Arthur Rinderknech and Benjamin Bonzi ascended to great heights in 2021. The two Frenchmen faced each other twice during the season, including in the very first Challenger final of the year in Istanbul. The former finished the year as the World No. 58, the latter ended up six spots lower. Neither of them had ever been to the top 100 before 2021 and while they achieved a similar starting position for 2022, they managed it through completely different paths, succeeding at other levels of competition.
ATP points breakdown
- Tour-level events (Grand Slams + ATP) – 567/1029 (55%)
- ATP Challenger Tour – 462/1029 (45%)
- Tour-level events (Grand Slams + ATP) – 125/969 (13%)
- ATP Challenger Tour – 804/969 (83%)
- ITF World Tennis Tour – 40/969 (4%)
Rinderknech’s reliance on main tour events would be even more obvious if we only took points earned in 2021 into consideration. The Frenchman has almost half of his ATP Challenger Tour points (218) left over from the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 ranking system. Overall, only three tour-level appearances count towards Bonzi’s ranking – Wimbledon, Roland Garros (2020), and Montpellier.
A regular at the quarterfinal stage
By far the most impressive statistic regarding Rinderknech’s 2021 campaign is his number of ATP Tour quarterfinals. The 26-year-old amassed seven of them, including four on clay, which used to be considered his worst surface. With his booming serve-forehand combination and a wonderful net game, Rinderknech seems like a textbook player who should peak in faster conditions. However, the Frenchman made it clear in 2021 that clay also points out some of his assets. He likes the extra time on the ball to set up for a big groundstroke, the opponents also tend to struggle to attack his weaker backhand wing on the dirt.
The big question for 2022 will be whether the Frenchman can progress from the quarterfinal stage and seek his maiden ATP title. In the aforementioned seven quarterfinals of 2021, Rinderknech managed to make it a step further just once (Kitzbuhel). The clear missed chance came against Ugo Humbert in Marseille (served for the match and missed a match point, really tightened up near the end in his ATP debut). Otherwise, the Frenchman fared quite well in the matches he lost at that stage and wasn’t far off in close battles against the likes of Denis Shapovalov (Stockholm) or Laslo Djere (Gstaad). You can’t really blame him for the only semifinal loss against the absolute powerhouse that is Casper Ruud on clay.
Tying the all-time Challenger record
Meanwhile, Bonzi stayed mostly on the Challenger circuit, slowly piling up points to finally almost chase down Rinderknech in the ATP Rankings. The Frenchman had an absolutely sensational campaign, clinching six titles, which was at the time a record-tying achievement in a single year (was soon broken by Tallon Griekspoor). His 50 Challenger match wins is the fourth-best score ever in a single season too.
Looking back at his previous campaigns, Bonzi definitely cleaned up the game behind his serve, holding 83% of his games during the whole year (79% in 2020). His court coverage and passing shots remained sensational, but he was also able to mix it up with more attacking options and ways to win the point, which allowed for some real dominance on the Challenger circuit, up until running out of steam towards the end of the season. With his stellar backhand down-the-line, he was able to keep catching the opponents off-guard like there was no tomorrow.
For the 25-year-old, 2022 is going to be the year when we see how well his game translates to the main tour. This past year featured him in many very winnable matches (vs Matthew Ebden in Marseille, vs Facundo Bagnis at Roland Garros, etc.) but Bonzi wasn’t able to step up and never played his best when at the highest level of competition. In some instances, the success at Challengers the week before had him running out of steam in a tour-level event (a retirement in Nur-Sultan after a 15-match win streak was the prime example).
Facing off twice
- January 2021 – Arthur Rinderknech def. Benjamin Bonzi 4-6 7-6 7-6 in the final of the Istanbul Challenger
- September 2021 – Benjamin Bonzi def. Arthur Rinderknech 6-7 7-6 6-1 in the semifinal of the Rennes Challenger
It’s only fitting that the two split their meetings. It’s a fun contrast of styles and Bonzi’s much more aggressive playstyle in 2021 gave him a big helping hand in this matchup. As the two matches were contested indoors, it’s likely that in the past it’d have been much easier for Rinderknech to dominate in faster conditions. With Bonzi’s improved serving, the field was practically level-playing. That first meeting was a particularly exciting watch, foreshadowing what was to come during the rest of the season as the two Frenchmen completely exceeded expectations. We’ve had 147 Challenger finals this year and it might just have been the best one, rich in both drama and quality.
Main Photo from Getty.