Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Roman Safiullin and Camilo Ugo Carabelli Break the Top 100

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Two players had to win their respective finals on Sunday to secure their top 100 debuts and both managed to do it. Roman Safiullin claimed the title in Chicago, while Camilo Ugo Carabelli triumphed in Lima. Meanwhile, Pavel Kotov is inches away from that very same feat after his run at San Marino. Bernabe Zapata Miralles completes the winners’ circle. Read back on this week’s action:

San Marino

Pavel Kotov took a longer break after Roland Garros and it seemed to make him lose his momentum. The last few weeks had him playing not nearly as well as he was in the spring, but to be fair he was handed a very rough opening draw in Cordenons (Zhizhen Zhang, the eventual champion). In San Marino, it took four matches for Kotov to get properly tested. Down 3-6 2-5 (two breaks) to Marco Cecchinato in the semifinals, the Russian stayed his usual solid self while his opponent got tight to fight back and take the match in three.

Matteo Arnaldi won his maiden Challenger title at Francavilla al Mare earlier in the year, but it was an event of the lowest possible category (Challenger 50). He was still waiting for a shot at one of the traditional ones despite a number of quarterfinal runs. In San Marino, Arnaldi just didn’t allow any of his opponents to have a shot at beating him, only dropping 21 games in the first four matches. Some nerves could be seen in the semifinal against Filip Cristian Jianu, but the Italian served it out on the second time asking.

Arnaldi managed to stand up to Kotov in the final, but was a bit unlucky to run into the Russian’s best performance of the week. There was lots of quality rallying and for a while there, it looked like Arnaldi would take it to a deciding set. Kotov stood strong though and took his 3rd Challenger title 7-6 6-4. The Russian now finds himself just 32 points away from the top 100. Both finalists will rest up before US Open qualifying.

Meerbusch

Despite making the fourth round at Roland Garros, Bernabe Zapata Miralles was yet to make a Challenger final this year in seven appearances. The draw to the championship match in his eighth one was fairly comfortable for him though with only one problematic match against Sumit Nagal in the quarterfinals. Both players struggled to hold their serves in the deciding set and Zapata Miralles was close to blowing it from 5-2 up, eventually taking the match 7-5 in the third.

Dennis Novak had lost in three previous Challenger semifinals this year, but finally broke that barrier in Meerbusch. His toughest matches came in the first two rounds. The Austrian found himself 3-5 down in the deciding set to Vit Kopriva, before taking the next four games to make it through. He also pulled off a rather unexpected comeback to beat Jan-Lennard Struff 1-6 6-4 6-4. The next two opponents (Damir Dzumhur and Riccardo Bonadio) found out the hard way what it’s like to play against Novak when he’s already in the right rhythm.

But that form was long gone by the time they reached the final. Zapata Miralles played a very clean match to completely overwhelm the Austrian with his heavy forehand. The 25-year-old claimed his 4th Challenger title 6-1 6-2. The champion has pulled out of Kozerki next week and will now hope to get into Winston-Salem main draw (5th alternate at the time of writing). Novak will go to New York in a week to play US Open qualifying.

Chicago

Ben Shelton‘s phenomenal summer continues. The 2022 NCAA champion has been absolutely excellent in professional events this year, getting through to his first Challenger final in sensational style. The American impressed with his maturity in the quarterfinal win against Jordan Thompson, saving seven set points in the opener to beat the experienced opponent in two. His problem-solving was one of the keys to his run in Chicago, coupled with his backhand looking much more solid than usual.

Roman Safiullin is back in his best form again, having taken the title at Nur-Sultan three weeks ago. The Russian lost to eventual champion Juncheng Shang in the quarterfinals at Lexington, but was even more of a threat in Chicago. While his matches against Genaro Alberto Olivieri and Zachary Svajda were topsy-turvy at best, he would pull himself together beautifully for the deciding sets. He then took out Radu Albot in straights in the semifinals.

Safiullin was putting a lot more pressure on Shelton than his previous opponents did, and it showed. The Russian is extremely dangerous when he can attack his rival’s second serve. The high-risk playstyle was often leading to his demise though and up 4-2 in the third set, it seemed like Shelton had regained control. Safiullin made one last push for the trophy and watched the American finally falter under pressure.

The 25-year-old won his 3rd Challenger title (2nd this year) 6-3 4-6 7-5. With this win, he also secured a top 100 debut.  The Russian will now rest up until US Open qualifying, while Shelton received a main draw wildcard for Cincinnati (ATP 1000).

Lima

Camilo Ugo Carabelli lost his rhythm with an injury around Wimbledon and picked up two consecutive opening-round losses in Cordenons and San Benedetto. Returning to his continent (and a couple of easy rounds early) did him good though as the Argentinian picked himself up in Lima. The semifinals had him face a familiar foe in Tomas Martin Etcheverry, against whom he’s already produced a couple of classics. Despite the opponent being on his last legs (played for 4h17m in the quarterfinals), Ugo Carabelli almost blew a 5-0 lead in the deciding set.

Thiago Agustin Tirante kicked off his run with a couple of comfortable wins before upsetting the second seed Juan Pablo Varillas in the quarterfinals. It was by far the best win of the Argentinian in an otherwise very mediocre campaign (and his first top 100 scalp). Tirante faced the former junior World No. 5 Gonzalo Bueno in the semifinals. An inspired performance from the 18-year-old had the Argentinian saving two match points, but his trademark forehand was up to the task.

Like Safiullin, Ugo Carabelli had the chance to secure a top 100 debut with a win. That seemed to mess with his head a bit as the second set proved to be extremely challenging. The 23-year-old wasn’t going to be denied though as he claimed his 3rd Challenger title 6-2 7-6. Both finalists will now play Santo Domingo before heading to the US Open qualifying event.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Odlum Brown VanOpen (Vancouver, Challenger 125, hard)
  • Republica Dominicana Open (Santo Domingo, Challenger 125, clay)
  • Kozerki Open (Challenger 90, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Yoshihito Nishioka, Jiri Vesely, Arthur Rinderknech, Constant Lestienne, Ricardas Berankis (Vancouver)
  • Roberto Carballes Baena, Pedro Cachin, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Daniel Elahi Galan, Juan Pablo Varillas (Santo Domingo)
  • Kamil Majchrzak, Pablo Andujar (Kozerki)

First-round matches to watch:

Vancouver

  • (1) Yoshihito Nishioka vs (WC) Alexis Galarneau
  • (6) Ricardas Berankis vs Ernesto Escobedo
  • (7) Nicolas Jarry vs Jordan Thompson

Santo Domingo

  • Thiago Tirante vs (5) Juan Pablo Varillas
  • (6) Camilo Ugo Carabelli vs Riccardo Bonadio
  • Daniel Dutra da Silva vs (7) Federico Delbonis
  • Gerald Melzer vs (2) Pedro Cachin

Kozerki

  • (1) Kamil Majchrzak vs Hamad Medjedovic
  • Maxime Janvier vs (6) Zhizhen Zhang
  • (WC) Szymon Kielan vs (8) Sebastian Ofner
  • (7) Nicolas Alvarez Varona vs (WC) Maks Kaśnikowski

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