Despite the first week of Wimbledon, it was still a very busy week on the ATP Challenger Tour. Interesting prospects Hamad Medjedovic and Juan Bautista Torres won their first events. Meanwhile, Constant Lestienne keeps going in a wonderful season, while Facundo Mena proved his altitude clay expertise. Read back on this week’s action:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Hamad Medjedovic is currently on an absurd streak – before the final in Luedenscheid, he had won 26 out of his last 28 matches (only losses to Laslo Djere and Dalibor Svrcina). The Serbian took three ITF titles in a row (two 15Ks, one 25K), before making a Challenger quarterfinal in Prostejov). He had to start from the qualifying draw this week, but absolutely smashed through his first six opponents, only losing games besides one tie-breaker set he dropped to Nicolas Jarry (but still beat him 6-3 6-7 6-2).
Zhizhen Zhang was a surprise finalist too, especially given that the Chinese hadn’t made a Challenger final in almost three years. He was slowly on an upward trend though, reaching the semifinals in Tallahassee and Tunis in 2022. Zhang wasn’t even taken to a tie-breaker before the final in Luedenscheid, winning four straight matches without dropping a set. The most impressive wins had him fight through Roseto Degli Abruzzi champion Manuel Guinard and beating the veterans Jozef Kovalik and Pablo Cuevas.
Medjedovic just smashed Zhang off the court though. In the past three months, the Serbian added so much power to his baseline game that he completely changed his playstyle. His serve is also way more of a threat now and Zhang felt it in the final, winning just six points on return in a 1-6 2-6 loss that lasted just 48 minutes.
The Serbian qualifier got his maiden title and will break the top 300 after Wimbledon. Despite dropping a set to Jarry, he still lost only 31 games over 15 sets in Luedenscheid. Both finalists took special exempt spots for this week’s events – Medjedovic to Salzburg, Zhang to Braunschweig.
He’s flying under the radar, but it’s been a phenomenal season for Constant Lestienne. In Malaga, he grabbed his seventh Challenger quarterfinal of the season, fourth semifinal, and eventually, a second final. But it didn’t look like that from the get-go. Lestienne barely eliminated Evgeny Donskoy in a third-set tie-breaker in the opening round, before saving a match point against Steven Diez in the quarterfinals (unreturned serve).
Emilio Gomez also had a crazy path to the final. A title winner in Salinas earlier this year, the Ecuadorian lost sets to Yasutaka Uchiyama and James McCabe, before engaging in an extremely tight battle against Altug Celikbilek. His Turkish rival first served for the match at 5-3 in the decider, before going 6-3 up in the tie-breaker. He wasn’t afraid to be aggressive when needed though and drew the errors from Celikbilek, who eventually faltered losing it six points to eight.
Lestienne was the better player in all sets, using his variety and counterpunching what Gomez threw at him with relative ease. The Ecuadorian is a master of comebacks though and his opponent loves the scenic route, so the match went three after Lestienne couldn’t serve it out.
The 30-year-old claimed his fourth Challenger title 6-3 5-7 6-2. After Wimbledon, he should be ranked about 120th in the ATP Rankings and with a serious chance of breaking the top 100 in the next three months. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Porto this week.
With an improvement to his serve that Facundo Mena introduced around after the pandemic, the Argentinian became an absolute beast on altitude clay. He won Quito last year (2,850m elevation) and finished runner-up in Bogota (2,640m), before reaching another final in Pereira this year (1,411m). In Cali (1,418m) he was able to excel again, but almost lost to Chung Yun-seong in the quarterfinals, not being able to convert a 6-3 5-3 lead, ultimately having to clinch it in the deciding tie-breaker.
Miljan Zekic is having a big resurgence in 2022, slowly making his way back into Grand Slam qualifying ranking range. The 33-year-old won his only Challenger title in Todi six seasons ago, but had already reached a final this year in Barletta. His path there was filled with crazy matches and this one was no different. Zekic was down 1-6 3-4 (with a break) to Aleksandar Kovacevic in the opening round, before saving five match points against Pedja Krstin in his next showing.
The final was another superb serving display by Mena – 7 aces, 88% of points won on first serve, 76% on second, never facing a break point. After dropping the opener 2-6, Zekic got to a tie-break later on but finally had to surrender to the Argentinian king of altitude clay.
Mena’s third Challenger title will have him at about 130th in the post-Wimbledon rankings. Somehow, literally all of that is built on altitude events – the aforementioned four results and a semifinal in Ambato (2,577m elevation). Mena is understandably not wasting another chance to build up points in his favorite conditions and will play Bogota this week (same as Zekic).
27-year-old Benjamin Hassan (who represents Lebanon in the Davis Cup, but Germany on the tour) had only played one previous Challenger semifinal, losing to Filippo Baldi in Vicenza 2019. The German survived two match points in the opening round against Matteo Martineau, saving one of them with a clutch forehand winner. Despite plenty of nerves accompanying him in the latter stages, especially against Arthur Fils and Raul Brancaccio, he closed out these matches and made his first Challenger final.
Juan Bautista Torres had already finished runner-up in Blumenau earlier this year, losing to the now-suspended Igor Marcondes. The Argentinian’s grinding playstyle is perfect for Challenger 50 events, where fewer opponents can punish his lack of control on the attack and overall being too passive. Torres lost just one set on the way to the final, engaging in a tough three-set battle against his compatriot and second seed, Thiago Agustin Tirante.
Torres was down a break twice in the opening set, but was able to make his way back and clinch it in the tie-break. While in the previous final he played nerves got the better of him, perhaps the experience of losing that one gave him the ability to be calmer and more collected on his next attempt.
The 20-year-old clinched his maiden Challenger title 7-6 6-2 and will find himself around Grand Slam qualifying range after Wimbledon. Both finalists grabbed special exempt spots for this week’s events – Torres for Todi, and Hassan for Braunschweig.
Events held next week:
- Brawo Open (Braunschweig, Challenger 125, clay)
- Salzburg Open (Challenger 125, clay)
- Internazionali di Tennis Citta di Todi (Challenger 80, clay)
- Porto Open (Challenger 80, hard)
- Directv Open Bogota (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Pedro Martinez, Federico Coria, Federico Delbonis, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Henri Laaksonen, Carlos Taberner (Braunschweig)
- Arthur Rinderknech, Dusan Lajovic, Jiri Lehecka, Roberto Carballes Baena, Mikael Ymer, Thiago Monteiro (Salzburg)
- James Duckworth (Porto)
First-round matches to watch:
- (4) Bernabe Zapata Miralles vs Vit Kopriva
- Taro Daniel vs Riccardo Bonadio
- Jan-Lennard Struff vs (3) Federico Delbonis
- (5) Henri Laaksonen vs Dominic Stricker
- (3) Jiri Lehecka vs (PR) Sebastian Ofner
- Luca Nardi vs Norbert Gombos
- Giulio Zeppieri vs (8/WC) Fernando Verdasco
- (SE) Hamad Medjedovic vs Roberto Carballes Baena
- Dalibor Svrcina vs (2) Dusan Lajovic
- (1) Pedro Cachin vs Lukas Klein
- (4) Nino Serdarusic vs Duje Ajdukovic
- Andrea Collarini vs (2) Flavio Cobolli
- (4) Nuno Borges vs Antoine Escoffier
- (5) Hugo Grenier vs (WC) Pedro Sousa
- Andrey Kuznetsov vs (2) Yoshihito Nishioka
- (3) Felipe Meligeni Alves vs Aleksandar Kovacevic
- Nick Hardt vs (4) Francisco Comesana
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