Davis Cup week means a break for the main tour, but there were still two Challenger events organized. In Gran Canaria, two players balancing between the circuits took their first step down this year and run into each other in a highly-expected final, while Quentin Halys was barely stopped from winning back-to-back titles at Turin. Read back on this week’s action:
After a series of uneven performances on the ATP Tour, Roberto Carballes Baena came to Gran Canaria as the top seed and didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final, playing his first Challenger since October. The Spaniard was only taken to a tie-break twice, by Pol Martin Tiffon and Duje Ajdukovic. The former had a particularly good chance to trouble the higher-ranked opponent but failed to serve out the opener and missed a set point on return.
Gianluca Mager had an even worse time in January and February’s ATP Tour events, going 2-4 in four hard-court tournaments. Despite a first-strike-tennis oriented playstyle, the Italian enjoys clay the most though and definitely enjoyed coming back to his favorite surface. It took him three sets to hit through the excellent grinding of Javier Barranco Cosano in the second round as he played himself into form more and more as the week went on.
The top two seeds being in the final should guarantee quality, but it was actually a bit uneven, perhaps due to the windy conditions. Mager struggled with them early on, trying to be too aggressive and, in turn, missing a lot. The Italian found a way to play with more margin but still dominate the points though and made it back from 2-4 0-40 down in the opening set, claiming the first in a tie-break as Carballes Baena double-faulted at 5-5.
The momentum was now firmly on Mager’s side and the Italian took over the lead even in longer rallies, benefitting from some uncharacteristic errors of the Spaniard. The forehand was great at dictating play, constantly pinning his opponent behind the baseline. Mager took his 5th Challenger title 7-6 6-2, securing a return to the top 100. Both players are now scheduled to appear in the main draw at Indian Wells.
Quentin Halys won the Challenger in Pau the week before and is getting closer and closer to breaking the top 100 for the very first time. The Frenchman enjoyed the past conditions in the brand new event at Turin, blasting 34 aces past Jelle Sels in the semifinals. Despite only getting broken twice in his first four matches, his path to the final wasn’t comfortable at all – the aforementioned Sels forced him to come back from a set down and prevail in two tie-breakers, while the 17-year-old sensation Arthur Fils served for the match.
Mats Moraing also bases his game around a big serve and found the indoor hard surface in Turin very much to his liking. After struggling against Manuel Guinard in the opening round, the lefty lost his serve just once more on the way to the championship match (in the semifinals against Vasek Pospisil). The German had an excellent patch of play last fall but was hampered by a knee injury, finally getting back on the right track at Turin. Last year, he beat Halys on clay in the final at Forli, saving two match points.
The Frenchman was the better player early on, as a lower first-serve percentage from Moraing allowed him to seek more opportunities on return. He was also heavily outscoring the opponent in terms of aces (17-9 in the opener) and generated the only two break points of the first set. Moraing saved them though and took it to a tie-break, slowly tuning in his baseline game. Once again Halys had a few mini-chances on the German’s delivery, but missed 2nd serve returns in key moments. The thriller of a tie-breaker went all the way until 11-11, until Moraing launched two stunning forehands (a serve+1 and a passing shot) to win 13-11.
Not taking his chances would soon really hurt Halys, who missed another break point in the opening game of the second set. At 2-3 30-30 down he double-faulted and then barely got a racquet on Moraing’s huge forehand return. The German never looked back and served it out 7-6 6-3. Both players now have a chance at breaking the top 100 for the very first time with Halys just 66 points away and Moraing at a career-high of 128 (149 points away). The Frenchman will be back at Lille in two weeks’ time, while the freshly crowned Turin champion wants to play qualifying for Indian Wells and Miami.
Challenger Tour magic:
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) March 5, 2022
Events held next week:
- Abierto GNP Seguros (Monterrey, Challenger 100, hard)
- Challenger Santiago Chile (Challenger 80, clay)
- Challenger di Rosetto degli Abruzzi (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Jiri Lehecka, Alejandro Tabilo (both Santiago)
First-round matches to watch:
- (7) Prajnesh Gunneswaran vs (WC) Ryan Harrison
- (4) Cedrik-Marcel Stebe vs Bernard Tomic
- (3) Hugo Dellien vs Pedro Cachin
- Jesper de Jong vs (8) Tomas Barrios Vera
- Thiago Agustin Tirante vs (4) Juan Pablo Varillas
- (7) Nicolas Jarry vs Vit Kopriva
Roseto degli Abruzzi
- (3) Bernabe Zapata Miralles vs (ALT) Duje Ajdukovic
- (1) Carlos Taberner vs Lorenzo Giustino
- (7) Flavio Cobolli vs Marco Trungelliti
Main Photo from Getty Images