Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Sergey Fomin Most Surprising Champion Ever?

Sergey Fomin Uzbekistan
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The week of Roland Garros qualifying gives the lower-ranked players a space to shine on the Challenger Tour. Roberto Carballes Baena was so much better than the rest of the field at Tunis though and cleaned it up rather comfortably. Matteo Arnaldi won his maiden Challenger title in a battle of wildcards at Francavilla al Mare, while Sergey Fomin became the most shocking titlist at this level in a very long time. Read back on this week’s action:

Tunis

Roberto Carballes Baena was the 2nd seed in Tunis, but only he and Jordan Thompson were ranked in the top 250 (due to Roland Garros qualifying). The Australian was eliminated early by last week’s Zagreb champion, Filip Misolic, so the Spaniard had a chance to clean up the tournament against opponents of a slightly lower class than he’s used to. Carballes Baena lost the first set he played this week against Raul Brancaccio, but he dropped just twelve games in the eight, which took him to the final. Michael Geerts had four set points against him in set one, but was also fended off in straights.

Gijs Brouwer had a great run to Houston (ATP 250) quarterfinals a month ago, scoring wins over Feliciano Lopez and J. J. Wolf. The Dutchman had only reached the last eight stage at a Challenger in his life though (Knoxville 2019).  The lefty was able to advance to the final in Tunis without dropping a single set, winning a tie-break each against Maxime Janvier and Aldin Setkic. His most impressive victory came in the semifinals as he comfortably defeated the aforementioned Misolic 6-2 6-2.

Unfortunately, just like most of Carballes Baena’s matches this week, the final was simply underwhelming. The Spaniard has been at the “a bit too good for Challengers, a bit too weak for the ATP Tour” phase for years now, but he’s extremely consistent and won’t go below a certain level. His solid defense is way too much for lower-ranked players to handle and as he outranked everyone he played in Tunis by at least 164 places, he was able to win his 9th Challenger title by beating Brouwer 6-1 6-1.

The Spaniard will now try to take the momentum and confidence from Tunis to Roland Garros, where he’s facing Oscar Otte in the opening round. Brouwer wants to play qualifying at Surbiton on grass (second week of the French Open). The Dutchman is now ranked high enough to have a great shot at making Wimbledon qualifying, which would be his Grand Slam debut.

Shymkent

35 years of age now, Robin Haase has been suffering from a steady decline with his last Challenger title coming all the way back in 2016 (Sibiu). The Dutchman has always been a great altitude player though (won both his ATP Tour trophies in Kitzbuhel), and he managed to pick his form up this week, losing only two sets on the way to the final, both to Romanians (Filip Cristian Jianu and Nicholas David Ionel). This was a welcome change especially as in the first event at Shymkent, Haase went out to Ergi Kirkin in round one.

Ranked 838th in the world, Sergey Fomin hadn’t even competed in a Challenger main draw in three years (Samarkand 2019). In the first week at Shymkent, he retired to Arjun Kadhe in the qualifying draw. The 21yo Uzbek had to qualify again, but made it through this time and beat Alibek Kachmazov and last week’s runner-up, Sebastian Fanselow, in the first two rounds of the main draw. He was down 2-4 in the third to Kachi Uchida in his next match, but survived by taking the next four games. In the semifinals, he scored a phenomenal deciding tie-break win over Emilio Nava, who won the first event in Shymkent.

Fomin kept proving that while the draw in Shymkent wasn’t the strongest, his form was actually pretty great. Haase tried to keep the rallies short and was helped by his bigger serve and forehand combination, but the Uzbek stood strong even after losing an advantage of a break in the opener and having to clinch it in the tie-break. Whether it was due to some physical reasons you couldn’t really tell, but Haase played very aggressively, despite not being able to keep this style up. Fomin looked more comfortable in the second set, taking the title 7-6 6-3.

The Uzbek will jump over 400 ranking spots to being on the verge of entering the world’s fourth-best hundred (his career-high used to be 576). He is signed up to play a 15K in Antalya next week, but maybe the ranking leap and huge success will change his plans, time will tell. Haase wants to play qualifying at Surbiton or Forli during the second week of Roland Garros. Fomin is the 3rd lowest-ranked Challenger Tour champion of the 21st century (see tweet below):

Francavilla al Mare

Matteo Arnaldi grabbed a late wildcard to the event and was the fourth seed. The 21-year-old Italian had made a couple of good runs in Challengers this season, including a semifinal appearance at Split in April. From the get-go, Arnaldi started completely dismantling his opponents, mostly on the back of his phenomenal defense and consistency. In seven sets played before the final, the Italian dropped only eleven games.

Francesco Maestrelli was also a wildcard, but the 19-year-old had never even won a main draw match at a Challenger. He was originally supposed to face the top seed, Nicolas Moreno de Alboran, right away, but after the American withdrew, he got to play Oleksii Krutykh, which didn’t really make his job any easier. Maestrelli came back from a set down three times (against Krutykh, Billy Harris, and Mattias Bourgue), before straight-setting Alexis Galarneau to make his maiden final.

As it often happens with matches between two players seeking their first title at a certain level, it was a very nervy affair. Arnaldi was the better player almost throughout, going up 6-3 5-2 and not being able to seal the deal. Previously even dictating the rallies with his forehand a lot, the Italian would only get the ball back over the net and hope Maestrelli makes an error. He didn’t, and even saved a couple of match points to prolong this match to a third set. Not without complications, but Arnaldi eventually closed it out 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, losing more games in the final than in all his matches that week.

Arnaldi’s ranking should now grant him a spot in Wimbledon qualifying. Maestrelli is on the verge of entering the top 400. Both finalists received special exempts to the main draw at Vicenza next week.

Events held next week:

  • Internazionali di Tennis – Citta di Vicenza (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Saturn Oil Open (Troisdorf, Challenger 80, clay)

As the world’s best hundred will be competing at the 2022 Roland Garros, there are no top 100 players in action.

First-round matches to watch:

Vicenza

  • Andrea Arnaboldi vs (3) Andreas Seppi
  • (WC) Francesco Passaro vs Flavio Cobolli

Troisdorf

  • Kacper Żuk vs (7) Thomas Fabbiano
  • Zizou Bergs vs (WC) Rudolf Molleker
  • Alexander Ritschard vs (2) Tomas Barrios Vera

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