Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Griekspoor Makes a Triumphant Return

ATP Challenger Tour Amersfoort champion Tallon Griekspoor in action.
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Tallon Griekspoor won an all-time record eight Challenger titles last year, but hadn’t played at that level in 2022 yet. The Dutchman chose to compete in Amersfoort though and was in stellar form from the get-go. Meanwhile, Yibing Wu continued his incredible ascendancy this year with a second Challenger title. 19-year-old Francesco Maestrelli also joined the list of champions at this level. Read back on this week’s action:

Iasi

Pablo Andujar came into Iasi with just one semifinal for the year (Marbella) and two matches won in his previous nine events. The Spanish veteran got off to a better start this time, looking much more solid in three consecutive straight-set wins. He eventually had to fightback against Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida, turning around a one set deficit. By making the final in Iasi, Andujar made his first championship match appearance since Prostejov 2020.

Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves has been a threat mostly on altitude this year, making four of his six pre-Iasi Challenger quarterfinals in such conditions. The elevation in Romania is only about 200m, but the courts play fairly quick and suit the Brazilian’s game. With six last eight appearances but not finals, it had been a solid year for the 22-year-old. He was able to turn another one of these deep showing into an even bigger campaign here, dropping just one set in four matches (to Jose Pereira).

Andujar started poorly, hitting a couple of double faults too many and being very erratic on the forehand side. He went down a set and a break, before ultimately raising his level and building points the way he’s known for. It didn’t last that long though and while he was able to level after a very poor Meligeni service game, the Brazilian was the stronger player in the decider, ramping up the pace and watching Andujar not finding ways to handle it.

Meligeni claimed his 2nd Challenger title (Sao Paulo 2020). The Brazilian will break the top 150 for the very first time. He is scheduled to appear in Trieste next week, while Andujar was incredibly unlucky not to make it to the main draw of either ATP Tour event – 1st alternate for Gstaad, 2nd alternate for Hamburg.

Amersfoort

Usually the most solid player on the Challenger circuit, Roberto Carballes Baena got in an uncharacteristic slump of late, not making it past round two in his previous four appearances. The Spaniard was back in full flow at Amersfoort, coming through his first three matches without dropping a set. He was then able to survive a high-quality semifinal against Bernabe Zapata Miralles and make his third final of the season (won Tunis, lost to Gianluca Mager at Gran Canaria).

Tallon Griekspoor won a record eight Challenger Tour titles last year and until Amersfoort, was on a full ATP Tour schedule in 2022. While he definitely hasn’t fallen off (quarterfinals at Melbourne, Geneva, Mallorca), he hadn’t been playing quite as well as on the lower circuit. Trying to defend his crown at home turned out to be a great idea though. The Dutchman reminded us of the player who dominated Challengers in 2021 and ripped through the draw, losing a set each to Zsombor Piros and Vitalyi Sachko.

The disparity in power is huge in this matchup and sometimes, it can result in very lopsided scorelines. Carballes Baena’s playstyle doesn’t really help him derail the opponents and it was just one of these days. Griekspoor blasted the forehand with great efficiency and found his way to a 6-1 6-2 win in just 70 minutes.

It’s the Dutchman’s 11th Challenger title. Both finalists have only taken a small detour to the lower circuit, coming back to the main tour next week – Griekspoor in Hamburg, Carballes Baena in Gstaad.

Verona

You’d think having broken the top 100 last week, Pedro Cachin would allow himself some time-off. But the Argentinian is restless and rightfully so. The 27-year-old is having the best campaign of his life and just can’t stop going deep and winning Challengers. Cachin went down a break in the deciding sets against Jerome Kym and Marco Cecchinato (the latter even served for the match), but proved himself mentally and physically superior over both opponents.

Having finished runner-up in Francavilla al Mare in May, Francesco Maestrelli made a couple more solid runs in Troyes and Todi of late, having to come through the qualifying. Once again he didn’t get direct entry to the main draw in Verona, but managed to overcome a set deficit against Alexey Vatutin and qualify. The key win proved to be the one against Riccardo Bonadio – down a set and 2-5 in the tie-breaker, the 19-year-old showcased maturity far beyond his age to claw his way back into this one and win, securing another Challenger final two rounds later.

Cachin had the better start but as the match went on, it was becoming increasingly clear that his energy levels aren’t quite where they should be. Maestrelli slowly wrestled back the control over the baseline and played a fun brand of attacking tennis, highlighted by beautiful backhand winners.

The Argentinian had nothing left for the decider, which Maestrelli won 6-0, giving himself a maiden Challenger title and finding himself in Grand Slam qualifying range. The champion grabbed a special exempt for Trieste, while Cachin will grab some much-deserved rest.

Rome

The 2022 NCAA champion (for Florida Gators), Ben Shelton, was playing just his third pro event of the season, having reached the semifinals at Little Rock. With his only losses coming to Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata, the 19-year-old kept proving he was fully ready to produce his tennis even at such a high level of competition. Starting from the qualifying draw, Shelton lost just one set in six matches required to make the final (against Govind Nanda).

Yibing Wu improved his 2022 win/loss records to 24-4 by the time he made the final in Rome (and three of these losses coming via retirement). The former junior World No. 1 is back from a three-year hiatus stronger than ever, already improving his career-high ranking and grabbing his 2nd Challenger title in Orlando. On the way to the final in Rome, the Chinse dropped merely seventeen games across seven completed sets.

There was plenty of natural talent on display in the fast indoor conditions at Rome. Wu generated more chances on return, absorbing and redirecting the Shelton’s pace extremely well. The Chinese was also comfortable dictating the rallies, finding a lot of opportunities to do so after turning defence into offence. It wasn’t a landslide victory by any means, but Wu secured one break in each set to clinch the title 7-5 6-3.

Wu will be up to 233rd in the ATP Rankings on Monday, putting him in the US Open qualifying range (and already 65 spots higher than his career-high pre-hiatus). Both finalists received special exempts to Indianapolis next week.

Events held next week:

  • Citta di Trieste Challenger (Challenger 100, clay)
  • Tampere Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Open Ciudad de Pozoblanco (Challenger 80, hard)
  • President’s Cup (Nur-Sultan, Challenger 80, hard)
  • Rajeev Ram Foundation Indy Challenger (Indianapolis, Challenger 80, indoor hard)

Peter Gojowczyk will be the only top 100 player in action (Indianapolis).

First-round matches to watch:

Trieste

  • Andreas Seppi vs (WC) Mattia Bellucci
  • Francesco Passaro vs (6) Nikola Milojevic
  • Felipe Meligeni Alves vs (4) Denis Novak
  • Andrea Arnaboldi vs (2) Franco Agamenone

Tampere

  • Nicolas Kicker vs (8) Alessandro Giannessi
  • Jonas Forejtek vs (3) Maximilian Marterer
  • (6) Thiago Agustin Tirante vs Filip Horansky
  • Gerald Melzer vs (2) Mats Moraing

Pozoblanco

  • (1) Nuno Borges vs Antoine Bellier
  • (6) Altug Celikbilek vs (WC) Alejandro Moro Canas
  • Alastair Gray vs (4) Hugo Grenier

Nur-Sultan

  • Lucas Catarina vs (4) Mikhail Kukushkin
  • Daniel Cukierman vs (2) Jay Clarke

Indianapolis

  • Gijs Brouwer vs (8) Christopher Eubanks
  • (ALT) Aleksandar Kovacevic vs (3) Stefan Kozlov
  • (6) Liam Broady vs Max Purcell
  • (SE) Ben Shelton vs Rinky Hijikata

Main Photo from Getty Images