Nerman Fatic and Nicolas Moreno de Alboran grabbed maiden Challenger titles this past week. Meanwhile, there was a couple of more usual winners with Jordan Thompson and Thiago Monteiro also claiming trophies whilst Nicolas Kicker returned to the winners’ circle for the first time since his suspension. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
You never know when Andrea Pellegrino will peak, but when he does he can be extremely hard to stop. Despite being the underdog in all four matches on the way to the final, the 25-year-old pulled off great wins against the likes Albert Ramos Vinolas or Dusan Lajovic in Genoa this week. Against the former, he prevailed in an over three-hour-long thriller, taking the World No. 40 out 2-6 7-6 7-6. Due to rain delays, he had to play both the semifinal and the final on Sunday.
Thiago Monteiro was in the same situation as play was completely rained off on Saturday. The Brazilian beat Stefano Travaglia 6-4 in the third in the opening round and had an even tougher time eliminating Sebastian Ofner in the quarterfinals, eventually prevailing in the deciding set tiebreak. By the time he reached the final, the 28-year-old was on a 9-match winning streak in Challengers, having claimed the title at Salzburg in July.
Monteiro led the head-to-head against Pellegrino 3-1 coming into the final and it was clear why. Even at his best, the Italian hits with pretty rhythmic pace, which suits the 28-year-old and allows him to play off his pace to counter and turn defense into offense. What definitely didn’t help Pellegrino was playing his semifinal after Monteiro on Sunday morning, leaving his fuel tank a little low for the championship match.
The Brazilian took his eighth Challenger title 6-1 7-6 and tied his career-high ranking of World No. 62. He’ll be back on the main tour in Tel Aviv (ATP 250) this week, while Pellegrino is supposed to play in Lisbon, where he finished runner-up to Dmitry Popko in 2021.
Damir Dzumhur had recently made a final in Banja Luka, losing in way less than an hour to Fabian Marozsan. The Bosnian veteran was dropshotting all his opponents to death again and pulled off a crucial win over Lukas Klein in the quarterfinals 7-6 6-1, saving three set points in the tiebreak. Nicholas David Ionel was the only player to take a set off him on the way to the final, but Dzumhur found a way to prevail in an absolutely wild 0-6 7-6 6-3 encounter.
It was a historic all-Bosnian final in Sibiu as Fatic made it from the other half of the draw. The 27-year-old lost all his three previous Challenger semifinals. Fatic didn’t drop a set in his first three matches, before scoring the best win of his career over top-seeded Federico Coria (ATP 71). It was just Fatic’s 2nd win over a top 100 player with the previous one coming earlier this year in Lyon (ATP 250) qualifying over Mikael Ymer.
Dzumhur’s performance wasn’t as disappointing as the one in Banja Luka, but his baseline game just wasn’t imposing enough. Fatic is solid enough off the ground to not let him have too much fun with the dropshot and was in total control until going down 0-4 in the 2nd set. He swiftly picked up his game though and won the next six games with Dzumhur losing his focus completely.
Fatic’s maiden Challenger title lets him debut in the top 200. It also practically secures him an Australian Open qualifying spot, even though he’s dropping points for two semifinals later in the season. Both finalists will play in Orleans this week, with Fatic receiving a special exempt to join the main draw.
Moreno de Alboran missed four match points in his maiden Challenger final at Salinas earlier in the year. The American has fully established himself as a regular at this level since though and managed to secure another opportunity at a maiden title in Braga. He had to start from the qualifying draw and pulled off a couple of great comeback wins along the way – from 4-6 1-3 down to beat Alexander Muller and from 3-6 0-3 against Timofey Skatov (against the latter, he was also 0-2 down in the deciding set).
Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida lost his previous three Challenger semifinals, including one this year in Iasi. The Brazilian didn’t drop a set on the way to the final in Braga. In the second round, he eliminated the top seed Nuno Borges, which was a pretty unexpected result. He broke his semifinal losing streak by beating Jelle Sels 6-2 6-2. The Dutchman had been 13-1 in September coming into that one, but run out of steam to allow Pucinelli de Almeida an easy way to enter his first final.
Moreno de Alboran’s recent improvement has been connected to his serve and +1 forehand play, which now gives him some actual point-winning engines. But his grinding abilities were just as important in the final with Pucinelli de Almeida using the dropshot a lot. It wasn’t a successful tactic though with the American mostly tracking everything down.
The 25-year-old grabbed his maiden Challenger title 6-2 6-4. He wrapped it up with a smash, which was a nice bit of redemption after one of the championship points he missed in Salinas was a very straightforward overhead. Pucinelli de Almeida entered the top 200 thanks to this run, while the champion is sitting at World No. 201. Moreno de Alboran is scheduled to play in Lisbon next week.
Thompson needed just a couple of tiebreaks to get into the final at Columbus (against Charles Broom and Cannon Kingsley). The latter match was his toughest moment of the week. The Challenger is played at the Ohio State venue and their students often do very well in this event (Mikael Torpegaard and J.J. Wolf won it twice each). Kingsley gave Thompson a lot of trouble, but the Australian is known to perform his best in slick, low-bouncing conditions (he also won the Surbiton Challenger on grass earlier this year).
Emilio Gomez earned the right to play for a top 100 debut as he made the final in Columbus. The Ecuadorian has been going deep in Challengers very consistently of late, reaching the championship match in four of his last five appearances. To get into yet another final, Gomez had to beat Tennys Sandgren and Rinky Hijikata from a set down. Entering the world’s best hundred for the first time required one more win though.
It was one of these matches that get decided by the outcome of the opening set tiebreak. Thompson was the better player along the way, but couldn’t capitalize on his chances and missed an easy forehand at 5-5 in the breaker. However, he won the next three points and rode that momentum to emerge victorious. Thompson took his ninth Challenger title 7-6 6-2, denying Gomez his top 100 debut. The Australian will stay in the States and play another Challenger in Charleston, while the runner-up is flying over to Seoul (ATP 250).
Mariano Navone lost back-to-back Challenger 50 finals to Francisco Comesana earlier in the year. While both his runs contained wins over Juan Pablo Ficovich, his performances in Villa Maria were a lot more impressive. The 21-year-old didn’t drop a single set on the way to the final, beating the likes of Facundo Bagnis, Juan Manuel Cerundolo, and Camilo Ugo Carabelli. Only the latter two managed to take the youngster to a tiebreaker.
Kicker had been in dire form most of the season, coming a bit out of nowhere to reach the final in Todi in July. The Argentinian’s run in Villa Maria was just as unexpected after he only won one match since that event. Kicker was barely losing games in the first three rounds, before engaging in a thriller against Facundo Diaz Acosta in the semifinals. It lasted almost four hours and the 30-year-old had to save a match point in the second set tiebreak.
Throughout the week, Kicker was hitting with a completely different intensity than most of the season. It proved vital in the final too as he played positive tennis and kept Navone on the back foot. The youngster has a brilliant backhand but wasn’t able to impose himself enough to cause Kicker much trouble. The 30-year-old took his fourth Challenger title 7-5 6-3. It’s his first title at this level since the match-fixing suspension, which kept him away from the courts for two-and-a-half years. Both finalists will appear in Villa Maria this week.
Challenger Tour magic:
The winning half-volley here steals the show, but what I'm more stunned by is how Damir Dzumhur made that lob. The ball was so, so close to the net and yet he got it with such good depth and height (while sprinting!).
📷: @ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/Gzu4lAMk0r
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) September 22, 2022
🚨 Tweener. Lob. Alert. 🚨
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) September 22, 2022
Events held next week:
- Open d’Orleans (Challenger 125, indoor hard)
- Lisboa Belem Open (Lisbon, Challenger 80, clay)
- LTP Men’s Open (Charleston, Challenger 80, hard)
- Challenger de Buenos Aires (Challenger 80, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Corentin Moutet, Hugo Gaston, Richard Gasquet, Quentin Halys, Marton Fucsovics, Norbert Gombos (Orleans)
- Pedro Cachin (Lisbon)
- Jordan Thompson (Charleston)
- Federico Coria, Daniel Altmaier (Buenos Aires)
First-round matches to watch:
- (5) Marton Fucsovics vs Antoine Bellier
- (8) Jack Sock vs (WC) Harold Mayot
- Daniel Masur vs (2) Hugo Gaston
- (1) Pedro Cachin vs Gastao Elias
- (4) Filip Misolic vs Andrea Pellegrino
- (SE) Nicolas Moreno de Alboran vs (6) Franco Agamenone
- (1) Jordan Thompson vs Alexis Galarneau
- (6) Facundo Mena vs Valentin Vacherot
- (1) Federico Coria vs Luciano Darderi
- (3) Juan Pablo Varillas vs Andrea Collarini
- Daniel Dutra da Silva vs (4) Camilo Ugo Carabelli
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