Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Benjamin Bonzi Undefeated in 2022, Joao Domingues Comes Out of Nowhere

Benjamin Bonzi Monte Carlo
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Benjamin Bonzi claimed his second Challenger title of the year in Aix-en-Provence and is still yet to be beaten on this circuit in 2022. Meanwhile, Pedro Cachin continued his insane run of form by winning in Prague. Despite struggling in the past couple of seasons, Joao Domingues came out of the blue to shock everyone by taking the title at Salvador de Bahia, beating both top seeds in the process. Read back on this week’s action:

Aix-en-Provence

Benjamin Bonzi made his second Challenger appearance of the season, after winning the title at Cherbourg in February. The Frenchman didn’t have it all that easy in this run – 16-year-old Gabriel Debru served for the opening set against him, while Ramkumar Ramanathan managed to take it to a decider in the quarterfinals. The toughest match came at the final four stage though as Nicolas Jarry forced him to three tie-breakers with Bonzi eventually coming out on top after over three hours.

Gregoire Barrere had to fend off the veteran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening round, despite the 2008 Australian Open runner-up serving for the match. The Frenchman didn’t have a great to his clay-court season, arriving in Aix-en-Provence with three consecutive losses. That’s why he was the underdog in every single one of his matches, but kept beating the odds, upsetting Juan Pablo Varillas or the most recent top 100 addition Quentin Halys. In the semifinals, he took out Pavel Kotov 7-5 in the third set.

Unfortunately for Barrere, Bonzi had his best performance of the week in the final. The match had to be played on Monday as it was raining heavily during the weekend. Even the last set of the semifinal between Barrere and Kotov had to be finished on Sunday, so the day-late finish helped him rest up. It still didn’t matter though as Bonzi counter-punched very well and went for the backhand down-the-line with a lot of confidence to claim the title 6-2 6-4.

The 25-year-old is now 10-0 on the ATP Challenger circuit in 2022. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Bordeaux next, where Barrere received a special exempt to join the main draw. As luck would have it, they’ve drawn each other in the very first round.

Mauthausen

Jiri Lehecka had lost before the semifinals in his previous five Challenger appearances this season. The young Czech arrived in Mauthausen with very uneven form, and it showed in his opening match against Timofey Skatov, having to make his way back from a set deficit. The second seed caught his rhythm soon enough though and only lost eighteen games in the next three matches, including wins against experienced opponents like Radu Albot or Dennis Novak.

Jurij Rodionov hadn’t had a good run on clay since winning a Challenger at Almaty four years ago, but the lefty Austrian stormed through the draw in Mauthausen basically without ever being pushed. The 22-year-old lost just seventeen games in seven completed sets (Attila Balazs retired against him in the quarterfinals). The most impressive win had him beat the recent Sarasota champion, Daniel Elahi Galan, 7-5 6-1.

Lehecka couldn’t really find his game though, knowing that he has to be aggressive not to get moved around the court too much by Rodionov’s angle work. The Czech was constantly suffering from straightforward misses though, lacking concentration even when the point was practically over already. The much more solid Austrian claimed his 5th Challenger trophy 6-4, 6-4, winning his second title at this level this year already.

With his victory, Rodionov also becomes the Austrian No. 1 for the very first time. Both players will take the next week off. Lehecka hopes to play Geneva or Lyon (ATP 250s) before appearing in the main draw at Roland Garros, while Rodionov will have to qualify for the Grand Slam in Paris.

Prague

Pedro Cachin took a couple of weeks of rest following his title at Madrid last month, but at least in the early days of this week, it was as if he never left. The Argentinian destroyed two of the best performers of last week’s Ostrava Challenger, Evan Furness and Dalibor Svrcina, before struggling with blisters in his next two matches. He even went down a set to Geoffrey Blancaneaux in the final four, but managed up to his game again to make a third final in his last four events.

Lorenzo Giustino hadn’t reached a final in almost three years (Almaty 2019), reaching just one semifinal since that season (Bucharest last year). Some glimpses of the Italian regaining form could be seen in Ostrava and the first event in Prague, but this run was made possible by a number of close wins in a row. In the opening round, he beat Marius Copil from 3-6 3-5 down, saving three match points on serve (two forced errors and a volley winner).  In the quarterfinals, he saved two match points in the final set tie-break against Federico Gaio (a forced error and a passing shot winner).

While Cachin raced away to the finishing line in set one quite comfortably, it got more competitive as the match went on. The Argentinian required a physio intervention for a problem with his eye at 2-2 in the second and generally seemed a bit down on energy. Giustino served for the set, but was broken quite easily. He was two points away from the set on return at 6-5, but Cachin managed to secure the tie-break. Even that ended up being fairly close, but a dead net cord at 3-5 down effectively ended the Italian’s chances of clinching the title.

Cachin is now 16-2 in his last four events, which includes two of his four Challenger titles. It all dates back to beating Dominic Thiem in Marbella, a win that probably provided a big confidence boost to the Argentinian. The run also grants him a career-high ranking of World No. 152. Both finalists were supposed to play in Heilbronn before competing in the qualifying event for Roland Garros, but Giustino decided to pull out (he would have required a special exempt to join the main draw).

Salvador de Bahia

Tomas Barrios Vera had a very quiet swing in the United States, winning just two matches in four events (Houston ATP 250 and three green clay Challengers). Top-seeded in Salvador de Bahia, he was able to avoid most dangerous opponents in the early rounds and stormed to the quarterfinals without dropping a set. Only Gonzalo Villanueva managed to force him to come up with the goods, but despite a few tougher moments Barrios Vera came back from a set down to win 6-7 6-3 6-4.

Joao Domingues came to Salvador de Bahia with just two wins in nine events of 2022. The Portuguese also had a disastrous 2021 campaign, reaching just one quarterfinal at the Lisbon Challenger. The well-needed run started with a retirement from Alejo Lorenzo Lingua Lavallen, but the wins against Nick Hardt, Wilson Leite, and Renzo Olivo had Domingues perform at a level that hasn’t been seen from him in years. In the semifinals, the aforementioned Olivo led him 4-1 in the deciding set, only to go down 5-7.

The opening set was very tight from the beginning – Barrios Vera being the more dominant player, but struggling to find his consistency. Meanwhile, Domingues produced some great forehand angles and counter-punched well to test the Chilean’s rally tolerance. Both players had already missed multiple set points in a tie-break, when the Portuguese claimed the opening set after 86 minutes. That setback seemed to really kill Barrios Vera’s motivation, who ended up practically giving a no-show in the second, losing the final 6-7 1-6.

It’s a third Challenger title for Domingues, his first in three years. The Portuguese will now rest up for a week before appearing at Francavilla al Mare, while Barrios Vera stays in South America for Coquimbo, before leaving to Europe for Roland Garros qualifying.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • BNP Paribas Primrose (Bordeaux, Challenger 125, clay)
  • NECKARCUP Heilbronn (Challenger 100, clay)
  • Zagreb Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Dove Men+Care Coquimbo (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Beeline Challenger Shymkent (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Hugo Gaston, Benjamin Bonzi, Richard Gasquet, Carlos Taberner, Jaume Munar, Quentin Halys (Bordeaux)
  • Daniel Altmaier, Facundo Bagnis (Heilbronn)
  • Jordan Thompson (Zagreb)

First-round matches to watch:

Bordeaux

  • (1) Hugo Gaston vs Fernando Verdasco
  • Pablo Cuevas vs (WC) Arthur Fils
  • Nicolas Jarry vs (WC) Lucas Pouille
  • (SE) Gregoire Barrere vs (2) Benjamin Bonzi

Heilbronn

  • Camilo Ugo Carabelli vs (7) Marc-Andrea Huesler
  • (WC) Marius Copil vs (4/WC) Bernabe Zapata Miralles

Zagreb

  • (1) Jordan Thompson vs (ALT) Attila Balazs
  • (4) Damir Dzumhur vs Filip Horansky
  • Andrey Kuznetsov vs (2) Aleksandar Vukic

Coquimbo

  • (1) Tomas Barrios Vera vs (ALT) Roman Andres Burruchaga
  • (7) Orlando Luz vs Juan Bautista Torres

Shymkent

  • (1) Tennys Sandgren vs (ALT) Emilio Nava
  • (ALT) Gabriel Decamps vs (4) Ilya Marchenko

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