Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Who Will Stop Jack Draper?

Jack Draper London 2021
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Another very busy week of ATP Challenger Tour action has come to an end. The Anytech365 Andalucia Open in Marbella was the venue for Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka’s injury comebacks, albeit both of them were cut short. Meanwhile, Jack Draper now hasn’t lost in fifteen matches at the Challenger level and made another ranking jump towards the top 100. Read back on this week’s action:

Marbella

Pedro Cachin defeated Dominic Thiem in the opening round. For the Austrian, it was his first match since June 2021, following a right wrist injury. While Thiem was understandably off his game, beating a rival like that certainly did wonders to his confidence. The Argentinian caught fire and even though he was the underdog in every single match he played, he kept beating tough opposition in great fashion. Cachin lost just one set on the way to the final, coming back to beat Pablo Andujar 5-7 6-1 6-3 in the semifinals.

Cachin wasn’t the favorite in the final either as Jaume Munar had an even more impressive Marbella campaign, not dropping a single set. As usual, the Spaniard was solid as a rock and a nightmare to hit through. His run included high-quality wins over Alex Molcan and Jiri Vesely. Besides an opening set tie-break against the Slovakian, the second seed arrived in the final basically untested. Marbella was his first Challenger appearance of the year.

Munar’s fitness and incredible grinding make him a very tough opponent for someone who lacks a true killing blow and can’t employ that much variety. While Cachin fought hard and kept most of the games pretty close, after the Spaniard got an early lead it never really felt like the match was in the balance again. Munar was the runner-up at Marbella for two years prior and found a way to go a step further this time around. Cachin wants to play at Murcia next, while the Spaniard is scheduled to appear in the ATP 250 event at Houston.

Oeiras

Nino Serdarusic couldn’t win any of his previous three ATP Challenger Tour finals, losing to Arthur de Greef (Ostrava 2018), Holger Rune (Verona 2021), and Camilo Ugo Carabelli (Warsaw 2021). The Croat earned himself another chance at Oeiras, surviving a very tough quarterfinal against Noah Rubin (was down 2-5 in the third). In the final four, Serdarusic eliminated the Portuguese No. 2 Nuno Borges, who played for three hours the day before and couldn’t bring out the same intensity again.

Gastao Elias was having a rather pedestrian clay-court season until this event, but the Portuguese had been doing very well at home lately, including a title and a final at Oeiras last year. Like Serdarusic, he was also pushed very hard by one of his opponents. Beating Andrea Vavassori required him to go all the way to 8-6 in the deciding set tie-breaker. This match seemed to allow Elias to flip a switch as he impressed in straightforward wins over Vit Kopriva and Alessandro Giannessi to make another Oeiras final.

Serdarusic will have to wait some more for his maiden Challenger title as he was defeated by Elias in relatively comfortable fashion. The Portuguese barely put a foot wrong all match, not facing a single break point. He did very well to neutralize Serdarusic’s power, whether by standing far back to return his serve or by haunting him with the unpleasant slice. The forehand to backhand rallies were also more advantageous for Elias, who defends a lot better than his opponent. Elias won his 9th trophy at this level. Both finalists are expected to appear in the second Challenger event in Oeiras.

Lugano

Leandro Riedi was the runner-up to Dominic Stricker at the 2020 Roland Garros boys’ singles and while it took him a while longer than his compatriot to start excelling in the pros, the 20-year-old is on the right track now. In the past couple of weeks, Riedi won a 25K ITF in Trimbach and made his first Challenger quarterfinal at Biel. Here in Lugano, he eliminated the top seed, Maxime Cressy, right off the bat, impressing by taking returns very early and making it tough for the serve-and-volleying American. The same tools came in handy in the final four, where Riedi took out Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

A maiden Challenger Tour champion in Forli in January, Luca Nardi only scored one win in his next three events. The 18-year-old is far too talented for this losing run to keep going though and he was back in great shape at Lugano this week. The Italian took out players like Hugo Grenier and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, practically blowing the latter off the court. His only struggle came against another talented Swiss youngster, Jerome Kym, who held a match point in the deciding tie-break but failed to land a big FH return on Nardi’s 2nd serve.

Riedi went up a set by constantly making inroads on the Nardi serve and playing very aggressively from the baseline. His clean, flat ball-striking seems to be made for these fast indoor conditions. However, once the dust settled, it turned out that the Italian’s more regular depth and baseline consistency is slowly allowing him to take over against the erratic Swiss.

Nardi took his 2nd Challenger title with a 4-6 6-2 6-3 scoreline and is now situated in a ranking spot that would grant him entry into Roland Garros qualifying. Both finalists are going to take the week off before Nardi is scheduled to appear in Barletta, while the Swiss is on the entry list for an ITF event in Nottingham.

Saint-Brieuc

Jack Draper is having an incredible breakout season and by the time he reached the final, his win/loss record for the year stood at 22-3. That included fourteen matches in a row won at the Challenger level. The incredible Brit visited Miami in the meantime, beating Gilles Simon and playing a very good match against Cameron Norrie. In Saint-Brieuc, his only tough test came against Antoine Escoffier in the semifinals. Draper found his game when it mattered though and took the match with a crazy 6-2 0-6 6-0 scoreline.

Zizou Bergs had to begin his campaign from the qualifying draw and was almost out in his second match, down 2-5 to Thomas Deschamps. The Belgian had some one-in-a-million luck later on in the event, advancing two straight rounds without stepping onto the court (Roman Safiullin and Benjamin Hassan withdrew). However, Bergs proved his worth by taking out Quentin Halys in the semifinals, whom he had lost to the week before (on a side note – if Halys had won their match at Saint-Brieuc, he’d have broken the top 100).

Bergs had two poor service games in the opening set, but actually managed to go toe-to-toe with the Brit later on. At 5-5 in the second, he finally landed a break and even though Draper took the lead in the deciding set, Bergs managed to keep up with him and was playing with more and more aggression in the pivotal moments.

In a way, that led to his demise. Draper’s fuel tank was becoming empty by the minute but serving to stay in the match, the Belgian didn’t make use of that and made a few unforced errors in a row, overhitting where the right call would have been to engage in a longer rally. Draper’s 4th Challenger title takes him up to a career-high ranking of 124. He’ll now get a much-needed rest before an event in Split, starting on the 18th of April. Bergs is scheduled to appear in Madrid next week.

Pereira

Facundo Bagnis arrived in Pereira with just five wins in ten events of 2022 so far, and having dropped out of the top 100. It was his second Challenger appearance of the season. It took the 32-year-old a while to get going in this tournament, particularly in the 2-6 6-3 6-3 win over Juan Bautista Torres in the second round. However, the Argentinian certainly played himself into form by the semifinals, dispatching the ever-dangerous Juan Pablo Varillas in straight sets.

In recent times, Facundo Mena belongs to the very rare breed of altitude clay specialists. His last four deep runs at Challengers all came at over 1400m of elevation (Ambato, Quito, Bogota, Pereira). The conditions here weren’t as extreme as in the previous three, but the 29-year-old still benefitted from the nice boost to his serve and excelled at making his opponents very uncomfortable from the baseline.

But once Bagnis found a rich vein of form in Pereira, he didn’t let it go. The pinpoint accuracy of his lefty forehand was just too much and along with a great returning performance (five breaks), he was able to take the final in a little over an hour. The 6-3 6-0 victory had him reel off the last eight games.

It’s a 15th Challenger Tour title for the veteran Argentinian, who claws his way back into the top 100. Both finalists will now go to Mexico City, which should be quite to Mena’s liking, given the over 2000m elevation.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Mexico City Open (Challenger 125, clay)
  • Challenger de Salinas Copa Banco Guayaquil (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Costa Calida Region de Murcia (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Open de Oeiras 2 (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Sanremo Challenger (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Facundo Bagnis (Mexico City)
  • Holger Rune, Gianluca Mager (Sanremo)

First-round matches to watch:

Mexico City

  • (1) Facundo Bagnis vs Juan Pablo Ficovich
  • Gerald Melzer vs (3) Stefan Kozlov

Salinas

  • JC Aragone vs (4) Ramkumar Ramanathan
  • Rinky Hijikata vs Michail Pervolarakis

Murcia

  • (1) Norbert Gombos vs Emilio Nava
  • (3) Dennis Novak vs Filip Misolic
  • (WC) Carlos Gimeno Valero vs Nicola Kuhn
  • (6) Maximilian Marterer vs Pedro Cachin

Oeiras

  • (1) Thiago Monteiro vs Kacper Ĺ»uk
  • (6) Dmitry Popko vs Dalibor Svrcina
  • Pedro Sousa vs (3) Nuno Borges

Sanremo

  • Andrea Arnaboldi vs (5) Hugo Grenier
  • (7) Thomas Fabbiano vs Jelle Sels

Main Photo from Getty Images