Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Tallon Griekspoor Stands Alone

Tallon Griekspoor US Open 2021

The story of the week was Tallon Griekspoor grabbing his record seventh Challenger title this year, but there was no shortage of exciting runs around the globe. Holger Rune will enter the Next Gen Finals with the momentum on his side, while Stefan Kozlov continues his resurgence. Read back on this week’s action:

Bergamo

Holger Rune seemed to be suffering from overplaying in the past couple of weeks, but got back on the right track in Bergamo. He was able to pull off a draining win over Filip Horansky, before finding another deciding set triumph versus Damir Dzumhur. Rune’s physicality was heavily tested in the final four and at one point in the semifinal, it seemed like the Dane would have a hard time even finishing the match. However, the 18-year-old pulled back from 3-1 down in the third and despite the health issues, was able to score a fantastic win over the top-seeded Alex Molcan.

Cem Ilkelย had been a bit overshadowed by his countryman Altug Celikbilek this year, who defeated him in the final at Pozoblanco. The 26-year-old Turk survived a deciding tie-break against Pavel Kotov in the opening round and went on to score high-quality wins against Radu Albot and Liam Broday. His final four opponent was Fabian Marozsan, who made a fantastic debut in a Challenger main draw by going that far. The Hungarian gave Ilkel a tough time but the favorite was able to recover in time and reach his second final of the year.

Rune had a very tough week and Ilkel wasn’t going to let him take this one easily. The Dane found the crucial break at 5-5 in the first, but quickly fell behind as the Turk had a great chance to get the match to a decider. Rune somehow survived two set points and raced back from 2-5 down, ultimately claiming the match 7-5 7-6 in a thrilling tiebreaker. The whole affair took way over two hours and certainly wasn’t a comfortable straight-set win.

His 4th Challenger title (only Richard Gasquet and Felix Auger-Aliassime achieved that feat at a younger age than him) has the 18-year-old just about 30 points away from the top 100. Rune will now play the Next Gen Finals in Milan, while Ilkel features in the main draw at Bratislava.

Eckental

Maxime Cressy is among the very few classic serve-and-volleyers left on the tour and the peculiar carpet surface suits that playstyle very well. A semifinalist at Ismaning last week, the American survived a bit of a scare against Johannes Haerteis in the opening round but regained control after dropping the opening set tie-break. He would then increase his level towards the end of the week, reaching the semifinals where he had to face Tomas Machac. The Czech had a 40-0 lead on Cressy’s first service game in the deciding set, but the 24-year-old clutched it out to advance to his first final in 19 months through a tie-breaker.

Daniel Masur is either going very deep or losing in the first round this year. The German qualified for Wimbledon and won the Biella Challenger in March, but also managed to amass a total of fifteen opening match exits. Once he gets on a roll though, Masur can be an extremely dangerous competitor. After eliminating last week’s Ismaning champion Oscar Otte early on in the event, the German went on to completely dominate his next three matches and win all of them in straight sets.

The key to Masur’s previous wins was sensational reactive returning and the German kept it up in the final. Both breaks of Cressy’s serve featured a couple of return winners as the 27-year-old managed to read them well and connect with the ball to blast a deadly strike. He was also threatened in just one of his games, but held up well to find a way to pull through. During the whole week, Masur lost his serve just once, holding 52 times.

The German’s 2nd Challenger title gets him really close to the top 200, which he’s never broken before. Both finalists will go to Ortisei now, where Masur will get the chance to grab the points required to make that milestone.

Tenerife

Tallon Griekspoor was seeking a record seventh Challenger title in a single season. All his previous ones came on clay and the event in Tenerife was just the Dutchman’s second hardcourt tournament of this level this year. Griekspoor isn’t really a clay-court specialist though and made solid runs at ATP events like Montpellier or Acapulco before. The 25-year-old was able to dominate his first three matches, before having to pull through Fernando Verdasco as the veteran just wouldn’t go away.

Feliciano Lopez fell out of the top 100 this year and had to introduce some Challenger events into his schedule. In the previous two, he went out to Hugo Grenier. With the Frenchman not around this time, the veteran had a clear path to the final. Just kidding, it wasn’t an easy route whatsoever. Lopez saved two break points at 4-4 in the deciding set to beat Dalibor Svrcina and went on to be pushed to another third by Ryan Peniston.

Griekspoor saved two break points at 1-2 down early on, but quickly went on to dominate the match with his heavy-hitting. Lopez’s slice didn’t really hurt him enough to disrupt his baseline game. The 40-year-old veteran had a bit of a late surge breaking back in the second set, but couldn’t make up for the second service game he lost.

The Dutchman won 6-4 6-4 and claimed his seventh Challenger title of the season, becoming the sole record holder for most trophies at that level in a single year – leaving behind Younes El Aynaoui (1998), Juan Ignacio Chela (2001), Facundo Bagnis (2016), and Benjamin Bonzi (2021). He’s gone 35-3 on the Challenger Tour in six months, racking up seven titles and three first-round exits. Griekspoor is supposed to play in Bratislava next, while Lopez will sit the week out before going to Pau.

Charlottesville

Stefan Kozlov reached his third Challenger final in a row, starting off with a pair of extremely clean wins over Bjorn Fratangelo and Jason Kubler. In the final four, he would face J. J. Wolf, the only man who was able to stop him in Las Vegas the week before. It was their third meeting this summer and Kozlov was able to secure a 2-1 lead in the head-to-head series. The 23-year-old drained Wolf down both physically and mentally, really embodying the “winning ugly” style of tennis.

Aleksandar Vukic played a schedule more focused on clay this year, but the Australian has been sublime since coming back to hard courts. The 25-year-old reached the semifinals at three of his four previous Challengers. In Charlottesville, he came back from a set down to beat Tung-Lin Wu, before taking out Jack Sock in a highly-anticipated quarterfinal.

The final was supposed to feature a very nice contrast of styles with Kozlov’s ability to make the opponent uncomfortable matching up against Vukic’s power. However, the 23-year-old American didn’t allow his rival to impose himself from the baseline at all and was very efficient in his own serve plus one play. Vukic had chances to break back in both sets but wasn’t aggressive enough with his returning.

Kozlov claimed his 4th Challenger title (2nd this year) to get back to the top 200 for the first time since June 2018. Pending withdrawals, the two finalists are supposed to face each other in the opening round at Knoxville.

Guayaquil

Jesper de Jong was down 3-6 2-5 to Guido Andreozzi in the opening round, but was able to pull off an incredible comeback, saving a match point in an extended rally where he didn’t really have the situational advantage. In a very unexpected twist, his opponent would then retire after dropping the second set, citing fatigue. Nevertheless, De Jong grew a lot stronger as the week went on, especially in the dominant 6-1 6-0 win over Hugo Dellien.

Alejandro Tabilo was considered a clay-court specialist before this year, but the 23-year-old Chilean made his maiden final at this level on hard courts in Lexington earlier in the season. The dirt really suits his assets though and he made that clear from the first match here, upsetting World No. 78 Jaume Munar. Tabilo would keep up that amazing level for the whole week, reaching the final without losing a set.

Although he was a slight favorite for the final, no one could have expected just how dominant the 23-year-old would be in Sunday’s final. Just like in his previous four matches, Tabilo produced a brilliant mix of deep, powerful hitting with very clean ball-striking. He was practically unplayable up until 4-2 in the second, at which point he suddenly lost focus and it only took a few minutes for de Jong to be up 5-4 on serve. Tabilo recovered in time though and clinched the match 6-1 7-5.

The 23-year-old’s maiden Challenger title allows him to break the top 150 of the ATP Rankings for the very first time. Tabilo is supposed to play in Montevideo next week, while de Jong isn’t signed up for any Challengers in the near future.

Challenger Tour magic:

Best Challenger hot shots of October:

Two stunning tweeners this week:

Events held next week:

  • Open International de Tennis de Roanne (Challenger 100, indoor hard)
  • Peugeot Slovak Open (Bratislava, Challenger 90, indoor hard)
  • Sparkasse Challenger Val Gardena/Sudtirol (Ortisei, Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Knoxville Challenger (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Uruguay Open (Montevideo, Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Benoit Paire, Richard Gasquet, Jiri Vesely, Mikael Ymer, Henri Laaksonen (Roanne)
  • Stefano Travaglia, Tallon Griekspoor, Carlos Taberner (Bratislava)
  • Tennys Sandgren (Knoxville)
  • Facundo Coria, Jaume Munar, Facundo Bagnis, Thiago Monteiro (Montevideo)

First-round matches to watch:

Roanne

  • (1/WC) Benoit Paire vs Constant Lestienne
  • (3) Jiri Vesely vs Manuel Guinard

Bratislava

  • (1) Stefano Travaglia vs Zdenek Kolar
  • Ilya Marchenko vs (3) Liam Broady
  • Damir Dzumhur vs (4) Norbert Gombos
  • (6) Gilles Simon vs Kacper Zuk

Ortisei

  • (4) Emilio Gomez vs Jack Draper
  • (WC) Luca Nardi vs (3) Quentin Halys
  • Tim van Rijthoven vs (2) Maxime Cressy

Knoxville

  • (3) Vasek Pospisil vs Christopher Eubanks
  • Aleksandar Vukic vs Stefan Kozlov
  • (5) Jack Sock vs Aleksandar Kovacevic

Montevideo

  • (1) Federico Coria vs Andrea Collarini
  • Facundo Mena vs (2) Jaume Munar

Main Photo from Getty Images


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