After eleven months of thrilling action and 147 completed events, the 2021 ATP Challenger Tour has finally come to an end. The ultimate week saw two more maiden winners as Chun-Hsin Tseng raised the title at Maia, while Kaichi Uchida won in Rio de Janeiro, at the venue of the 2016 Olympics. Read back on this week’s action:
Having recently won his maiden Challenger title at Antalya, Nuno Borges came back to his hometown to play the two Challenger events in Maia. His run last week finished with a loss to the eventual champion Geoffrey Blancaneaux, but the 24-year-old was playing much better this week. After scraping through a tough first set tie-break against Ricardo Bonadio, the Portuguese never gave any of his next three opponents more than four games in a set after that.
Last week’s runner-up, Chun-Hsin Tseng also never lost a set on the way to the final, playing just one tie-breaker against Fabian Marozsan. The semifinal was a rematch against Andrej Martin, whom the Taiwanese took out in the final four of the previous event in Maia as well. The second edition of the matchup (or third, since they also played in Prague 2019) proved much easier for Tseng, who only let the top seed win three games this time around.
Tseng’s game usually lacks the power to stand up against quality opposition, but that clearly wasn’t the case from the very beginning of Sunday’s final. The Taiwanese was counter-punching extremely well and his own attempts to accelerate were far more efficient than usual. While Borges came back from a break down to win the opening set, Tseng stood strong as he was forced to serve to stay in it and went on to clinch nine of the last eleven games. The Portuguese looked gassed in the decider, possibly coming from the fact that the two weeks in Maia were extremely busy for him (won both doubles titles, a final and a semifinal in singles).
Both finalists secured top 200 debuts with their runs. Tseng and Borges are supposed to appear in Australian Open qualifying, while the Taiwanese is also signed up for a Challenger in Traralgon before that.
Rio de Janeiro
In a draw full of clay-court specialists, Kaichi Uchida was one of the few players whose best results had come on hard courts, including both Challenger semifinals he had on his resume (Cary 2018, Zhuhai 2019). That pedigree definitely helped the Japanese during the week as he progressed through to the final losing just one set (to Genaro Alberto Olivieri). In the quarterfinals, he was able to eliminate the top seed, Thiago Seyboth Wild.
20-year-old Nicolas Alvarez Varona focuses on the dirt a lot more, but it quickly turned out that his game is quite easy to translate to faster conditions too. After struggling early against Facundo Diaz Acosta, the Spaniard didn’t drop any more sets on the way to the championship match, playing particularly well behind his serve. Before this week, he had just one Challenger quarterfinal under his belt (Barcelona this year, lost to Hugo Gaston).
Despite the advantage of experience, Uchida was the one who let the occasion get to him early on. Adjusting to the wind didn’t come easy for him too as he produced some wild forehand errors. However, despite losing the opening set he soon regained control and seemed to be smooth sailing to the finish, leading 5-2 in the decider. His game completely fell apart though and after two consecutive double faults at 40-40, Uchida lost his next service game too, ultimately being forced to play a tie-break for the title. The Japanese regrouped and took his maiden title after all, but certainly didn’t need to give himself such a scare.
Challenger Tour magic:
MIND. BLOWN. 🤯
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) December 14, 2021
The opening week of the 2022 ATP Challenger Tour will feature two Challenger 80 events in Australia (Bendigo and Traralgon, for the first time since the pandemic), and two Challenger 50s (Forli and Buenos Aires).