Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Bergs Wins the Wimbledon Wildcard, Coric Back in Form

Borna Coric 2022 French Open
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While it’s not a written rule, the winner of the Ilkley Trophy traditionally receives a Wimbledon wildcard. The tradition was kept up this year with Zizou Bergs securing his Grand Slam debut that way. Meanwhile in Parma, Borna Coric won his first title after the right shoulder injury that sidelined him for a full year. Alexander Muller and Francisco Comesana were crowned brand-new Challenger champions. Read back on this week’s action:

Ilkley

Zizou Bergs had only played one grass-court event in his professional career (‘s-Hertogenbosch last week), before heading to Ilkley. To enter the main draw, he had to start from the qualifying draw and win six matches to get to his third final of the season. The most dramatic moment came when Jurij Rodionov, his third opponent at Ilkley, served for the match in the second set. Bergs broke and made the comeback, later dropping just one more set to the veteran Andreas Seppi in the quarterfinals.

Jack Sock played some fine tennis in Nottingham last week, losing to the eventual champion Dan Evans in the semifinals. After two straight-set wins at Ilkley, the American was engaged in a couple of extremely dramatic encounters. To defeat Jiri Vesely he required a deciding set tie-breaker, while against Constant Lestienne he prevailed in a topsy-turvy match with plenty of plot twists. Sock lost 19 consecutive points between the second and third set and only won 48% of the points in total, but still came out on top.

The final delivered. Sock had to do quite a lot of grinding in the opening set and lost it after holding three set points. The American slipped at the beginning of the second set and somehow the slight injury scare helped him open up and redline his game for a long while. Sock went up 4-2 in the decider before took control over the rallies again. It all ended with a brilliant tie-break. First 2-5 down, Bergs played two phenomenal volleys at 5-6 and 6-6, saving a match point and taking his 4th Challenger title.

Interestingly, 3 of these 4 trophies he won as a qualifier. Traditionally, the Ilkley champion receives a Wimbledon main draw wild card. The one for Bergs was officially announced during the trophy ceremony. Sock will have to play qualifying (he was the second alternate for a main draw spot). The Belgian also achieved a pretty rare feat, currently held by just 10 active players:

Parma

Borna Coric‘s right shoulder injury sidelined him for almost exactly a full year and the early days of his comeback wasn’t promising. 2-8 in his first 10 matches, the Croat picked up some steam last week in Perugia though (quarterfinal) and continued it onto Parma. The whole week he was very comfortable on the court and even had no issues dictating the rallies. His path to the final was extremely tough, featuring Franco Agamenone, Flavio Cobolli, Giulio Zeppieri, and Dusan Lajovic (who was making his first Challenger appearance in over 4 years).

Elias Ymer made the semifinal at ATP 250 Pune earlier in the year, but flew under the radar since then. Especially in recent weeks, his form in Challengers just didn’t look great at all. The Swede picked it up though and played himself into form at Parma, although his set of opponents wasn’t nearly as tough as Coric. He looked on the verge of defeat at 2-6 0-2 down to Marco Cecchinato in the semifinal, but managed to regain control over that encounter and make his first final in a bit over a year.

The first set had him playing with some nerves, but Coric just wasn’t going to be stopped this week. The Croat was impenetrable from the baseline and played his forehand with aggression that was rarely there back in his prime. The match basically ended with the first set tie-break as Ymer couldn’t keep up with Coric at all later on and lost 6-7 0-6.

It’s the Croat’s 3rd Challenger title and first since 2015. He will now rest up before Wimbledon main draw, while Ymer has to start from the qualifying in London.

Blois

Nikola Milojevic arrived in Blois on a nine-match losing streak with pretty much his only good week of the season being Australian Open qualifying. While the draw certainly wasn’t as strong as most European Challengers have been recently, the Serbian somehow managed to completely turn his game around and start hitting the ball with a lot more clarity and intent than he’s been all season. Milojevic survived three-setters against Evgeny Karlovskiy and Timofey Skatov, before beating Prostejov champion Vit Kopriva.

Alexandre Muller certainly wasn’t in such dire need of a good run, but it had also been a while since the Frenchman looked like a potential Challenger champion. The Frenchman survived a thriller against Andrea Collarini in the opening round, coming back from a set and 1-4 down (two breaks), before having to save a matchpoint in the tie-break (unreturned serve). He then picked it up to defeat Camilo Ugo Carabelli and the 18-year-old prospect Luca van Assche, making his 2nd Challenger final.

Muller had to survive some tough moments again, saving two set points at 4-5 down in the first set. Similarly to the final in Parma, the match was really decided by the opening tie-breaker. Milojevic faded away mentally and Muller’s solid counter-punching stood as strong as ever in the latter stages of the encounter.

The Frenchman won his 1st Challenger title 7-6 6-1. Both finalists will now head to Roehampton to appear in the Wimbledon qualifying.

Corrientes

Most South American Challenger players are in Europe right now, which left the Corrientes field severely weakened compared to the usual depth. Francisco Comesana (ATP 285), who was the second seed, had been knocking on the door at this level for months and this was the perfect opportunity for him. A big favorite in all his matches, the Argentinian went down a set to Matias Franco Descotte and Roman Andres Burruchaga, but swiftly found a way to stay ahead and never seemed that close to losing.

Mariano Navone was a surprise finalist with only two previous Challenger main draw wins. The 21-year-old started from a massive upset over Gonzalo Villanueva, before making another one against top-seeded Juan Pablo Ficovich in the semifinals. Navone and Comesana know each other well, having previously played three times, including two encounters in 2021. The second seed was the favorite again coming into the championship match that was guaranteed to bring up us a new Challenger champion.

Both players were featured in the first Challenger final, but the more experienced Comesana handled the pressure so much better. Navone’s attacking game was just wildly inconsistent and as he lost the first eight games of the match, it was tough to see a way back. Second set was more competitive but Comesana still came out on top 6-0 6-3, taking his ranking into Grand Slam qualifying range. Both finalists intend to play Buenos Aires next week.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Aspria Tennis Cup (Milan, Challenger 80, clay)
  • Open de Oeiras III (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Challenger Dove Men+Care Buenos Aires (Challenger 50, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Federico Coria, Benoit Paire, Hugo Dellien (Milan)
  • Roberto Carballes Baena (Oeiras)

First-round matches to watch:

Milan

  • (6) Marco Cecchinato vs Leandro Riedi
  • (WC) Matteo Gigante vs (WC) Francesco Maestrelli

Oeiras

  • (1) Roberto Carballes Baena vs Kimmer Coppejans
  • Michael Geerts vs (4) Daniel Dutra da Silva

Buenos Aires

  • (1) Juan Pablo Ficovich vs Murkel Dellien
  • Roman Andres Burruchaga vs (7) Malek Jaziri
  • Alejo Lorenzo Lingua Lavallen vs (2) Felipe Meligeni Alves

 

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