Familiar faces took titles in Naples and Santiago as Tallon Griekspoor became the second man to tie an all-time record this year, while Sebastian Baez seemingly just can’t lose before the championship match at Challenger level. In Alicante, two Frenchmen who weren’t that successful in 2021 battled for the trophy. Read back on this week’s action:
Tallon Griekspoor had to win 14 matches in just 18 days to get to a third final in a row, but even that just couldn’t stop the Dutchman. The 25-year-old seemed to be finally running on fumes in the decider of his quarterfinal against Manuel Guinard, but he managed to recover very well for his next match against Flavio Cobolli. The sheer heaviness of his serve and forehand combination gave him enough free points to overcome it and still reach his third consecutive championship match.
Alexander Ritschard got eliminated by Griekspoor in the second round at both Murcia and the first event in Naples. This time the two landed in the opposite halves of the draw and the American proved that his runs in the past few weeks could have been much deeper had he not played him so early. After taking out Yannick Hanfmann, Ritschard produced a ridiculous comeback from 0-6 1-5 down Gian Marco Moroni, turning on a “god-mode” that would take him all the way to the final.
For the third time in three weeks, Griekspoor took out Ritschard to win his sixth Challenger title this year. Benjamin Bonzi tied the all-time record just a couple of weeks ago and the Dutchman joined him, Younes El Aynaoui (1998), Juan Ignacio Chela (2001), and Facundo Bagnis (2016). His 15 wins in 20 days also secured him a top 100 debut as on Monday, Griekspoor will be the new World No. 89. Both finalists will now take a much-needed rest.
Constant Lestienne had previously reached the quarterfinal stage at just three Challengers this year, which is certainly subpar compared to his usual standards. The 29-year-old survived a 5-7 7-6 7-5 thriller against Fernando Verdasco to do it for the fourth time here, but he found some good rhythm to make it further this time. Lestienne was great under pressure throughout, winning all three tie-breakers he contested.
Hugo Grenier had been slightly more successful, reaching the semifinal stage at Milan and Segovia. The Frenchman also won a 25K ITF in Bakio but had never reached a championship match on the Challenger Tour. Grenier eliminated the top-seeded Feliciano Lopez, before clutching out two deciding sets against Nuno Borges and Oscar Otte.
Lestienne’s forehand was an extremely efficient weapon towards the end of the week and he was able to use it well against Grenier, counter-punching well until he was able to find an opening in the rally. He also generated a lot of play on his countryman’s service games and was able to somewhat comfortably raise his 3rd Challenger title (1st in three years) 6-4 6-3. Both finalists will now take a break, intending to come back for the indoor season in two weeks’ time.
Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves lost at the semifinal stage of three Challenger events this year and finally managed to go one step further in Santiago. The Brazilian survived thrillers against Juan Ignacio Londero and Gerald Melzer, before putting up one of his best performances of late to defeat fellow countryman Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida in the semifinals.
Sebastian Baez was playing just his 11th Challenger Tour event of the season and remarkably reached his seventh final. The 20-year-old has been excellent in Chile this year, winning 21 matches prior to the title game here and only losing twice. In the quarterfinals, he stopped Juan Manuel Cerundolo from securing a top 100 debut and went on to reach the championship match taking out Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera in three sets.
Baez’s forehand can be a very efficient rally tool, but on some days it can also leak errors whenever he tries to construct points with it. That was the case in both his previous Challenger finals – Kyiv vs Franco Agamenone, and the previous event in Santiago vs Juan Pablo Varillas. This time he was ready to fight through his issues and even despite numerous mental hiccups (blowing a 40-0 lead on serve at 6-5 in the 2nd, almost losing the tie-break from 5-1 up), Baez leveled the match and had a lot more energy left for the decider, taking out Meligeni Alves 3-6 7-6 6-1.
The Argentinian’s 4th Challenger title sees him grab a new career-high ranking in the top 125. With many South American events left to play, Baez will have an outside chance of making the Australian Open main draw without having to qualify. Both finalists will feature in Buenos Aires next week.
Events held next week:
- Losinj Open (Challenger 80, clay)
- Open Bogota (Challenger 80, clay)
- Dove Men+Care Circuit Challenger Buenos Aires (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Marco Cecchinato (Losinj)
- Thiago Monteiro (Buenos Aires)
First-round matches to watch:
- Duje Ajdukovic vs Franco Agamenone
- Carlos Gimeno Valero vs (4) Nikola Milojevic
- Javier Barranco Cosano vs (2) Carlos Taberner
- Alexis Gautier vs Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida
- Dalibor Svrcina vs (2) Daniel Altmaier
- (3) Francisco Cerundolo vs Camilo Ugo Carabelli
- (7) Sebastian Baez vs Pedro Cachin
- Guido Andreozzi vs (2) Juan Manuel Cerundolo
Main Photo from Getty Images