Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Coppejans and Stebe Win Their First Titles in a While

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe won a Challenger Tour title last week.

The last week of ATP Challenger Tour action certainly delivered. Although the focus of the tennis world was mostly on New York, there was plenty to be excited about elsewhere as a couple of very talented youngsters grabbed titles as Luca Nardi won in Mallorca, while Arthur Cazaux took his maiden trophy at this level in Nonthaburi. Once very prominent figures on this circuit, Kimmer Coppejans and Cedrik Marcel-Stebe returned to the winners’ circle after a few years. Here’s a look back at week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Como

Francesco Passaro has been on fire since the beginning of April, reaching five Challenger finals and winning a gold medal at the Mediterranean Games. He came to Como straight from New York, where he lost in the second qualifying round for the US Open. The 21-year-old was 2-4 down to Matteo Gigante in the quarterfinals in Como, also having to save a few break points at 5-5. That match turned out pivotal for his campaign as he was able to grind down Lukas Klein quite comfortably in the semifinals.

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe had made three Challenger semifinals this year before Como, but all of them came during the indoor season. The German wasn’t doing well at all on clay, only winning consecutive matches once (French Open qualifying). Despite that, the 31-year-old only dropped one set on the way to the final this week, beating last week’s Prague runner-up, Lucas Gerch, from a set down. Stebe reached his first Challenger final since November 2020.

While Stebe’s run to the final seemed a bit random, the German saved the best for last. He controlled his aggression very well in the opening set to claim in the tie-break, before faring just as well having to grind when Passaro tried to be more proactive. His heavy lefty topspin forehand gave the Italian plenty of trouble, feeding him high balls to the backhand side.

Stebe claimed his 8th Challenger title 7-6 6-4 and will return to the top 200. Passaro is just under 100 points away from joining the world’s best hundred in the Live Rankings. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Tulln this week with the German claiming a special exempt spot.

Mallorca

Luca Nardi fell off a bit in the summer after claiming two Challenger titles to start the year. The 19-year-old was back in great form in Mallorca though, winning three deciding sets to make another final at this level. It has to be mentioned that he took all three very comfortably – giving Alexander Lazarov and Jerzy Janowicz just a game each, while Jesper de Jong managed to run away with two. The Italian was never really close to losing either of these matches.

Zizou Bergs came to Mallorca after missing out on qualifying for the US Open (lost to Zhizhen Zhang in the final round). He had an even more comfortable run to the final, defeating all four of his opponents in straight sets. Only Evan Furness kept it very close, missing three set points to take the match to a decider. In the semifinal, Bergs stopped the incredible run of 18-year-old Abedallah Shelbayh, who trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy and comes from a nation without much tennis tradition in Jordan.

The crazy final ended up lasting over three hours. Bergs blew the opening set from 5-4 40-15 up and while he had the upper hand in the rallies, dominating with his forehand and rushing the net a lot, the execution was uneven. For a player who likes to attack, Nardi was also turning defense into offense extremely well. As the match went deep into the third, it was Bergs’ body that began breaking down first.

Nardi claimed his third Challenger title 7-6 3-6 7-5, after the Belgian missed two break points at 5-5 (both makeable returns). The 19-year-old will break the top 150 after the US Open. He decided to pull out of Cassis this week, while Bergs will rest up before representing his country in a Davis Cup rubber.

Toulouse

Maxime Janvier was on a 15-match losing streak in April and while he finally started picking up some wins after that, his win/loss record for the year still stood at just 12-29 before Toulouse. His level had been improving for a while now, even though he was still making very weird scheduling choices (flying to other continents for one event a lot). The Frenchman only dropped one set on the way to the final, defeating Arthur Fils in the quarterfinals.

Kimmer Coppejans also wasn’t having a great campaign, struggling with his health. The Belgian made the final in Oeiras at the end of June though, losing to Kaichi Uchida. Having retired in the quarterfinals in Banja Luka last week, this was another gruelling week for Coppejans, who had to start from the qualifying campaign. In the opening round of the main draw, he took out last week’s Banja Luka champion, Fabian Marozsan, 7-5 in the third, before only dropping five games in his next three matches.

Coppejans had a big edge from the baseline in this matchup, taking over with his forehand when possible and making Janvier’s footwork look sloppy. The Frenchman saved three set points in the opener (ace, forced error, half-volley winner) and clinched it 10-8 in the tie-breaker, but as his serving quality dropped later on, the match began much more rally-oriented and Coppejans quickly gained the upper hand.

The Belgian grabbed his sixth Challenger title (first since 2018!) 6-7 6-4 6-3. Both finalists took special exempts to Challenger events this week – Coppejans in Seville, Janvier for Tulln.

Nonthaburi

After a brilliant 2021 season with two ITF titles and a Challenger QF in Roanne, Arthur Cazaux was forced to start his next campaign in March due to injury. It wasn’t the end of the Frenchman’s issues as a couple of months later he announced an indefinite break to heal up his body. The second event in Nonthaburi was just his third tournament back and from the qualifying draw, the 20-year-old was able to win six matches on the spin to make his maiden Challenger final.

A boys’ singles and doubles champion at the 2014 US Open, Omar Jasika played just one professional match between March 2018 and February 2022. Four years ago, he was suspended for using cocaine and his return was eventually halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally back on tour, Jasika won four ITF titles to get his ranking high enough to compete at Challenger level. Three deciding set wins led him to a first final on this circuit in way over five years.

Cazaux took a tight opening set 8-6 in the tie-break. His serve got him through a couple of tougher moments and he was able to keep attacking Jasika relentlessly, even though the Australian was producing some stellar passes and had very good control over his forehand. Cazaux’s serving remained his biggest asset in the second set as he managed to hit 15 aces in the entire match. The 20-year-old grabbed his maiden Challenger title 7-6 6-4. Both finalists are scheduled to play the third event in Nonthaburi as well.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • NO Open powered by EVN (Tulln, Challenger 100, clay)
  • LIX Copa Sevilla (Challenger 90, clay)
  • Cassis Open Provence by Cabesto (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Bangkok Open 3 (Nonthaburi, Challenger 50, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Federico Coria, Chun-Hsin Tseng (Tulln)
  • Pedro Martinez, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Roberto Carballes Baena (Seville)
  • Constant Lestienne, James Duckworth (Cassis)

First-round matches to watch:

Tulln

  • (1) Federico Coria vs Alexander Shevchenko
  • (3) Norbert Gombos vs Thiago Agustin Tirante
  • Jozef Kovalik vs (2) Chun-Hsin Tseng

Seville

  • (1) Pedro Martinez vs Kimmer Coppejans
  • (3) Roberto Carballes Baena vs Miljan Zekic
  • (5) Franco Agamenone vs Fabian Marozsan

Cassis

  • (1) Constant Lestienne vs Hamad Medjedovic
  • Kacper Å»uk vs (6) Ryan Peniston
  • Antoine Bellier vs (2) James Duckworth

Nonthaburi

  • (1) Yosuke Watanuki vs Yunseong Chung
  • Beibit Zhukayev vs Evgeny Donskoy
  • Akira Santillan vs (2) Valentin Vacherot

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images