Flavio Cobolli and Paul Jubb were the new winners on the ATP Challenger Tour this week. Meanwhile, Quentin Halys is inching closer and closer to debuting in the top 100 with a title at Lille. With four events across two continents and two different surfaces, it was tough to follow everything closely. Read back on this week’s action:
Quentin Halys is currently trying to reach the top 100 for the very first time and while even a title in Lille couldn’t get him there, he made another important step on the way to this milestone. The Frenchman reached his fourth final of the season already by coming back from a break down in deciding sets against Zizou Bergs and Constant Lestienne. Halys had lost to Bergs in Lille last year, this time managing to secure a different result.
Ricardas Berankis had already lost to Halys in Pune this year, winning just three games. The top seed in Lille, Berankis blew a 6-0 5-2 lead against Evan Furness in the opening round but managed to take the third set comfortably. He would then come back from a set down to beat Tobias Kamke, before locking up two more comfortable wins. For the Lithuanian, this was his first final since August 2019 (Vancouver).
Berankis led 6-4 3-1 40-15 at one point, mostly due to his phenomenal breakpoint saves. On the first nine faced, the Lithuanian blasted six winners and was always stepping up when needed. However, he finally faltered on Halys’s tenth opportunity, which really turned the match around. The Frenchman had looked a bit gassed earlier in the match but smelled blood and managed to run away with it, serving much better and limiting his errors.
Halys is now 14-1 in his last fifteen matches and in the live rankings, just 21 points away from the top 100. Both finalists will be featured in Saint-Brieuc next week. If Halys can’t do it there, he plans to go to Mexico for two more hard-court Challengers.
Just 3-7 for the year, Kacper Zuk struggled to find his form in 2022, making his run to the final without losing a set all the more surprising. In the quarterfinals, the Pole exacted revenge on Antoine Escoffier, whom he had lost to in Pau a month earlier, before going on to defeat the Swiss prodigy Dominic Stricker, who was at that point the favorite to win the title. Making the final, he reached his first championship match since winning the title at Split last year. Interestingly, his last opponent in Biel was also his doubles partner for the week (they got eliminated in round one).
Jurij Rodionov was almost as convincing on the way to the final, winning three consecutive matches in straight sets. In the last eight, he ended a seven-match winning streak of the 2020 Roland Garros juniors runner-up, Swiss wildcard Leandro Riedi. The semifinal against Filip Horansky was played out in pretty weird fashion as Rodionov dropped a bagel set in 22 minutes, before going on to regain control. Like Żuk, he hadn’t been in a final in about a year (Nur-Sultan 2021).
The fast conditions at Biel made for some very short service games in the final, but Rodionov was consistently the one creating the mini-chances. That proved pivotal in the opening set tie-break as the Austrian won four points on return to secure the set, being more proactive in the key moments. Zuk couldn’t touch his delivery at all and found himself in an extremely tough spot at 6-7 4-5, getting himself into a 0-40 hole that he couldn’t get out of. Overall, Rodionov won 37% of return points to Zuk’s 23%.
Both finalists will be back in the top 200 after Miami thanks to their runs. Their future schedules are also similar as they’re staying in Switzerland now (Lugano), before beginning the clay-court season.
After going 31-3 on the ITF Tour since October last year, there wasn’t much left for Daniel Michalski to conquer on that circuit. The Pole qualified for this event and despite having never reached a Challenger quarterfinal before, he made it to his first final. The 22-year-old struggled against Croatia’s top junior Mili Poljicak in the opening round but impressed by scoring good wins against Nerman Fatic and Dalibor Svrcina. His forehand was as dangerous as ever, giving him a weapon that his defensive playstyle usually lacked.
Flavio Cobolli also didn’t have it all that easy in the opening rounds, going down a set and a break to Nino Serdarusic and being two points away from losing four times against the 16-year-old Dino Prizmic. The 19-year-old reached two Challenger finals in 2021, losing both of them in Italy (Rome to Juan Manuel Cerundolo, Barletta to Giulio Zeppieri). While a number of consistent results got him deep into the top 200, he still lacked that cherry on top that winning a title at this level would be.
Michalski opened up with a 4-1 lead in the first set, but simply couldn’t produce a reaction to Cobolli’s rapid improvement. The Italian wasn’t giving away the initiative anymore and kept punishing the Pole’s weaker second serves. The 19-year-old took six games in a row and won a not-too-competitive second set to take his maiden Challenger title 6-4 6-2. Cobolli secured a top 150 debut thanks to his win, while Michalski will break the top 300 for the very first time. The champion decided to withdraw from Oeiras next week, while the Pole was supposed to play qualifying there, but received a special exempt.
2019 NCAA champion (University of South Carolina) Paul Jubb played just six matches on clay courts last year, but decided to take a different approach in 2022. Having lost to Jesper de Jong and Hugo Dellien in the past two weeks, the Brit enjoyed a slightly more open draw in Santa Cruz, advancing to the final without losing a set. His physical style of tennis worked very well on the Bolivian dirt. In the semifinals, he defeated the 33-year-old Daniel Dutra da Silva, who was also having the best run of his career.
Juan Pablo Varillas is of course a regular customer in the latter stages of South American Challengers. While he hadn’t been able to secure a final in 2022, he reached the semifinals at Santiago and the last eight at Concepcion. The third seed in Santa Cruz, he also didn’t drop a single set along the way to the championship match. The Peruvian exacted revenge on Renzo Olivo for defeating him just four days earlier at Concepcion in the opening round and beat the veteran Pablo Cuevas in the semifinals.
While Varillas was the clear favorite coming into the final, it was Jubb who got the early break and never let it go. His foot speed and fitness proved very hard for the Peruvian to hit through and his backhand side was just rock solid. Varillas went up 4-1 in the second, but Jubb’s very physical style allowed him to claw his way back into it, ultimately locking up his maiden title in a tie-break. He’ll debut in the top 250 after Miami and should be a lock for a spot in Roland Garros qualifying. Both finalists are supposed to play in Pereira next week, Jubb received a special exempt to the main draw.
Challenger Tour magic:
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) March 21, 2022
Events held next week:
- AnyTech365 Andalucia Open (Marbella, Challenger 125, clay)
- Challenger Banca stato Citta di Lugano (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
- Open Saint-Brieuc Harmonie Mutuelle (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
- Oeiras Challenger 1 (Challenger 80, clay)
- Circuito DoveMen+Care Pereira (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Dominic Thiem, Alex Molcan, Pablo Andujar, Jiri Vesely, Roberto Carballes Baena, Jaume Munar, Marco Cecchinato, Carlos Taberner, Jiri Lehecka (Marbella)
- Maxime Cressy (Lugano)
- Ricardas Berankis (Saint-Brieuc)
- Benoit Paire, Gianluca Mager (Oeiras)
Plenty of notable comebacks this week – Dominic Thiem plays for the first time since June last year, also in Marbella we’ve got Stan Wawrinka returning after 12 months out of the game. In Lugano, Jerzy Janowicz received a qualifying wildcard and competed for the first time since the pandemic, losing to Denis Yevseyev.
First-round matches to watch:
- (1/WC) Dominic Thiem vs (ALT) Pedro Cachin
- Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Jiri Lehecka
- Elias Ymer vs (WC) Stan Wawrinka
- (1) Maxime Cressy vs (WC) Leandro Riedi
- (8) Dominic Stricker vs Jurij Rodionov
- Pavel Kotov vs (2) Radu Albot
- Ilya Marchenko vs (5) Jack Draper
- (6) Gregoire Barrere vs Borna Gojo
- (1) Benoit Paire vs Nino Serdarusic
- (4) Thiago Monteiro vs Gian Marco Moroni
- (1) Facundo Bagnis vs Gerald Melzer
- Gonzalo Lama vs (7) Thiago Agustin Tirante