Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Griekspoor Chasing Bonzi for Most Titles Won?

Tallon Griekspoor US Open 2021

Tallon Griekspoor took his 5th Challenger title of the season this week, while the 28-year-old Dimitar Kuzmanov clinched the biggest trophy of his career. Meanwhile, the South American circuit continued with some highly entertaining quality clashes. Read back on this week’s action:

Mouilleron-Le-Captif

Norbert Gombos recently completely stomped Cristian Garin 6-0 6-1 in a Davis Cup tie in Bratislava and he confirmed that indoor conditions still suit his game extremely well by making the finals here. The surface at Mouilleron-Le-Captif was really fast even for a court under the roof and Gombos dropped just one set on the way to the final, defeating last week’s Orleans runner-up Dennis Novak.

Jiri Vesely is definitely at his best in such conditions too these days. His movement and game from the baseline have declined and he needs to rely a bit more on his booming serve. That was definitely Vesely’s biggest asset this week as the Czech also dropped just one set and defeated Andreas Seppi in the semifinals, setting up his eighth professional meeting against Gombos (he led the head-to-head 6-1, although just one match came indoors).

Vesely produced incredible serving statistics throughout the week (broken just three times), but it was perhaps at its most impressive in the final. The Czech dropped a mere nine points on serve, cleaning up every weak return and avoiding any errors in the baseline rallies. Despite likely being the fitter player, it was Gombos who felt the urge to rush and close the points early, which didn’t really work in his favor.

The 28-year-old grabbed his 8th Challenger title, surprisingly just his first on hard courts (one other came indoors but on carpet). Vesely will also be back to the top 80 in the ATP Rankings on Monday. Both Gombos and Vesely will not be playing any event next week.

Barcelona

Hugo Gaston has been nearing a top 100 debut for a while now and he needed a title in Barcelona to secure it. The Frenchman made sure he got the opportunity by scoring three quick straight-set wins before taking on Alexandre Muller in a swingy 6-2 0-6 6-0 semifinal. Gaston reached his 4th Challenger final of the season.

Dimitar Kuzmanov has also been one of the better players without a Challenger title to his name yet, finishing runner-up in a very tightly-contested final at Zadar earlier in the season. The Bulgarian barely lost games to veterans Tommy Robredo and Teymuraz Gabashvili, before coming up with a brilliant upset against Alex Molcan in the semifinals.

Two of the previous Challenger finals played by the Frenchman saw him grow increasingly frustrated once he went down on the scoreboard. History repeated itself on Sunday as Kuzmanov’s meticulous baselining had Gaston struggle to find ways to win points. His mixture of big forehands and off-pace balls didn’t really get enough consistent depth and the underdog took a very comfortable 6-3 6-0 victory.

His maiden Challenger title (at 28 years old!) also secured Kuzmanov a top 200 debut. The Bulgarian will now take a break before leaving to play in South America, while Gaston stays in Europe and will appear in the second event Naples.

Naples

Last week’s Murcia champion, Tallon Griekspoor, looked pretty low on energy on various points this week, but kept fighting and pulled off comebacks from a set down against Alexander Ritschard and Stefano Travaglia. In the latter, everything looked already decided as he went down 2-6 2-2 15-40. The Dutchman managed to massively up his gear though and blasted his forehand to hit past the experienced opponent.

There really is a huge difference between an in-form Andrea Pellegrino and what the Italian shows when he’s off his game. Prior to finishing runner-up in Lisbon last week, the 24-year-old was on a 12-match losing streak. Yet somehow, he was able to turn that around in a flash and reach the final without dropping a set. He repeated that achievement in Naples, including a stunning upset over Yannick Hanfmann.

Despite looking gassed at some stages of the week, Griekspoor wouldn’t allow his opponent to impose himself from the baseline at all. Dictating with his forehand, he looked comfortable throughout the duration of the final, never really in doubt of a 6-3 6-2 victory. While it didn’t quite secure him the top 100 debut, the Dutchman is once again just twenty points shy of that achievement.

Back-to-back titles also ups his seasonal tally to 5, just one behind tour-leading Benjamin Bonzi. Both finalists intend to play the second Challenger event in Naples.

Santiago

Sebastian Baez left Europe after finishing runner-up at the Kyiv Challenger and kicked off his South American campaign this week at Santiago. The 20-year-old initially looked shaky against Nick Chappell, but got his rhythm back soon enough, completely dominating Nicolas Jarry in the semifinals. The set he lost to Chappell was the only one he dropped on the way to the championship match.

Juan Pablo Varillas is defending a ton of points from 2019 in the next month or so, but the Peruvian can get there with a couple of deep runs on this South American circuit. The recent Ambato runner-up defeated Hernan Casanova in two very tight sets in the opening round, before getting on a roll to reach the final four. He looked fairly in control against Fransisco Cerundolo, however, finishing the job took him six missed match points and an unrequited deciding set.

As mentioned earlier, Varillas was facing the possibility of a huge drop down in the rankings. The Peruvian put these concerns away though by defeating Baez 6-4 7-5. He was down 0-4 in the opener and 1-4 in the second set, producing nerve-racking comebacks each time. Baez committed an uncharacteristically high number of errors from his forehand side to allow Varillas a way back into both sets.

The Peruvian took his 4th Challenger title, interestingly all six finals he played came against Argentinians (Juan Pablo Ficovich, Guido Andreozzi, Thiago Tirante, Sebastian Baez (x2), and Federico Coria). Both Santiago finalists intend to keep playing the South American Challenger circuit.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Vesuvio Cup (Naples, Challenger 80, clay)
  • Alicante Ferrero Challenger (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Challenger de Santiago II (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Federico Coria, Marco Cecchinato (both Naples)

First-round matches to watch:

Naples

  • (7) Bernabe Zapata Miralles vs Andrea Pellegrino
  • Franco Agamenone vs (3) Hugo Gaston
  • Marc-Andrea Huesler vs (2) Marco Cecchinato

Alicante

  • (1/WC) Feliciano Lopez vs Roberto Marcora
  • Nicola Kuhn vs (2) Fernando Verdasco

Santiago

  • (3) Juan Pablo Varillas vs Facundo Mena
  • Thiago Tirante vs (4) Thiago Seyboth Wild
  • (ALT) Facundo Diaz Acosta vs Fransisco Cerundolo

Main Photo:


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