Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Clay, Grass, Hard, Lots of Fun

Lorenzo Musetti, a champion last week on the Challenger Tour.
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It’s one of these great weeks of ATP Challenger Tour action again. Five tournaments across three surfaces and many top 100 players competing. Whether you enjoy clay, grass, or hard, you’re certainly able to find something for yourself. Top-seeds Lorenzo Musetti and Arthur Rinderknech cleaned up their respective titles, but looked a bit off their best. Vit Kopriva won his maiden Challenger trophy at Prostejov. Here’s a look back at this week’s action:

Surbiton

At least at the ATP level, Denis Kudla is truly a grass-court specialist. In Challengers, he’s also done remarkably well on this surface, winning Ilkley in 2015 and reaching the finals in Surbiton in 2015 and Nottingham in 2021. The flatter trajectory of his strokes makes them barely bounce and be highly unpleasant for the opponents. The American lost a set to Alexei Popyrin in the opening round this week, before defeating Liam Broady and Max Purcell. In the semifinals, he scored a massive win over top-seeded Andy Murray, coming two points away from losing at 5-6 in the second set.

Jordan Thompson was also a former runner-up at this event, but in the year 2017. The Australian was in the middle of a below-par season, but even if he’s not as much of a threat on grass as Kudla, this surface really suits his game. Thompson had to fend off a couple of players well used to serve-and-volleying in Marius Copil and Ramkumar Ramanathan, before barely surviving the revelation of the week, Otto Virtanen, in the semifinals.

The Australian might not be playing a style usually associated with grass courts, but it’s definitely effective. His defending was excellent in the final as he managed to make the flat-hitting Kudla uncomfortable, chipping the ball to his forehand side. The American served for the opening set, but was unable to capitalize and lost the final 5-7 3-6. It’s an eighth Challenger title for Thompson and his first professional trophy on grass. He received a special exempt in Nottingham, while Kudla will appear at the ATP 250 event in Stuttgart next week.

Forli

Top-seeded Lorenzo Musetti hadn’t played a Challenger since March 2021, but picked up a wildcard for Forli after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets at the French Open. The in-form Italian, who won this event in 2020, had a very topsy-turvy campaign, losing a set in every single match on the way to the final. In three instances, against Maximilian Marterer, Juan Manuel Cerundolo, and Matteo Gigante, he had to find his way back from a set down.

Francesco Passaro made the final in Sanremo in April and while he only picked up one win since then, it was clear from the get-go here that the form hasn’t gone anywhere. Much more aggressive with his forehand than before, particularly on the forehand side, the Italian qualified for the tournament and didn’t drop a single set on his way to the championship match. The most shocking victory had him beat Jaume Munar, who seemed to be in god-mode after losing just 11 games in his first three encounters.

Musetti struggled with abdominal issues early on in the final, but it doesn’t take away from how well Passaro played it. The 21-year-old was blasting his forehand and moving his compatriot up and down a lot with serve +1 drop shots. He seemed fully in control until a dip in the second set, which let Musetti into the match. And once he was back in, the top seed used his experience and creativity to regain control over the match, winning it 2-6 6-3 6-2.

It’s Musetti’s second Challenger title and second at this very same event. He’s next in action in Stuttgart (ATP 250) to play on grass now, while Passaro received a special exempt to play Perugia.

Prostejov

Dalibor Svrcina eliminated top-seeded Federico Coria in the opening round, before barely withstanding Evgeny Donskoy, who served for the set. The Czech had a lot of issues with his serve this week, double-faulting a lot and basically only rolling it in. But it didn’t stop the 19-year-old from befuddling quality opponents, including Hamad Medjedovic, who at that point had won 19 of his last 20 matches. In the semifinals, Svrcina managed to get to last week’s Troisdorf champion Lukas Klein, stopping his 10-match winning streak.

Vit Kopriva had reached four Challenger semifinals in his career, all in 2021, never winning a single one of them. A semifinalist in Gstaad (ATP 250) 2021, the Czech wasn’t really in contention for any previous titles this year, but finally managed to get a more consistent week going in Prostejov. The final four stage was by far the toughest for him again as he went down a break in sets 2 and 3 to Filip Horansky, only to pull off a 1-6 6-4 6-3 victory.

Svrcina opened up the final with a 2-0 lead, but didn’t end up winning any more games in the opener. It was closer than the scoreline suggested though with Kopriva stealing a couple of lengthy ones that could have gone both ways. The 24-year-old was playing extremely well, making use of his dropshot and winning a lot of fast-paced rallies.

One of the ball kids fainted at 6-2 1-0, which created a long delay, but nothing changed after the break. Perhaps Svrcina shouldn’t have tried to hang with Kopriva in high-octane exchanges, but rather mix up the play. Anyhow, Kopriva claimed his maiden Challenger title 6-2 6-2. Both finalists intend to play in Bratislava next week.

Little Rock

Almost straight from a second-round appearance at Roland Garros, Jason Kubler came to Little Rock to quickly transition to hard courts. The Australian’s draw really opened up though and he was able to be incredibly dominant on his way to the final. In his first four matches, he played just a couple of tie-breakers against Gonzalo Villanueva and Brandon Holt (Tracy Austin’s son). His semifinal rival was the 2022 NCAA champion Ben Shelton (University of Florida), whom Kubler dispatched 6-4 6-4.

Tung-Lin Wu was the surprise winner in Tallahassee in April, but lost both his matches since then. The Taiwanese played just one match in Europe, losing to Juan Pablo Varillas in French Open qualifying. Wu has been playing a lot in the States over the years and clearly felt much more at home in these conditions. The 24-year-old defeated Zhizhen Zheng, Nicolas Mejia, and Yasutaka Uchiyama without losing a set, before coming back from a set down to beat Aleksandar Kovacevic in the semifinals.

The final was practically no contest. Kubler claimed the opening set after 24 minutes and while the next one was slightly more competitive, he was still in total control and striking his forehand beautifully. The Australian even won all second serve return points (10/10), eventually closing it out 6-0 6-2 in just over an hour.

It’s a seventh Challenger title for Kubler, who’s now just 100 points away from returning to the top 100. Back in 2018, he spent nine weeks among the world’s best hundred. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Orlando next week.

Poznan

Arthur Rinderknech came to Poznan looking for match rhythm as he only played a few matches since returning from an injury break. The Frenchman was hardly at his best throughout the run, dropping a set to Georgii Kravchenko and almost going to deciding sets against Daniel Dutra da Silva and Dimitar Kuzmanov. His huge array of weapons was always there to help him out though, particularly the serve which almost single-handedly saved him six break points in the second set against the Bulgarian.

Tomas Barrios Vera was striking the ball extremely well all week, playing with a degree of aggression that’s rarely seen from the Chilean. He dropped a set in his opening round to Andrea Arnaboldi, before engaging in an absolute thriller against Zizou Bergs in the quarterfinals. The Chilean committed a double fault on a match point at 5-3, only to fall behind in the deciding tie-break. He was extremely clutch when it mattered though, firing an out-of-position backhand winner to level it to 5-5 and then claiming it 8-6, saving a match point when the Belgian was unlucky to get a bad bounce.

Barrios Vera started the final incredibly tight, struggling to convert advantageous positions or execute basic attacking patterns. The Chilean played much better in the second set, even putting some pressure on Rinderknech who came up with clutch serves in the key moments. The match followed a similar pattern to the Frenchman’s semifinal against Kuzmanov, a second set where the underdog was the better play, but Rinderknech took over in the tie-break.

The top seed won his fifth Challenger title (first on clay) 6-3 7-6. Rinderknech will now switch to grass in Stuttgart (ATP 250), while Barrios Vera took a special exempt to Lyon.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Rothesay Open Nottingham (Challenger 125, grass)
  • Internazionali di Tennis Citta di Perugia (Challenger 125, clay)
  • Open Sopra Steria (Lyon, Challenger 100, clay)
  • Orlando Open (Challenger 100, hard)
  • Kooperativa Bratislava Open (Challenger 90, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Dan Evans, Jiri Vesely, John Millman (Nottingham)
  • Carlos Taberner, Jaume Munar, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Roberto Carballes Baena, Thiago Monteiro (Perugia)
  • Federico Coria, Richard Gasquet, Hugo Dellien, Pablo Andujar (Lyon)
  • Henri Laaksonen (Bratislava)

First-round matches to watch:

Nottingham

  • Ernesto Escobedo vs (8) Marc-Andrea Huesler
  • Ryan Peniston vs (2) Jiri Vesely

Perugia

  • Giulio Zeppieri vs (6) Daniel Elahi Galan
  • (3) Tomas Martin Etchverry vs Marco Cecchinato
  • (ALT) Borna Coric vs (8) Juan Pablo Varillas
  • (7) Gianluca Mager vs Luca Nardi
  • Franco Agamenone vs (4) Roberto Carballes Baena
  • (WC) Matteo Arnaldi vs (2) Jaume Munar

Lyon

  • Alexander Ritschard vs (7) Corentin Moutet
  • Sebastian Ofner vs (4) Pablo Andujar
  • Gregoire Barrere vs (2) Richard Gasquet

Orlando

  • Tung-Lin Wu vs (7) Bjorn Fratangelo
  • (WC) Ben Shelton vs (8) Rinky Hijikata
  • (WC) Aleksandar Kovacevic vs (3) Ernesto Escobedo

Bratislava

  • (1) Henri Laaksonen vs Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida
  • Dalibor Svrcina vs (4) Andrej Martin
  • Lukas Rosol vs (2) Chun-Hsin Tseng

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