Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Humbert Crushes Thiem in Rennes

Dominic Thiem was a losing finalist on the Challenger Tour.

With no main tour events this week other than the Davis Cup, it was a very exciting time on the Challenger circuit. Ugo Humbert and Dominic Thiem met in the final at Rennes, but the match ended up being very straightforward. One of the most established events on the calendar, the Pekao Szczecin Open, delivered with a clash for the championship between Corentin Moutet and Dennis Novak. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Szczecin

Corentin Moutet made the fourth round of the US Open as a lucky loser, going out to the eventual runner-up Casper Ruud. The Frenchman kept up his great form in Szczecin, although in the opening round he had to beat Nikolas Sanchez Izquierdo 6-4 in the third (and lost the second set 0-6). His bounce-back ability was definitely on display the rest of the week as he handled all pressure moments well, including a very tight two-setter against Matteo Arnaldi.

Dennis Novak made the final at Meerbusch in August, but suffered a first-round exit in his first event after the US Open (Tulln Challenger). In Szczecin, he took out Thiago Tirante in straight sets to open his campaign before coming back from a set down to beat Mattia Bellucci. He was extremely clutch in tie-breakers, saving four set points against Raul Brancaccio to not allow him to take it to a deciding set. The aggressive return was his biggest weapon the whole week.

Moutet went up 6-2 2-0, impressing with his stunning shot selection and creativity. Novak was erratic on the +1 ball, but started improving his point construction and battling the Frenchman’s lefty spin to return more aggressively. With a brilliant forehand down-the-line winner at 5-4 in the 2nd set tie-break, he was able to take the match to a decider. The two started going really back-and-forth with Moutet going up a double break in the deciding set, only to lose the next free games and allow Novak to level again at 3-3.

In the key moments, the Frenchman kept his composure though and blasted two good serves at 5-4 30-30 to take the match and his 6th Challenger title. In the next edition of the ATP Rankings, Moutet will be sitting at a career-high of 64. The Frenchman goes to Genoa next, while Novak isn’t signed up for any events in the next few weeks.

Rennes

Dominic Thiem appeared in just two Challenger events since his return to the professional circuit. He lost early on both occasions, falling to Pedro Cachin in Marbella and Facundo Bagnis in Salzburg. In Rennes, his forehand was firing almost from the get-go. He was a set down to Gilles Simon and Adrian Andreev, but would quickly steady the course and find a way to start dominating. In the final four, he pulled off a high-quality win over the top seed, Hugo Gaston.

Ugo Humbert was forced to drop down to the Challenger level recently, but despite going deep in every event (three semifinals, one quarterfinal), was still missing a single final this year. On his way to the championship match in Rennes, the Frenchman didn’t even drop his serve, despite facing 16 break points (9 versus Peter Gojowczyk, 6 against Gijs Brouwer, and 1 facing Karl Friberg). Brouwer was the only opponent who managed to take him to a tie-breaker.

The match was initially pretty close with Thiem generating five break points on Humbert’s serve in the opening set. But just like the Frenchman’s previous opponents, he failed to capitalize. Humbert knew he had to rush his opponent’s groundstrokes and was executing that gameplan extremely well. He had a completely different game profile to Thiem’s previous rivals and the 2020 US Open champion wasn’t ready.

Humbert put in a clinic of taking the ball early in the second set to take the title 6-3 6-0. It’s his seventh trophy at the Challenger level. Both finalists will play in Metz (ATP 250) this week, where Humbert received a wildcard, while Thiem entered with his protected ranking.

Istanbul

Radu Albot had his best Challenger run of the season in Chicago just before the US Open (semifinal), but suffered a disappointing exit to Yuki Bhambri in the qualifying at New York. The Moldovan bounced-back well in Istanbul, coming close to a loss just once – against Beibit Zhukayev in the quarterfinals (deciding set tie-break). In the final four, he came back from a set down to defeat Geoffrey Blancaneaux, but took the last two sets comfortably.

Lukas Rosol won a 25K ITF in Muttenz recently, but had failed to progress past the quarterfinal stage at a Challenger in 2022, despite four opportunities. Despite a nightmare opening round draw, the 37yo took out top-seeded James Duckworth in the opening round (last week’s Cassis runner-up). On his way to the final, Rosol didn’t drop a single set, snapping a spectacular run from local wildcard Koray Kirci in the semifinals.

Albot was constantly getting into Rosol’s service games, which really broke the Czech’s spirit. In the whole match, he created seventeen break point opportunities, while the 37yo had none. It got quite ugly in the second set with Rosol not able to keep himself together anymore. The Moldovan took the final 6-2 6-0 in 66 minutes. His 9th Challenger title forced him to withdraw from the qualifying at Metz (ATP 250). Rosol will rest up before another Challenger in Orleans.

Cary

Dominik Koepfer has had a rough year in terms of injury issues, only really coming back to a full schedule around the grass season. Cary was just his third Challenger of the season, following a quarterfinal appearance in Indianapolis and a round-two exit in Vancouver. The 28-year-old suffered a frustrating defeat to Raul Brancaccio at US Open qualifying, but made up for it here despite a nightmare opening round draw that forced him to play Aleksandar Kovacevic.

Michael Mmoh has enjoyed a very up-and-down campaign in 2022, reaching one Challenger final in Tallahassee, but throwing a stinker in the championship match against Tung-Lin Wu. The American certainly wasn’t doing so hot of late, losing in the opening round of his two previous Challengers. Benefitting from Alex Rybakov’s withdrawal in the second round, the 24-year-old defeated Yasutaka Uchiyama in the quarterfinals, before scoring a high-quality win over Jordan Thompson.

Despite a big frame, Mmoh plays this slow-hitting baseline style that’s based around making a lot of balls and reacting to the opponent. Koepfer didn’t handle it all that well, often not knowing how to construct the rallies and ending up spraying forehand errors. The American took the opening set by breaking at 6-5 with a forehand winner and quickly went up 3-0 in the second set.

While he didn’t avoid some hiccups, Mmoh took the match 7-5 6-3 and impressed the fans with his great decision-making at the net. It’s his sixth Challenger title. Going deep in Cary forced him to withdraw from San Diego qualifying. Meanwhile, Koepfer will continue his Challenger journey in Columbus.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held this week:

  • AON Open Challenger (Genoa, Challenger 125, clay)
  • Braga Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Sibiu Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Tennis Ohio Championships (Columbus, Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Challenger Dove Men+Care Villa Maria (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Thiago Monteiro, Corentin Moutet, Dusan Lajovic (Genoa)
  • Nuno Borges (Braga)
  • Federico Coria (Sibiu)
  • Jordan Thompson (Cary)

First-round matches to watch:

Genoa

  • (4) Dusan Lajovic vs Gianluca Mager
  • Stefano Travaglia vs (2) Thiago Monteiro

Braga

  • (3) Franco Agamenone vs Jelle Sels
  • Gastao Elias vs (2) Carlos Taberner

Sibiu

  • (7) Kimmer Coppejans vs Nicholas David Ionel
  • (PR) Jan Choinski vs (2) Filip Misolic

Columbus

  • Aidan McHugh vs (6) Dominik Koepfer
  • (5) Enzo Couacaud vs Roberto Quiroz

Villa Maria

  • Francisco Comesana vs (5) Yannick Hanfmann
  • (6) Santiago Rodriguez Taverna vs Andrea Collarini
  • (8) Juan Manuel Cerundolo vs Genaro Alberto Olivieri

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images