Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Vasek Pospisil and Yoshihito Nishioka Ending Their Slumps

Vasek Pospisil ATP Canada 2021
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It was a week of resurgences as Vasek Pospisil and Yoshihito Nishioka, having recently fallen out of the top 100, made their first deep runs in a while, claiming the titles at Quimper and Columbus, respectively. Meanwhile, Francisco Cerundolo should enter the Golden Swing with a lot of confidence after coming out on top in Santa Cruz. Read back on this week’s action:

Quimper

Gregoire Barrere arrived in Quimper on a six-match losing streak, but the 2019 champion and 2015 runner-up seems to often raise his level for the French indoor Challengers. The 27-year-old was in stunning form on the way to the final, outplaying a set of opponents this tough that it doesn’t even sound like a draw from this level of competition anymore – Jiri Lehecka, Lucas Pouille, Andrey Kuznetsov, and Dennis Novak. The Frenchman never lost a set and dropped just 21 games before the championship match.

Also pretty desperate to find some form (8-19 in 2021), Vasek Pospisil opted to skip the Australian Open and played a couple of Challengers at Forli, reaching the quarterfinals but losing to Zsombor Piros and Frederico Ferreira Silva in disappointing fashion. The Canadian had a tough time defeating Matthias Bourgue but held his never in the deciding set. On the way to the final, he was broken just three times (twice by Bourgue, once by Hiroki Moriya).

Barrere had lost his serve just twice (to Jiri Lehecka and Andrey Kuznetsov), so one thing we knew for sure is that break opportunities were going to be scarce. Pospisil landed a very good return game to kick-off the match though, which effectively finished the opening set due to his great serve plus one forehand play. The second set got a lot messier though with Pospisil repeatedly giving the Frenchman break point chances that he kept missing.

While Barrere eventually leveled, his performance was really much weaker compared to all the previous matches he played at Quimper. Pospisil took his 10th Challenger title (first since November 2019) 6-4 3-6 6-1. Both finalists had to withdraw from ATP Montpellier qualifying due to their runs this week.

Columbus

Dominic Stricker has struggled to make deep runs following his title at Lugano last year, still performing at an incredible level at times but lacking the consistency of results. The 19-year-old had a nightmare draw here, but was able to come out on top against Tennys Sandgren and Stefan Kozlov, making it to the quarterfinals. Due to face Jack Sock there, he benefitted from the American’s retirement and eliminated Jurij Rodionov, making the second Challenger final of his career.

Yoshihito Nishioka was in a dire need of a big run too, having fallen out of the top 100 after struggling for wins on the main tour. The Japanese hadn’t played a Challenger since the pandemic (Bendigo 2020), but wasn’t even favored to advance to the championship match, having to come through J.J. Wolf in the second round and Jenson Brookbsy in the semifinals. He did just that though and despite the very quick indoor conditions not necessarily suiting his game, made other players struggle to hit through his court coverage.

The Nishioka matchup really tests your rally tolerance and along with the great skills of absorbing and redirecting pace, Stricker wasn’t fully ready to take him on yet. The Japanese played extremely well in situational balls too, coming up with great passes and short-angled responses. Stricker made little impact on his opponent’s serve, getting a 40-0 lead once but not taking any of the three breakpoints.

Other service games of Nishioka went rather smoothly as he grabbed his sixth Challenger title, the first since Gimcheon 2018. Both finalists will be featured in the main draw at Cleveland next week.

Santa Cruz

Camilo Ugo Carabelli keeps posting solid Challenger results. While he was yet to add another title to his Warsaw campaign from last summer, he had since added another final in Lima and a couple of quarterfinals. The Argentinian didn’t drop a single set on the way to the championship match in Santa Cruz, defeating top-seed Hugo Dellien’s brother, Murkel, in the quarterfinals. For a while, it seemed like to win the title he would have to go through the former top 100 player as well but the home crowd favorite got eliminated in the final four.

His conqueror was Fransisco Cerundolo, who just like Ugo Carabelli was a quarterfinalist in Concepcion the week before. His draw was a lot tougher, featuring battles against Facundo Diaz Acosta and Thiago Agustin Tirante in the opening two rounds. The latter even held two match points on return, missing the first shot on both occasions (one on Cerundolo’s second serve). In the semifinals, the Argentinian raised his level in sets two and three to eliminate the aforementioned Hugo Dellien and set up an all-Argentinian final in Bolivia.

While Ugo Carabelli kicked off the final with a break and lured out a few errors of his compatriot’s forehand, Cerundolo would soon turn off a level that was a little out of the 23-year-old’s reach. Smacking the ball and hitting very close to the lines with little margin, he was able to get into a dominant position and never let it go, despite some break points in the latter part of the second set. Cerundolo claimed a 6-4 6-3 victory to win his 5th Challenger title.

The Argentinian is now situated about 70 points behind the top 100 and will have a decent shot to make it during the Golden Swing. He needs to be quick though as he’ll soon be dropping runner-up points for Buenos Aires last year. The first opportunity will be at Cordoba, where he received a main draw wildcard. Ugo Carabelli had to withdraw from the qualifying event there due to his run in Santa Cruz.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Cleveland Open (Challenger 80, indoor hard)

Tennys Sandgren, Yoshihito Nishioka, and Andreas Seppi were all ranked in the top 100 at the time of signing up for the event, but will be out of that group during the tournament. Therefore, there will be no top 100 players in action. One more Challenger was planned for this week in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, but was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

First-round matches to watch:

  • (3) Yoshihito Nishioka vs Denis Istomin
  • Michael Mmoh vs (WC) Aleksandar Kovacevic
  • J.J. Wolf vs (4) Liam Broady
  • Nicola Kuhn vs Bjorn Fratangelo
  • Dominic Stricker vs (2) Andreas Seppi

Wolf against Broady is a rematch for a very competitive second-round match at the qualifying tournament for the Australian Open.

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