confirmed his good form here by making the finals without the loss of a set. The Swiss dropped serve just twice in his first four matches, including a 7-6 6-4 win over the best Challenger player of the season, Benjamin Bonzi. Laaksonen had previously made the final in Braunschweig in July, but hadn’t won a title in over two years.
Laaksonen dominated the rallies with his forehand early on, taking the opening set 6-1. Despite seemingly being in the driver’s seat, he allowed Novak back in to the match, dropping serve twice to lose the second as the Austrian imposed himself on return. His backhand slice worked nicely as a tool to reset the rallies though, and one break in the decider saw him take his sixth Challenger title (first since Rome 2019). Both finalists are next set to play in Mouilleron-Le-Captif. Laaksonen also secured himself a return to the top 100, having last had a double-digit ranking in August 2019.
Sibiu isn’t exactly on top of a mountain, but it is 400 meters above sea level and that makes it play faster than most clay courts. Marc-Andrea Huesler took advantage of that last year, but this time the one to make the most out of the conditions was Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Australian, who took the title in Biella earlier in the season, dropped serve just twice on the way to the final and didn’t lose a single set. That included fending off a great counter-puncher in Alex Molcan in the quarterfinals, before taking out the aforementioned Huesler in the final four (lost just four points on serve).
Stefano Travaglia had a much less straightforward run to the championship match, saving two match points against Zdenek Kolar in the last eight. The Italian stuck to his guns and took care of one of them with a forehand inside-in winner, hitting an excellent dropshot on the next. He eventually prevailed over Kolar in a deciding tie-break, before going on to take out Sumit Nagal with an extremely weird 6-4 0-6 6-0 scoreline.
The final was decided by a very tight opening set as Kokkinakis raced through his service games, but couldn’t convert any of his six breakpoints. Travaglia stepped it up in the tiebreak and started getting some nice depth on his returns in the second, ultimately winning it comfortably as he broke the Australian’s serve twice.
The Italian took his fifth Challenger title, the first in over two years. He will now play in Naples, while Kokkinakis is signed up for the qualifying campaign in Indian Wells, giving him very little time to change surfaces.
Top-seeded Roberto Carballes Baena was barely losing games on his way to the finals, dropping just thirteen in total. While the run didn’t really contain a win against a marquee opponent, the Spaniard once again impressed with his consistency and never giving away anything for free. Carballes Baena finished runner-up in Seville two weeks before and he was determined to top that result this time.
Tallon Griekspoor really lived and died by the forehand this week, in most cases definitely the former. The second-seeded Dutchman survived a very peculiar 6-0 0-6 6-3 clash against Miljan Zekic, hitting over ten forehand unforced errors and only winning six points in the second set. His other performances were a lot more consistent as he took opening tie-breaks against Flavio Cobolli and Alexander Ritschard and went on to dominate the latter parts of the matches.
Griekspoor’s forehand was once again the key shot of the final. Carballes Baena did well to avoid it in the early exchanges, going to that side pretty much only when the Dutchman was pulled wide to the backhand corner. But as the match went on, Griekspoor’s game got a lot more threatening and he played a few stunning games of attacking tennis, to which Carballes Baena had no response. His 3-6 7-5 6-3 victory clinched a fourth Challenger of the season (sixth in total). Griekspoor will next play in Naples, while Carballes Baena is supposed to travel to Indian Wells.
Andrea Pellegrino came into this tournament on a 12-match losing streak, which happened almost right after he took his first Challenger title in Rome. This extreme case of a first trophy hangover finished right there in Lisbon, especially as the Italian was able to play lights-out to defeat top-seeded Thiago Monteiro in straight sets. Pellegrino’s fast-paced baseline game can be very threatening when he’s on, and the Italian went on to reach the final without losing a set.
Dmitry Popko has found a rich vein of form, but it seems like whenever he got close to a Challenger title, he shot himself in the foot. In Poznan, he let a very healthy lead in the semifinal against Bernabe Zapata Miralles go to waste, while in Prague, he wasn’t himself in his second final at this level versus Dalibor Svrcina. The Kazakh secured himself another chance in Lisbon, having survived three match points to beat Joao Domingues in the quarterfinals. The most impressive win saw him take out Hugo Gaston 6-3 6-4.
Pellegrino got off to a good start, creating two break points on Popko’s serve. Unfortunately, that was probably the last time he was in control of the match. The Kazakh made himself a nightmare to hit through and engaged Pellegrino in brutal extended rallies. Unable to break up the rhythm often enough, the Italian was soon brought down. Popko took his first Challenger title with a 6-2 6-4 win. The winner of the 2021 Lisbon Challenger will now play in Alicante, while Pellegrino comes back to Italy for a couple of events in Naples.
Hugo Dellien wasn’t having a great season before coming back to South America, only reaching one semifinal in San Marino. The Bolivian played his country’s Davis Cup tie against Belgium, defeating Ruben Bemelmans and losing to Michael Geerts. Dellien quickly caught fire in Lima though, dropping just one set to Johan Nikles in the semifinals.
Camilo Ugo Carabelli had a bit of a first title hangover following his success in Warsaw, but got back to winning ways in Lima. The 22-year-old was down 3-6 1-4 to Juan Manuel Cerundolo in the quarterfinals, but managed to stick around while his opponent got injured later in the second set and had to withdraw at 0-2 in the decider.
Ugo Carabelli had no issues dispatching any other opponent on his way to the championship match. Dellien took the final 6-3 7-5, winning his sixth Challenger title, the first in over two years. Both the Bolivian and Ugo Carabelli are set to feature in Santiago next week.
Challenger Tour magic:
It’s Corentin Moutet’s world and we’re all living in it:
Corentin Moutet exploring new frontiers of 1st serve pic.twitter.com/zmLOEr9oE3
— Stefano Berlincioni (@Carretero77) September 29, 2021
Dennis Novak wins an important breakpoint with a lucky net cord, and Corentin Moutet first throws his racket, then kicks the ball into the air, injuring himself a bit and barely walking to the bench. Watching Moutet play this week has been one hell of a ride.
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) October 2, 2021
Events held next week:
- Open de Vendee (Mouilleron-Le-Captif, Challenger 90, indoor hard)
- Tennis Napoli Cup (Challenger 80, clay)
- Emilio Sanchez Academy (Barcelona, Challenger 80, clay)
- Challenger de Santiago II (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Benjamin Bonzi, Jiri Vesely, Peter Gojowczyk, Andreas Seppi, Gilles Simon, Pierre Hugues-Herbert (Mouilleron-Le-Captif)
- Stefano Travaglia (Naples)
First-round matches to watch:
- (3) Peter Gojowczyk vs Dennis Novak
- Fernando Verdasco vs (4) Andreas Seppi
- (5) Gilles Simon vs Mats Moraing
- Jesper de Jong vs Flavio Cobolli
- (5) Zdenek Kolar vs Nino Serdarusic
- (WC) Luca Nardi vs Yannick Hanfmann
- (1) Juan Manuel Cerundolo vs Nicolas Kicker
- Dalibor Svrcina vs (5) Sebastian Baez
- (8) Felipe Meligeni Alves vs (WC) Gonzalo Lama
- (1) Hugo Gaston vs Andrea Collarini
- (3) Bernabe Zapata Miralles vs Javier Barranco Cosano
- Tommy Robredo vs Dimitar Kuzmanov
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