Five ATP Challenger Tour events have just concluded across three different continents. Evan Furness grabbed his maiden title at this level in Ostrava, beating his doubles partner, Ryan Peniston. Meanwhile, the former Top 10 player Jack Sock won on green clay in Savannah, while Camilo Ugo Carabelli took his 2nd Challenger title at Buenos Aires. Read back on this week’s action:
Evan Furness had only reached one Challenger semifinal before, losing to Gastao Elias at Oeiras last year. The Frenchman had to qualify for the main draw in Prague and did so in great style before scoring a massive upset over third-seeded Chun-Hsin Tseng in the second round, conceding just two games to the Taiwanese. Furness came back from 3-5 down in the deciding set against Zdenek Kolar in the quarterfinals, before going on to beat Constant Lestienne in the final four to make his maiden final at this level.
Ryan Peniston had barely played on clay during his college career, but trained at an academy at Nice between the ages of 13 and 18, giving him considerable experience on the surface. That definitely paid off as the Brit has now reached all three of his Challenger finals on the dirt, losing to Franco Agamenone in Prague and Nuno Borges at Antalya last year. Peniston took out seventh-seeded Jurij Rodionov in the second round, before eliminating Mats Rosenkranz and the hometown hero, 19-year-old Dalibor Svrcina.
Peniston had the upper hand early on, creating angles with his lefty forehand and feeling more comfortable when having the initiative. It was a final between two players without a Challenger title though and the added pressure soon began showing. The second set tie-break was extremely nervy on both sides, but it was Furness who handled it slightly better, being more aggressive when it mattered. The disappointed Peniston began cramping early in the decider and understandably, his game went off the boil along with it.
Furness clinched his maiden Challenger title 4-6 7-6 6-1, despite being two points away from losing in the second set tie-break. However, it’s Peniston who still managed to secure a top 200 debut (precisely at the 200th spot). Both finalists are supposed to appear in Prague next week, where Furness got a special exempt to enter the main draw.
Gian Marco Moroni dropped just six games in his first two matches, defeating the veteran Gilles Simon 6-1 6-4. His road got slightly tougher later but he still didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final. The 24-year-old saved four set points against Quentin Halys in the semifinals. If the Frenchman managed to win that clash, he would have secured a top 100 debut. Moroni didn’t allow him to do that in only his 2nd deep run of the season (Forli quarterfinals, where he, coincidentally, lost to Halys).
Franco Agamenone arrived in Rome on a four-match losing streak and with just two victories in his last even events. The 29-year-old was two points away from losing to the doubles specialist Jonathan Eysseric in the second round, but managed to snap his surprising run. In his next two matches, Agamenone had to handle two of the biggest NextGen Italian talents, Flavio Cobolli and Giulio Zeppieri, fending them both off in straight sets.
Agamenone came out playing with absolutely brutal consistency, luring out plenty of errors from his younger compatriot. Moroni did improve in set two, but had to come up with some really inspired shotmaking to get the chance to finish rallies off. On top of that, he won just 18% of points behind his second serve, not helping himself with six double faults.
The 29-year-old claimed his 3rd Challenger title (Prague and Kyiv 2021). In Monday’s ATP Rankings, he’ll be on the verge of debuting in the top 150. Agamenone will play in Mauthausen next week, while Moroni intends to compete in the Rome pre-qualification wildcard tournament.
Jack Sock had been playing well all year, but couldn’t really turn into a great result. In Savannah, the American got pushed to deciding sets by Mikael Torpegaard and Zhizhen Zhang, surviving the one against the Chinese without many complications, but having to save break points in three consecutive games against the Dane. In the semifinals, Sock defeated another great green clay player, Bjorn Fratangelo, in straights.
Christian Harrison didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final and lost just nineteen games across four matches. That included two particularly impressive victories – over top-seeded Tomas Martin Etcheverry and over the ever-dangerous J.J. Wolf. Harrison had reached his only previous Challenger final at Savannah back in 2018, losing in three sets to Hugo Dellien. This time, he secured a rematch against Sock, who had defeated him at Sarasota two weeks prior.
The final turned out to be slightly disappointing as Harrison couldn’t really find his level from the previous two clashes. Sock’s topspin forehand was by far the best stroke on the court and even though he slipped up on serve twice, he was so in control that he could easily afford it. Harrison exposed his forward movement a few times with dropshots, but that was more or less all the 27-year-old did right in the entire match.
Sock clinched his 4th Challenger title 6-4 6-1 (first on clay). The former top 10 player is scheduled to appear at a Challenger in Bordeaux in two weeks’ time, before going to Paris to play Roland Garros qualifying. Harrison will also rest up before he is signed up for a 25K ITF in Nottingham.
Andrea Collarini arrived in Buenos Aires with just three wins in seven events this year, not having made a Challenger final since August 2019. The Argentinian really picked up his game though, making the famous lefty forehand a dangerous weapon again. His key wins included coming back from a set down to beat Renzo Olivo and Felipe Meligeni Alves, showing a quality that the 30-year-old hadn’t showcased in a long, long while.
Camilo Ugo Carabelli hadn’t played since the Salinas Challenger at the beginning of April, but picked up where he left off rather easily. The 22-year-old dispatched his first three opponents in straight sets, before encountering Juan Pablo Varillas in the semifinals. The Argentinian dropped the opening set, but his excellent counterpunching eventually frustrated his opponent as he went on to drop just one game in the next two, making his fourth Challenger final.
Collarini got off to a wonderful start, going up 3-0 by completely dominating the points with his forehand. Ugo Carabelli is much more than a great counterpuncher though and the younger of the Argentinians played very aggressively and with plenty of depth to get back into the set. Pushing Collarini behind the baseline was the key to winning this final as the beautiful topspin wasn’t going to be as dangerous from a position deep in the court.
Ugo Carabelli slowly, but surely turned it around, clinching his 2nd Challenger title 7-5 6-2. The 22-year-old is getting close to the top 150 of the ATP Rankings right now. Collarini will take a week of rest now before playing in Coquimbo, while Ugo Carabelli withdrew from Salvador de Bahia and intends to travel to Europe.
Adrian Menendez-Maceiras went down all the way to 448th in the ATP Rankings, winning just 33% of his Challenger matches last year. However, most of the veteran Spaniard’s deep runs in the twilight of his career have come on altitude. Getting to Morelos straight after a quarterfinal at Aguascalientes, the 36-year-old was 5-7 3-5 down to Brayden Schnur in the opening round. The Canadian eventually retired in the deciding set and Menendez-Maceiras had a vintage run, upsetting top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo in the quarterfinals.
Jay Clarke reached a Challenger final at Forli earlier in the year, but hadn’t won consecutive matches since February when arriving in Morelos. The Brit survived two very tough clashes to begin his week, coming back from 1-3 down in the third to beat Viktor Durasovic, and from 2-5 down to beat Elmar Ejupovic. Against the big-serving German, Clarke had to fend off three match points (two unreturned serves and a medium rally). The 23-year-old found his groove as the week went on, scoring a very impressive two-set win over Rinky Hijikata in the semifinals.
Menendez-Maceiras was founding some success in quick serve+1 punches, but up until 1-6 2-4, he was barely holding his own in extended rallies and lost every single point Clarke’s first serve. The Spaniard produced an excellent fightback though, reeling off four straight games to take it to a deciding set. Twelve easy service holds later, the two found themselves in a tie-break for the championship. Clarke made Menendez-Maceiras really work for his points there and though by just one mini-break, managed to edge the 36-year-old and claim the title.
It’s a third Challenger title for the Brit. The runner-up will make a huge leap in the ATP Rankings, jumping up by almost 100 spots. Both players will fly back across the ocean now. Clarke wants to play in Zagreb after a week of rest, while Menendez-Maceiras is scheduled to appear at qualifying for a Challenger in Tunis in three weeks.
Challenger Tour magic:
Well, that's something you don't see everyday. 👀
Aidan Mayo with the usual 'overhand drop serve' at @Sav_Challenger. pic.twitter.com/9j0m2sP5NF
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) April 26, 2022
Events held next week:
- Danube Upper Austria Open (Mauthausen, Challenger 100, clay)
- Open Pays d’Aix CEPAC (Aix en Provence, Challenger 100, clay)
- I. CLTK Prague Open (Challenger 80, clay)
- Dove Men+Care Salvador de Bahia (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- John Millman, Jiri Lehecka (Mauthausen)
- Benjamin Bonzi, Daniel Altmaier, Richard Gasquet (Aix en Provence)
First-round matches to watch:
- Franco Agamenone vs (7) Zdenek Kolar
- (8) Dennis Novak vs Daniel Masur
Aix en Provence
- (3) Richard Gasquet vs Manuel Guinard
- Gastao Elias vs Nicolas Jarry
- Liam Broady vs (8) Corentin Moutet
- (ALT) Gregoire Barrere vs (WC) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
- (1) Aleksandar Vukic vs Ryan Peniston
- Dalibor Svrcina vs (5) Pedro Cachin
- (SE) Evan Furness vs (PR) Sebastian Ofner
Salvador de Bahia
- (1) Tomas Barrios Vera vs Joao Menezes
- (4) Felipe Meligeni Alves vs Gonzalo Villanueva
Main Photo from Getty.