Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Wu Yibing Coming Back Strongly After the Hiatus

Dan Evans won a Challenger Tour title in Nottingham.
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It was another week featuring five events across three surfaces on the Challenger Tour. Jordan Thompson and Jason Kubler almost made it back-to-back titles, falling at the last hurdle. Jaume Munar and Tomas Martin Etcheverry produced a number of quality rallies in their final in Perugia. Meanwhile, Alexander Shevchenko won his maiden Challenger title in Bratislava. Here’s a look back at this week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Nottingham

Thompson won in Surbiton last week, grinding his way to his first grass Challenger title. The Australian wasn’t going to stop there and kept frustrating players with more typical styles for the lawn, from big-servers (Antoine Bellier or Alexei Popyrin) to flat-hitters (Mikhail Kukushkin). The latter was the only one to take a set of him in the four matches in Nottingham. With Thompson defending many points on the grass this year, he needed a run like this.

World #27 Dan Evans decided to take a wildcard into the Nottingham Challenger instead of heading to ‘s-Hertogenbosch or Stuttgart. The gamble paid off as the Brit had a couple of really tough opponents but always stepped up when needed, not dropping a set on the way to the final. Evans played Nottingham in 2021 as well but lost at the quarterfinal stage to Denis Kudla. In his first four matches this week, only Enzo Couacaud managed to take him to a tie-breaker.

Both players can slice the ball extremely ball and that type of spin was basically in every single rally in the final. Evans is the better server though and has the weapons for these courts that Thompson lacks. It was a fine effort from the Australian, who had the last chance to get back into it with a breakpoint at 4-6 3-4 down. He approached to the Evans backhand, but the Brit was perfect on the passing shot.

It’s a ninth Challenger title for Evans, third on grass. He’s going to play the ATP 500 in Queen’s next, while Thompson took a special exempt for Ilkley. Had he defeated the Brit, he would have been going for a three-peat.

Perugia

Etcheverry suffered a surprising defeat to Matteo Gigante in Forli and it was very close for the Argentinian to go out on the first hurdle here again. He came back from a break down in the deciding set to defeat Marco Cecchinato. Etcheverry’s level was much better throughout the rest of the week though. He fended off Borna Coric and Maximilian Marterer with relative ease and prevailed over Flavio Cobolli in a thrilling night match that lasted over three hours.

Munar suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of Francesco Passaro last week, but was able to repay the favor in the second round here. The Spaniard had to survive a couple of thrillers in the latter stages of the event though. His quarterfinal against Thiago Monteiro took over 3,5 hours and a deciding set tie-breaker. The final four matchup with Luciano Darderi was slightly shorter, but needed to be finished in exactly the same fashion.

Despite all his struggles in the previous two matches, Munar didn’t seem tired at all and forced Etcheverry to come up with ridiculous attacking shots to finish the points. The quality of the hitting in this final was insane with numerous 20+ shot rallies that had the Spaniard lob and run to catch his opponents’ attacks. Surprisingly, it was actually Etcheverry who broke down physically in the deciding set.

Munar took his 8th Challenger title 6-3 4-6 6-1. The Spaniard will now rest up before he intends to play qualifying at the grass-court ATP event in Mallorca leading up to Wimbledon. Etcheverry is scheduled to appear in Parma this week.

Lyon

Pedro Cachin is in the form of his life this year, highlighted by making the second round at Roland Garros and Challenger titles in Madrid and Prague. The Argentinian had his toughest moments of the week in the second round, taken by Juan Bautista Torres to a third-set tie-breaker. In the key moments, he had a lot wider attacking repertoire than his young compatriot. The 27-year-old defeated home crowd favorite Richard Gasquet in a high-quality semifinal, his best performance in Lyon.

After a long stretch of playing mostly on the main tour, Corentin Moutet is now forced to seek points in Challenger events, but his most recent attempts didn’t go that well. The Frenchman was ready and motivated in Lyon though, defeating three compatriots on the way to his first final since January 2020 (ATP 250 in Doha). Moutet lost just one set in his first four matches, taking out Hugo Grenier in a deciding set tie-break.

Cachin wasn’t on top of his game in the final though. His baseline game was erratic and the backhand kept breaking down. On top of that, it seems like more creative players (e.g. Hugo Gaston at Roland Garros) seem to have a way of exposing the simplicity of his tennis. To make matters worse, he was unable to make any impact on Moutet’s serve, not generating a breakpoint.

Moutet won 6-4 6-4, claiming his fifth Challenger title (second in Lyon, where he also won back in 2019). Both players are getting closer to the top 100, of course for the Frenchman it would be a return, Cachin has never been there yet. The two finalists are scheduled to appear in Blois this week.

Orlando

Kubler won the title in Little Rock last week and continued that fine form in Orlando. The first weaker moment came against Ulises Blanch in the quarterfinals, but the Australian picked him up for the deciding set. Fitness question marks apparently weren’t justified though as he was back in full flight beating J. J. Wolf in the semifinals. With his ninth straight win, Kubler also secured a return to the top 100, having spent there just nine weeks back in 2018.

After a series of injuries and the pandemic sidelined him for almost three years, Yibing Wu is making his way back with the Orlando Challenger being just his fifth event after the break. The former junior World No. 1 won the Shanghai Challenger back in 2017, but only got to World No. 298 in the seniors’ rankings before the hiatus. The very clean ball-striker didn’t drop a set on the way to the final, clinching a set each against Christopher Eubanks and Christian Harrison via a tie-breaker.

Tough weather conditions (wind, over 30 Celsius degrees) didn’t really allow for high-quality in the final as both players were clearly fatigued. Kubler was going for his 10th win in 13 days, but with more free points on serve, he was able to take a 7-6 4-4 lead, before eventually exhausting himself to a point where he was forced to retire in the third set. Wu recognized his issues early and focused on being a lot more solid from the baseline from set 2 onwards.

Wu has made the jump to World No. 332 in the ATP Rankings, just 34 spots lower than his career-high from before the hiatus. The Chinese is 19-3 for the season and is now a much stronger player than he was pre-break. He’s next scheduled to appear in a 25K ITF in Dallas at the end of the month, while Kubler withdrew from his singles match in Ilkley, though he is still playing in the doubles alongside Luke Saville.

Bratislava

Shevchenko made a couple of Challenger semifinals last year, but the 21-year-old was yet to break through to his maiden final at this level. After a disappointing quarterfinal exit in Poznan (when Genaro Alberto Olivieri physically outlasted him), the Russian made sure that this didn’t happen again. Despite a really tough draw, he was able to make his maiden Challenger final without losing a set, defeating Filip Horansky, Dennis Novak, Andrey Kuznetsov, and Norbert Gombos.

Riccardo Bonadio made his only previous Challenger final in Trieste back in 2020, losing to a then 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz. The Italian secured a top 200 debut for the first time with his semifinal victory here, just a month shy of turning 29. Bonadio was 0-3 down in the deciding set against Oleksii Krutykh in the quarterfinals, before going on to score a massive upset over Chun-Hsin Tseng, winning 6-4 in the third. Two years after his first final at this level, he earned himself another chance.

Bonadio hit with excellent power from the beginning of the match and tried to dictate the rallies. Shevchenko’s defense was excellent though and he combined that with still having enough power to put pressure on the Italian. His backhand down-the-line was on form too and perhaps it saved him from a third set – down 4-5 30-30 in the second, Shevchenko made a crucial pass from that wing.

The 21-year-old won his maiden Challenger title 6-3 7-5. Both players secured top 200 debuts thanks to their runs in Bratislava this week. Bonadio received a special exempt for Parma, while Shevchenko will continue his journey in Blois.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Ilkley Trophy (Challenger 125, grass)
  • Emilia-Romagna Tennis Cup (Parma, Challenger 125, clay)
  • Internationaux de Tennis de Blois (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Dove Men+Care Challenger Corrientes (Challenger 50, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Jiri Vesely, Henri Laaksonen, John Millman (Ilkley)
  • Federico Coria, Dusan Lajovic, Hugo Dellien, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Carlos Taberner, Roberto Carballes Baena, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Thiago Monteiro, Chun-Hsin Tseng (Parma)

First-round matches to watch:

Ilkley

  • (1/SE) Jordan Thompson vs Nuno Borges
  • (6) Fernando Verdasco vs Mikhail Kukushkin
  • Ernesto Escobedo vs (SE) Tim van Rijthoven

Van Rijthoven defeated three top 15 players on the way to a maiden ATP title in’s-Hertogenbosch last week (#2 Daniil Medvedev, #9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, and #14 Taylor Fritz.

Parma

  • (1) Federico Coria vs Daniel Elahi Galan
  • (4) Tomas Martin Etcheverry vs (SE) Riccardo Bonadio
  • Marco Cecchinato vs Luca Nardi
  • (WC) Borna Coric vs Franco Agamenone
  • Flavio Cobolli vs (3) Hugo Dellien
  • (WC) Francesco Passaro vs (2) Dusan Lajovic

Blois

  • (4) Pedro Cachin vs Maximilian Marterer
  • (WC) Arthur Fils vs Emilio Nava
  • Evan Furness vs (2) Corentin Moutet

Corrientes

  • (7) Facundo Juarez vs Murkel Dellien
  • Roman Andres Burruchaga vs (3) Nicolas Mejia

Main photo:
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