Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Sebastian Ofner Regaining Form, Huesler Still Dominant at Altitude

Sebastian Ofner Wimbledon
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Marc-Andrea Huesler completed a brilliant series on altitude clay in Mexico, winning 13 matches and losing just once. Meanwhile, Sebastian Ofner is back to professional courts after undergoing left foot surgery and is already taking names. Another player who scored a Challenger title after a while was Christopher O’Connell, while Tung-Lin Wu claimed his maiden title at this level in Tallahassee. Read back on this week’s action:

Prague

Sebastian Ofner was missing off the tour for seven months, undergoing left foot surgery in October. The Austrian came back at the beginning of April in Murcia and was only playing his third event in Prague. With each week, he was gradually regaining his match rhythm, which culminated in the great run he had in Prague. Ofner survived tough second-set tie-breakers against Jurij Rodionov and Jonas Forejtek, before dropping his only set before the final to Chun-Hsin Tseng.

Dalibor Svrcina won his first Challenger title at Prague last year, but as it was a Challenger 50 event, he was still yet to prove that he could do it at the higher level. The 19-year-old Czech had a very soft route to the final, beating qualifiers Nicholas David Ionel and Oleksii Krutykh, before getting a retirement from Lorenzo Giustino in the quarterfinals. His final four opponent, Tomas Machac, didn’t even come out on the court, injuring his ribs in the previous match.

A rain delay at 0-4 down seemed to have saved Svrcina, but in order to be completed on Sunday, the final had to be taken indoors, which didn’t really play to his strengths. Anyhow, Ofner returned nearly as dominant after the break, completing the bagel before taking the second set six games to four. The Austrian saved the only break point faced in the entire match.

It’s Ofner’s third Challenger title and first in almost three years. Both finalists intend to pick up where they left off in Ostrava next week. Svrcina got into the main draw as an alternate. They could face again in the quarterfinals, but it’s far from a certainty as both are facing seeded players in the opening round.

Split

Zsombor Piros improved his game massively around the summer last year and has been threatening to win a Challenger title ever since. His first final came at Bratislava, where he lost to Tallon Griekspoor. This season, Piros had already made two semifinals and two quarterfinals before coming to Split. The Hungarian benefitted from the retirement of last week’s Madrid runner-up, Marco Trungelliti, but played very well to beat Mirza Basic and two qualifiers – Alexander Shevchenko and his compatriot Mate Valkusz.

Christopher O’Connell had a solid, if unspectacular beginning of his 2022 campaign and that’s how he started his clay-cout season two with back-to-back quarterfinal appearances at Madrid and Oeiras. The Australian didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final in Split, only getting pushed to a tie-break once (by Kacper Å»uk). O’Connell was seeking his first Challenger title since 2019, which was by far the best season he’s ever had on the professional courts.

Unfortunately, the final couldn’t really deliver as Piros was struggling with a back injury that seriously hampered almost everything about his game. He played on until 3-6 0-2 before finally throwing in the towel. O’Connell took his 3rd title at this level and will keep playing European clay-court Challengers (Rome next up). As a result of his injury, Piros had to withdraw from next week’s event in Ostrava as well. It’s worth mentioning that due to rain the players had to play two matches a day on Saturday, but both finalists were in the same boat in regards to that.

Tallahassee

Michael Mmoh had already enjoyed decent runs on the Challenger Tour this year, making a semifinal at Cleveland and three other quarterfinals. The American also suffered a setback when he was forced to withdraw ahead of the quarterfinals at the ATP 250 event in Houston. Good form will at some point get rewarded with a good result though and Mmoh scored a couple of stellar wins in Tallahassee – first over top-seeded Tomas Martin Etcheverry, then against last week’s Sarasota champion, Daniel Elahi Galan. Against the Colombian, Mmoh saved two match points on serve and came back from 3-6 2-5 down to snap the Colombian’s 13-match Challenger win streak.

Meanwhile, Tung-Lin Wu barely made any impact in Challengers this season, but won a stacked ITF 25K at Santo Domingo (beating the likes of Nick Hardt or Rinky Hijikata). The Taiwanese was still seeking his first title at the higher level, losing two previous finals (Santiago 2019, Istanbul 2021). He earned himself another chance by dropping just one set on the way to the final as he defeated fourth-seeded Emilio Gomez.

Despite being favored to win the final, Mmoh just didn’t turn up for it at all. His baseline game was really inconsistent and even though Wu didn’t play as well as throughout the week, his mediocre level was enough to get over Mmoh on the day and take his 1st Challenger title.

This success takes him up to World No. 221, very close to his career-high ranking. Both finalists are scheduled to play one more clay USTA event in Savannah.

Aguascalientes

Marc-Andrea Huesler won the Mexico City Challenger two weeks ago and generally performs extremely well on altitude clay (ATP 250 Kitzbuhel semifinals in 2020, San Luis Potosi Challenger title in 2019). The Swiss’s level fluctuated wildly all week as he had to survive three deciding sets in his first three matches. That included coming back from a break down in the third to Viktor Durasovic. However, Huesler had his best performance of the week when he needed it, defeating Filip-Cristian Jianu in the semifinals in straight sets.

Juan Pablo Ficovich won just one match in the previous two Mexican altitude clay Challengers. Despite lacking the traits of someone who would benefit from such conditions, the Argentinian scored an extremely impressive win against Nicolas Jarry in the quarterfinals, breaking the Chilean giant three times in a 6-3 6-2 victory.

Huesler and Ficovich had already faced each other in Mexico City, with the Swiss emerging on top. After a set, it seemed like this match would follow the same pattern, but Ficovich utilized a small dip in his opponent’s game to break with a brilliant aggressive 2nd serve return. But even dropping a set couldn’t stop Huesler from adding another title to his collection. The combination of little rhythm from the baseline and the lefty serve bombs with great angles proved too much to handle for yet another opponent.

The Swiss claimed his 5th Challenger title, winning three of them on considerable altitude, one at Sibiu, which also has pretty fast clay, and one at Ismaning on carpet. It’s clear he thrives in rapid conditions. The 25-year-old will take a week of rest now and come back to Europe for the Mauthausen Challenger, while Ficovich stays in Mexico at Morelos (altitude as well, but on hard courts).

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Ostra Group Open by Moneta (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Rome Garden Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Savannah Challenger presented by St. Joseph’s/Candler (Challenger 80, green clay)
  • Morelos Open (Cuernavaca, Challenger 80, hard)
  • Dove Men+Care Buenos Aires Challenger 2 (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Tomas Martin Etcheverry (Savannah)
  • Facundo Bagnis (Buenos Aires)

First-round matches to watch:

Ostrava

  • (1) Corentin Moutet vs Dalibor Svrcina
  • (6) Dennis Novak vs Zizou Bergs
  • Attila Balazs vs Vitalyi Sachko

Attila Balazs will be playing for the first time since the 2021 Australian Open (multiple injury issues).

Rome

  • (1) Quentin Halys vs Enzo Couacaud
  • Borna Coric vs (3) Flavio Cobolli
  • Timofey Skatov vs (2) Jack Draper

Borna Coric will make his first Challenger appearance since 2017.

Savannah

  • Alexis Galarneau vs (7) Tennys Sandgren
  • (8) Bjorn Fratangelo vs Gabriel Decamps

Morelos

  • (1) Ernesto Escobedo vs Denis Istomin
  • (8) Rinky Hijikata vs Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez

Buenos Aires

  • Juan Bautista Torres vs (5) Felipe Meligeni Alves
  • Facundo Juarez vs (3) Camilo Ugo Carabelli

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