Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Tomas Martin Etcheverry Breaks the Top 100, Gastao Elias Has a Perfect Fortnight

Gastao Elias Bendigo 2022
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Another busy week on the ATP Challenger Tour has just finished. Tomas Martin Etcheverry couldn’t quite secure the title at Mexico City, but will finally feature in the top 100 of the ATP Rankings thanks to his runner-up finish. Meanwhile, Gastao Elias won ten matches in thirteen days to take back-to-back titles at Oeiras. Read back on this week’s action:

Mexico City

Tomas Martin Etcheverry reached a staggering 17 quarterfinals in his last 24 Challenger events and this week, he was finally rewarded for that with a top 100 debut. The Argentinian easily blasted through his first three opening rounds before facing Nicolas Jarry in what was a match that could have granted him that milestone. The courts in Mexico City are at altitude, making Jarry’s big serve even more threatening than usual. Despite that, Etcheverry fought back from 3-6 2-4 down and locked up a spot in the world’s best hundred for the very first time.

Marc-Andrea Huesler came to Mexico City with just 4 wins in 8 events of 2022 thus far, but the Swiss is usually brilliant on altitude (famously reached the semifinals at Kitzbuhel two years ago, which was his big breakthrough in professional tennis). The 25-year-old survived a very tough battle against Gilbert Klier Junior in the opening round, coming back from a set down and saving all seven break points in sets 2 and 3. That set him up nicely for the rest of the week as his serve was barely touched in the next three matches.

Huesler had trouble landing many first serves (only 45% in the whole final), but once they went in, the point was essentially over (96%). The lefty angles created by his delivery were very tough for Etcheverry to read, the Swiss also capitalized on every short ball and followed up big strokes with net rushing. The Argentinian’s quite simple 2nd serve kick allowed him to step into the returns and claim the final fairly comfortably, 6-4 6-2 in just 65 minutes.

It’s a 5th Challenger title for the Swiss. Etcheverry will now take a week of rest before he is scheduled to appear on green clay at Tallahassee and Savannah. Meanwhile, Huesler wants to take advantage of his altitude clay expertise, playing in San Luis Potosi (where he won in 2019) and Aguascalientes next.

Murcia

It’s the 3rd Challenger final of the year already for Chun-Hsin Tseng, whose recent improvement now allows him to be a real threat at this level (15-3 in 2022 before the final in Murcia). The Taiwanese didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final and was hardly even pushed except by last week’s Marbella runner-up, Pedro Cachin. The Argentinian took him to an opening set tie-break, but that was all he could do against Tseng this time around.


Norbert Gombos had it much tougher, surviving a couple of deciding set tie-breakers along the way. The first one came against Oriol Roca Batalla in the second round, the latter had him fend off Dennis Novak in a dramatic fashion. The Austrian had three match points (non-consecutive) on Gombos’s serve, but couldn’t make a successful return on two of them. The other one was saved with a ballsy serve+1 play. The Slovak came back to win the deciding tie-break and made his first clay-court final in little less than three years.

The power difference in this matchup seems like it should be a very important factor, but that’s actually a bit misleading. Tseng enjoys it when the opponents play with somewhat linear pace and he can feed off that, using his rival’s power to produce his own shots. That’s exactly what the Taiwanese did and Gombos grew increasingly frustrated, eventually breaking rackets and not giving him much of a challenge in the second set.

The 6-4 6-1 victory for Tseng is his third Challenger title, which were all taken in the last five months. The Taiwanese is making a lot of progress in the ATP Rankings and will find himself at a career-high World No. 125 on Monday. He was scheduled to play in Madrid next but pulled out, while Gombos will try to qualify for the ATP event in Belgrade in two weeks’ time.

Sanremo

Holger Rune‘s 2022 campaign had been slightly disappointing thus far with the Dane suffering from a back injury and exiting six of his nine tournaments in the opening round. As most other potential contenders exited the draw earlier, Rune started ripping apart the rest of the draw. On the way to the final, he dropped just 22 games and was only broken once (by Matteo Gigante in the quarterfinals). The only opponent who played him close was Evgeny Tiurnev in the first round, who took him to a thrilling second-set tie-break (14-12).

In fourteen previous Challenger appearances, Francesco Passaro never won a single round in the main draw. The Italian had to qualify for this event and had by far the best week of his career, dropping just one set on the way to the final (to Mate Valkusz). Gianluca Mager, Alexander Muller, and Borna Gojo were the three highest-ranked opponents the 21-year-old had ever beaten. His championship match task was even tougher – a first-ever meeting against a top 100 opponent.

Rune dominated the opening set, blasting forehand winners and utilizing the dropshot very wisely. However, his intensity dropped in set 2 and it was Passaro who played a phenomenal series of games to take the second and take a 4-2 lead in the decider. Rune took a medical time out and seemed to be struggling physically, but saved a key breakpoint to get himself back into the match. From that point onwards, the 21-year-old, who’s older but much less experienced at this level, crumbled under pressure. All Rune had to do was get the ball back in play and watch as Passaro broke himself in the final game with four forehand unforced errors.

Rune claimed his 5th Challenger title 6-1 2-6 6-4. On the very same day, the Dane went to Monte Carlo to play the first round of qualifying (it’s an under-an-hour drive between Sanremo and Monaco) and defeated Radu Albot 6-2 6-3 (before qualifying for the main draw on Sunday). Passaro received a wildcard to the Challenger event in Barletta next week.

Oeiras

Gastao Elias won the Oeiras Challenger last week and as he also triumphed in the last event held at this venue in 2021, he came into the final on a 14-match win streak on these courts. Despite having to survive three deciding sets, he still stood strong physically and overcame a slow start against Zdenek Kolar in the semifinals. His best match came at the second round stage when Elias had to beat his compatriot Nuno Borges, a matchup that’s been quite frequent recently and generally painful for the 31-year-old (he’s 3-5 down in the head-to-head now).

Alessandro Giannessi made the semifinal stage at his two previous events (Roseto Degli Abruzzi and Oeiras), but couldn’t break through the last four at a Challenger in his last nine attempts. The Italian has a bit of a reputation for being engaged in many thriller matches and this week wasn’t an exception. Giannessi came back from a set down on three occasions, including a 6-7 0-3 deficit against Fabian Marozsan. The 32-year-old struggled with some physical issues in that match, but still pulled off the comeback.

Giannessi made his intent to grind down the Portuguese very clear, but Elias had none of it. While the Italian appeared to be making progress as he broke twice with his opponent serving for the opening set. The favorite of the home crowd played a great tie-break though with his forehand shotmaking stealing the show again. It provided a total momentum shift as Giannessi also proceeded to get irritated by a line call two games later, seemingly lacking interest to keep fighting for the title in a 6-7 1-6 loss.

Elias took his 10th Challenger title, capping off a stellar fortnight at Oeiras. Both finalists are supposed to appear at Madrid next week.

Salinas

Top-seeded Emilio Gomez had a very dominant campaign in Salinas, dropping his serve just twice on the way to the final. The Ecuadorian won all his sets but one giving his opponents three games or less. The only player to force him to a 7-5 set was qualifier Felix Corwin in the quarterfinals. Gomez almost ended up in a very interesting matchup with his cousin Roberto Quiroz in the final (they teamed up in doubles multiple times, played for the same college (USC)), but his friend was stopped at the last four stage.

After a few years of struggling on the ITF Circuit, Nicolas Moreno de Alboran had his Challenger breakthrough at Segovia last year, reaching the semifinals from the qualifying draw. Ever since, the American had been proving that he belonged at this level, making three quarterfinals in 2022 before coming to Salinas. His path to the final was a lot rockier, but the 24-year-old survived three deciding sets, including a particularly impressive victory over second seed Christopher Eubanks.

The final ended up being extremely tight, but only due to Moreno de Alboran’s inability to close out sets. The American was having a great performance, very effectively moving the ball around the court with his forehand. He couldn’t serve out the opening set though but still ended up taking it in the tie-break.

Up 7-6 5-3 40-0 on serve in the 2nd, Moreno de Alboran lost the next five points, which included a missed smash on the 2nd chance (what added to the drama was that he thought he’d made it for a second, but it landed wide). Gomez leveled the match, but the American managed to reset mentally and went 5-2 up with a double break. The rest is history.

He not only couldn’t serve out the match on two more attempts but missed another match point on Gomez’s serve as well (a class volley by the Ecuadorian saved it though). After over three hours and four missed opportunities to close it out (plus three attempts to serve for it), Moreno de Alboran eventually went down 7-6 6-7 5-7 in a very heartbreaking loss. So close, yet so far to his first title.

It’s a 3rd Challenger trophy for Gomez, who defended his 2021 crown (coincidentally, he also saved match points in the final there, three of them against Nicolas Jarry). Both finalists are planning to play the green clay US swing next, Moreno de Alboran got into Sarasota next week as an alternate.

Challenger Tour magic:

If you like tweeners, this week’s section is tailor-made for you:

Events held next week:

  • Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open (Challenger 100, green clay)
  • San Luis Open BMW (San Luis Potosi, Challenger 80, clay)
  • Open Citta della Disfida (Barletta, Challenger 80, clay)
  • Open Comunidad de Madrid (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Denis Kudla, Jordan Thompson, Alejandro Tabilo (all Sarasota)

First-round matches to watch:

Sarasota

  • (1) Denis Kudla vs Prajnesh Gunneswaran
  • Emilio Gomez vs (3) Alejandro Tabilo
  • (5) Daniel Elahi Galan vs Bjorn Fratangelo

San Luis Potosi

  • (8) Renzo Olivo vs Arthur Cazaux
  • Gerald Melzer vs (2) Nicolas Jarry

Barletta

  • (1) Gilles Simon vs Marius Copil
  • (4) Jurij Rodionov vs Riccardo Bonadio
  • (WC) Francesco Passaro vs (5) Franco Agamenone

Madrid

  • Maximilian Marterer vs (6/WC) Lucas Pouille
  • Christopher O’Connell vs (2) Thiago Monteiro

 

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