This week on the ATP Challenger Tour had it all – a qualifier winner, an extremely high-profile final, a top 100 debut, and so much more. Jozef Kovalik got back to the winners’ circle after almost three years in Tulln, while Roberto Carballes Baena beat Bernabe Zapata Miralles in a high-octane final in Seville. Meanwhile, Hugo Grenier took his third Challenger title to grab a spot inside the world’s best hundred for the very first time, while Stuart Parker came completely out of nowhere to win Nonthaburi. Here’s a look back at this week’s action:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
It had been almost three years since Jozef Kovalik made a Challenger final with the Slovak losing five consecutive semifinals. The 29-year-old got a nightmare draw in Tulln, having to face second seed Chun-Hsin Tseng right off the bat. Despite going down 1-3 in the deciding set, Kovalik pulled off the upset. After two straightforward victories, the Slovak handled Elias Ymer in the semifinals 6-4 in the third, breaking his semifinal losing streak.
Jelle Sels made a Challenger final in Sibiu back in 2018, but this week was by far the best of his professional career. The 27-year-old had to start from the qualifying draw and even dropped a set to Ergi Kirkin there. In the main event, he scored class wins against Federico Coria, Norbert Gombos, and last week’s Toulouse runner-up, Maxime Janvier. Against the top-seeded Coria, he was down 3-6 1-4 before fighting back to secure the comeback victory.
While Kovalik was the better player most of the match and enjoyed decent success pressuring the Sels backhand, it took him a while to make it reflect on the score. The Slovak took his 12th break point of the encounter, but proceeded to fail to serve out the match. It ended up requiring another tie-break, but someone loose errors from Sels eventually helped him clinch the trophy. Kovalik won his sixth Challenger title 7-6 7-6, the first since Maia 2019. Both finalists enter the top 200, Sels for the very first time. They’ll also take next week off to rest up after their runs in Tulln.
Bernabe Zapata Miralles dropped a tight match to Tommy Paul at the US Open, but won a title in his previous Challenger appearance in Meerbusch before that. The Spaniard didn’t drop a set on the way to the final in Seville, needing just a single tie-break against Giovanni Fonio. Zapata Miralles easily dismantled the two opponents that seemed to present most danger to him, including recent Banja Luka champion, Fabian Marozsan.
Roberto Carballes Baena dropped a 72-minute set to Miljan Zekic in the opening round, but was able to reset himself mentally and prove much stronger physically in the decider. Other than that, the Spaniard was just as dominant as Zapata Miralles on his way to the final, dropping just five games in his quarterfinal and semifinal performances. That included a 6-1 6-2 demolition of former World No. 33 Federico Delbonis.
Carballes Baena made it very hard for his opponent to hit through him from the baseline, but also locked up a surprisingly high percentage of his own points on serve (88% first serve points won). The Spaniard added an extra layer of aggression to his game this year, playing a bit more dynamically than before. Zapata Miralles didn’t manage to contain his nerves in a tight second-set tie-break. The 29-year-old claimed his 10th Challenger title, second this year (Tunis). He is scheduled to appear in Szczecin next week, while Zapata Miralles chose to withdraw from that event.
This was just James Duckworth’s third Challenger event of the season as he previously made the semifinals in Porto and went out in round one in Surbiton. The Australian prevailed in a scrappy opening match over the serve-and-volleying Antoine Bellier, before going down 0-2 in the deciding set to Borna Gojo. Duckworth made the Croat’s big serve look pedestrian though and got back into the match with some incredible fighting effort.
Hugo Grenier won his most recent Challenger event in Segovia, before heading to the US Open where he made the second round as a lucky loser. The 26-year-old came two points away from losing to Laurent Lokoli in his second match in Cassis, but survived a deciding set tie-breaker. By the time he reached the final, it was clear that he was not only going to play for a title, but also for a top 100 debut, which he’d been nearing for the past couple of weeks.
Grenier managed to withstand the pressure on himself and put up a fantastic serving performance, winning 84% of points on his first serve and only facing one break point. He landed a key break in the 11th game of the opening set, before finding another one at the beginning of the second and never really getting close to letting it go.
The Frenchman took his third Challenger title, second this year (Segovia). The 80 points earned will let him debut in the top 100. Both finalists are scheduled to appear on the Challenger Tour next week – Grenier in Rennes, Duckworth in Istanbul.
A champion in the previous Nonthaburi event, Arthur Cazaux took that form straight to next week. In the quarterfinals, he had to eliminate the runner-up of the first Bangkok Open, Ly Hoang Nam, and bagelled him in the opening set. The final four had him take on Omar Jasika in a rematch for their final from a week ago. This time the win came to the 20yo via retirement as the Australian decided to throw in the towel at 0-6 0-3.
Stuart Parker had never competed in a Challenger main draw before, losing in the qualifying five times. That included the two previous events in Nonthaburi, where he lost to Seong Chan Hong and Tristan Schoolkate. This time, the Brit was in brilliant form right away, dropping just one set in the six matches that he needed to win to reach the final. Yshai Olliel led him by a set, but Parker was never really in danger of dropping out.
Parker made things uncomfortable for Cazaux with his great backhand slice and really dominated the neutral baseline rallies. On his second serve, the Frenchman only took 4 out of 18 points. Parker caught fire as the match went on and was very smoothly controlling the play from the ground with his consistent hitting. Unfortunately, Cazaux suffered a nasty fall at 4-6 1-4 0-15 down and was forced to retire.
The Brit, who had never competed in a Challenger main draw before, took his maiden title at this level via retirement. He’ll improve his career-high ranking by 105 spots, while Cazaux re-enters the top 300. Interestingly, all three events in Nonthaburi were won by qualifiers (Valentin Vacherot, Cazaux, Parker). Neither player will be competing next week.
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Events held next week:
- Pekao Szczecin Open (Challenger 125, clay)
- Open Blot Rennes (Challenger 90, indoor hard)
- Istanbul Challenger TED Open (Challenger 80, hard)
- Atlantic Tire Championships (Cary, Challenger 80, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Federico Coria, Roberto Carballes Baena, Chun-Hsin Tseng, Corentin Moutet (Szczecin)
- Hugo Gaston, Hugo Grenier (Rennes)
- James Duckworth (Istanbul)
- Denis Kudla (Cary)
First-round matches to watch:
- (1) Federico Coria vs Raul Brancaccio
- (WC) Jerzy Janowicz vs Yannick Hanfmann
- Miljan Zekic vs (2) Roberto Carballes Baena
- (WC) Gabriel Debru vs Mats Rosenkranz
- Dan Added vs (7) Benoit Paire
- (WC) Dominic Thiem vs Gilles Simon
- (1) James Duckworth vs Lukas Rosol
- (5) Paul Jubb vs Harold Mayot
- Hamad Medjedovic vs Alastair Gray
- (1) Denis Kudla vs Zachary Svajda
- Govind Nanda vs Rinky Hijikata
- Aleksandar Kovacevic vs (8) Dominik Koepfer
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