Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Marco Cecchinato and Juan Manuel Cerundolo Return to Form

Juan Manuel Cerundolo ATP Hamburg

Of the four Challenger events that started last week, only three were actually finished. The LTP Men’s Open had to be cancelled mid-week due to the projected impact of Hurricane Ian. Orleans, Lisbon, and Buenos Aires still brought Challenger fans a ton of excitement though. We’ve seen some unexpected winners as Gregoire Barrere and Marco Cecchinato returned to the winners’ circle after a few years. Meanwhile, Juan Manuel Cerundolo grabbed a title in what’s been a very rough season for him. Read back on this week’s action:

Orleans

After the phenomenal beginning of his 2022 campaign (five Challenger finals) Quentin Halys tried himself on the main tour and didn’t achieve much, only winning two main draw matches. It took him out of his rhythm and by the time he chose to play another Challenger in Orleans, he wasn’t in good form anymore. This showed early in the event but he pulled off deciding set wins over Nerman Fatic and Evan Furness, eventually improving as the week went on.

Gregoire Barrere came into Orleans with some momentum from qualifying and reaching the second round in Metz the week before. His side of the draw here was actually a lot trickier with him playing one very renowned player after the other. Damir Dzumhur, Marton Fucsovics, Richard Gasquet, Hugo Gaston – such was the quality of the field in Orleans this week. Only Gasquet managed to take a set off him as Barrere survived a key game at 1-6 3-3 0-40 down to clinch the win in three.

Barrere was playing at a higher level in patches early on, but would shoot himself in the foot with lousy errors in advantageous positions. That’s how he broke himself in set 1, that’s also how he allowed Halys to get back into the second (a simple overhead volley with the opponent not even attempting to run for it). Barrere’s forehand was firing though and he gradually began to mount pressure on his rival, which eventually culminated in a sloppy service game at 3-3 in the decider.

The 28-year-old won his 4th Challenger title and will find himself 53 points away from returning to the top 100 on Monday. Both finalists were scheduled to appear at Mouilleron-le-Captif next week, but Barrere has withdrawn.

Lisbon

The 2021 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion and former junior World No. 1, Luca van Assche, made his maiden Challenger semifinal in Blois earlier this year, losing to Alexander Muller. The same opponent was his quarterfinal rival this time around, but it wasn’t the toughest match he had to play to get to the final. In the opening round, van Assche came back from a set down to defeat Riccardo Bonadio in a third-set tie-breaker.

Having started the year with eleven losses in a row and not picking up a single win until May, Marco Cecchinato turned his season around nicely. With his run in Lisbon, he’s now at a positive win rate for the year. That included three lost semifinals, but the Italian finally broke that streak as he defeated Timofey Skatov in the final four here. On his way to the final, he didn’t drop a set, winning a tie-break each against Skatov, Carlos Taberner, and Gianluca Mager.

Van Assche tried to come out of his comfort zone and match Cecchinato’s pace, which was working out for him quite well. But the Italian’s hitting was just too crisp, exactly as it’s been throughout the week. You usually can’t allow him much freedom so that he doesn’t kill you with the dropshots and the variety, but when his ball-striking is like that, he doesn’t even need to look for unconventional options and creativity.

Cecchinato won his 6th Challenger title 6-3 6-3. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Parma next week as van Assche received a special exempt to join the main draw.

Charleston

Buenos Aires

Juan Manuel Cerundolo‘s 2022 campaign has been a constant injury struggle, but the 20-year-old seemed to be getting better as he made the quarterfinals at Villa Maria the week before. It still didn’t compare to how strong his display in Buenos Aires was though. Cerundolo wasn’t even taken to a tie-break in the four matches on his way to the final. In the semifinals, he exacted revenge on Mariano Navone, who eliminated him from a Challenger eight days prior.

Navone was also the one who stopped Camilo Ugo Carabelli in Villa Maria. The recent Lima champion wasn’t quite as comfortable as his compatriot, dropping a couple of sets on the way to the final. He didn’t come that close to losing to Juan Bautista Otegui and Renzo Olivo though and ended up dropping just three games against Dmitry Popko to ensure his energy levels were high for the championship match with Cerundolo.

The 20-year-old opened up the match with some amazing controlled aggression on the forehand side, being able to hit through Ugo Carabelli’s defense. It didn’t go on like that though as his execution in the forecourt proved very lacking in the 2nd set. Spotting that, the older Argentinian lured him into the net a lot.

It all ended with a wild deciding set as Cerundolo was 4-0 and then 5-2 (double break) up, before letting his rival level. The youngster still claimed his 4th Challenger title 6-4 2-6 7-5. Both finalists are scheduled to appear at Campinas next week.

Challenger Tour magic:

The match was great, but the ending made headlines for all the wrong reasons:

Events held next week:

  • Parma Challenger presented by Iren (Challenger 125, clay)
  • Open de Vendee (Mouilleron-le-Captif, Challenger 90, indoor hard)
  • Alicante Ferrero Challenger (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Tiburon Challenger (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Gwangju Open Challenger (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Campeonato Internacional de Tenis (Campinas, Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Roberto Carballes Baena, Dusan Lajovic, Tomas Martin Etcheverry (Parma)
  • Jiri Lehecka, J.J. Wolf, Hugo Gaston, Richard Gasquet, Quentin Halys, Hugo Grenier, Norbert Gombos (Mouilleron-le-Captif)
  • Denis Kudla (Tiburon)
  • Daniel Altmaier (Campinas)

First-round matches to watch:

Parma

  • (8) Marco Cecchinato vs Gianluca Mager
  • (SE) Luca van Assche vs (2) Dusan Lajovic

Mouilleron-le-Captif

  • (1) Jiri Lehecka vs Tim van Rijthoven
  • Gilles Simon vs (5) Quentin Halys
  • (6) Hugo Grenier vs (WC) Vasek Pospisil

Alicante

  • (WC) Martin Landaluce vs Michael Geerts
  • (6) Emilio Nava vs Harold Mayot

It’s not only a Challenger debut, but a maiden appearance in a professional event of any kind for the 2022 US Open boys’ singles champion, Martin Landaluce.

Tiburon

  • (1) Denis Kudla vs Brandon Holt
  • (4) Ben Shelton vs Roberto Quiroz

Gwangju

  • Skander Mansouri vs (4) Christopher Eubanks
  • (7) Zsombor Piros vs Kimmer Coppejans

Campinas

  • Dmitry Popko vs (3) Facundo Bagnis
  • Gastao Elias vs (2) Juan Pablo Varillas

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