Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Diaz Acosta, Misolic, and Nava Win Maiden Titles

Alexei Popyrin, a champion on the Challenger Tour.
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There were three maiden winners on the ATP Challenger Tour this week, ranging from some we knew were going to be contenders (Emilio Nava in Shymkent) to a qualifier that barely made it to the main draw (Filip Misolic). Top-seeded Daniel Altmaier claimed the title in Heilbronn, while Alexei Popyrin earned his second Challenger crown in Bordeaux. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Bordeaux

Quentin Halys broke the top 100 with a quarterfinal appearance at Aix-en-Provence the week before, but the 25-year-old Frenchman wasn’t quite ready to stop there. He went a set down to Pablo Cuevas in the quarterfinals and to Pavel Kotov in the semifinals, but was able to start serving even better as these matches went on, not allowing the opponents to get any sniff at breaks in the latter sets. In his last seven Challenger events, Halys reached four finals, six semifinals, and never lost before the final eight.

Popyrin didn’t win a main draw match in his previous two Challenger appearances of 2022, losing to Lorenzo Musetti in Phoenix and Pablo Cuevas in Aix-en-Provence. The Australian went a break down in the deciding set to Carlos Taberner in the second round here, but was able to recover and played a phenomenal match to beat Jaume Munar in the quarterfinals, also in three sets. By defeating Andrea Pellegrino the round after, he reached his second-ever Challenger final (first one since Jinan 2018).

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Halys saved four break points in his first service game of the match and proceeded to completely overrun Popyrin in the opening set. The Australian didn’t give up though and in the remainder of the final, he was the one creating issues for the opponent on return. Halys made some costly errors at the beginning of two tie-breaks and in both cases, he just wasn’t able to catch up in time.

Popyrin grabbed his second Challenger title 2-6, 7-6, 7-6. He was originally supposed to play qualifying in Lyon, but had to withdraw due to his deep run in Bordeaux. Halys was scheduled to play another Challenger in Tunis, but withdrew to rest up before Roland Garros.

Heilbronn

It’s been a while since Andrej Martin made a Challenger final (Guayaquil 2020) and it’s not as if the Slovakian was coming close to that on many occasions. In his first eleven events this year, Martin lost in the opening round on a total of eight occasions. His run in Heilbronn came as quite a bit of a shock – the 32-year-old was the underdog in every single one of his matches. The most impressive victory came in the quarterfinals as he took out the defending champion, Bernabe Zapata Miralles. Martin went down a set to Jonas Forejtek in the final four but managed to take it to a decider and the young Czech retired with abdominal issues.

Altmaier’s wasn’t in quite such desperate need of a deep run, but the German didn’t start his clay-court season that well. He was able to turn in around here with three quick straight-set victories. The 23-year-old then faced Daniel Elahi Galan in the semifinals, coming out on top in a very exciting 6-3 2-6 6-4 affair. The top seed made the final at Phoenix back in March, but somewhat surprisingly, had his best recent results on hard courts.

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Martin really played some of his best tennis in a while, taking great inside-out forehand returns to break Altmaier and take the opening set. The German regrouped to level but soon enough fell down 1-3 in the third and required attention from the physio. He found it in himself to play very aggressively from that point onwards though and reeled off the next four games, eventually clinching the match and his 4th Challenger title 3-6 6-1 6-3.

Altmaier hopes that it will be his last Challenger event as he plans to establish himself in the top 50 (will be world #54 on Monday). The German will play an ATP 250 in Lyon next week, before heading to Roland Garros. Martin has to qualify for the Parisian slam and the run of victories should be very important for his confidence.

Zagreb

World #4 in juniors (peak #2), Mili Poljicak, was previously winless at Challenger level (0-7 in main draw and qualifying) and didn’t even do that well on the ITF World Tennis Tour (just two quarterfinals). Ranked 1472nd in the ATP Rankings, the 17-year-old had a phenomenal run that included his three best-ever wins ranking-wise before the final. He didn’t drop a single set defeating Zhizhen Zhang, Federico Gaio, Mirza Basic, and Carlos Gimeno Valero.

Misolic also didn’t have that much success at Challenger-level (two quarterfinals), but had been really dominant on the ITF circuit, winning six titles (including four 25Ks) since the beginning of 2021. The 20-year-old had to start from the qualifying draw here, surviving three-setters against Alexander Donski and Juncheng Shang (deciding tie-break). He somehow improved massively in the main event, dropping just one set to Jason Kubler and beating Shang (who got in as a lucky loser) again in round two, but this time for the loss of just two games.

Both finalists exhibited great touch. Poljicak had been hitting insane dropshots all week, while for Misolic it seemed more like a tactic for this match, although it success rate wasn’t that great due to the Croat covering the court well and coming up with great responses. Misolic had more consistent depth and pace on his groundstrokes though, which helped him massively to remain the more aggressive player. The Austrian failed to serve out the match at 6-5 in the second set, but clinched it in the tie-breaker.

Misolic’s first Challe nger title propels him all the way to world #225 in the ATP Rankings (his previous career-high was 301). He is scheduled to appear in Tunis next week. Poljicak will jump over 900 ranking spots thanks to one of the most unexpected runs in the history of the tour. The 17-year-old is supposed to play a 25K ITF in Osijek, before heading to Roland Garros juniors. The ranking jump will open doors for him though, not to Challenger main draws yet, but to some qualifying entries at that level.

Shymkent

Emilio Nava was the runner-up at two junior Grand Slams in 2019 and while he’s shown glimpses of his potential on the professional circuit, his consistency hasn’t been great with just two Challenger quarterfinals up to this point. The American drew the top seed Tennys Sandgren in the opening round, but managed to beat him quite comfortably. He got even more comfortable as the week went on, getting broken just twice on his way to the final and not losing more than four games in a set.

Sebastian Fanselow has been struggling to make the transition from the ITF World Tennis Tour to Challengers for years now, despite winning 11 titles at the lower level. The German had lost his previous seven quarterfinals on this circuit, but managed to snap that streak by defeating Dragos Madaras on Thursday. Fanselow had to qualify for the main draw and lost two sets on the way to the final – one in qualifying to Dostanbek Tashbulatov and one to the recent San Luis Potosi champion, serve-and-volleying Antoine Bellier.

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Nava looked fairly in control throughout most of the final. His backhand was significantly more stable than usual, while the serve and forehand clicked at the 500m altitude. However, Fanselow was able to break his serve in the second set and go up 5-3 after some wild errors from the American. He steadied the course though and saved two set points on serve, one with a brilliant forehand attack and the other with a great serve.Β The 20-year-old clinched his maiden Challenger title 6-4 7-6, which helps him debut in the top 300 of the ATP Rankings. Both finalists will stay in Shymkent for this week’s event.

Coquimbo

Facundo Diaz Acosta was the runner-up to Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna in the first week of the season in Buenos Aires, but then slowed down a bit as he missed over two months of action. Getting back in shape took a while, but the 21-year-old was flying again in Coquimbo this week, coming through a slightly tougher set of opponents than the other finalist. In the quarterfinals, he dispatched the top-seed Tomas Barrios Vera (last week’s Salvador de Bahia runner-up) 6-4 6-3.

19-year-old Pedro Boscardin Dias came a bit of out nowhere to reach the quarterfinals in Salvador de Bahia last week (missed two match points against Renzo Olivo).Β  The Brazilian kept up this good patch of form in a slightly weaker draw in Coquimbo, losing just one set to Arklon Huertas del Pino. To make his maiden Challenger final, Boscardin Dias had to eliminate two dangerous South American youngsters, Argentina’s Juan Bautista Torres, and his compatriot Gustavo Heide.

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The lefty Argentinian came out of the blocks early, firing his forehand well and dominating the baseline. Boscardin Dias refused to go down though and was able to fight back in both sets. Diaz Acosta served for the match at 5-3 in the second, but was ultimately forced to wrap it up in the tie-breaker.

His first Challenger title gets Diaz Acosta into what should be more or less a spot required to have a place in Grand Slam qualifying. The 21-year-old is planning to go to Europe now to appear in either Troisdorf or Vicenza during the first week of Roland Garros (at the time of writing he’s third on the alternate list for the qualifying at both). Boscardin Dias’s next tournament schedule remains unknown.

Challenger Tour magic:

This week was rich in doubles finals hot shots, one even on championship point:

Events held next week:

  • Tunis Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Shymkent 2 (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Challenger Francavilla al Mare (Challenger 50, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Jordan Thompson, Roberto Carballes Baena (Tunis)

Because of Roland Garros qualifying, Thompson and Carballes Baena are also the only top 200 players participating in Challenger events next week. The ranking difference between the Spaniard and the 3rd seed in Tunis is about 140 spots.

First-round matches to watch:

Tunis

  • Lucas Miedler vs Filip Misolic
  • (ALT) Calvin Hemery vs (6) Nicola Kuhn

Shymkent

  • (ALT) Sebastian Fanselow vs (7) Denis Istomin
  • Robin Haase vs Evgenii Tiurnev

Francavilla al Mare

  • (PR) Yibing Wu vs Mats Rosenkranz
  • Carlos Gimeno Valero vs (2) Mate Valkusz

Main photo:
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