Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Plenty of Final Upsets – Choinski, Sels, Skatov, Svajda

Zachary Svajda US Open

It was a huge week on the Challenger circuit as six events took place on four continents. Fans of the tour could literally follow it almost 24 hours a day. Most of the finals us surprising results with the theoretically set-in-stone favorites either putting in some awful performances or simply getting outplayed by less-established opponents going for their first titles. Read back on this week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Parma

Timofey Skatov had a very poor summer, but the Kazakh recently picked his game up and has now made the semifinals (at least) in four of his last five events. The 21-year-old scored another win over Carlos Taberner in the second round as he previously defeated him at Braga in September. In the quarterfinals, Skatov was 1-6 0-4 down to Mate Valkusz, only to watch the Hungarian get injured and basically stop moving. His opponent eventually retired at 0-4 in the deciding set, only winning one game since the aforementioned scoreline.

Jozef Kovalik took an extended break after winning the Tulln Challenger last month. The Slovak didn’t compete all the way until Parma, but it turned out that his brilliant run of form was far from over just yet. He started the tournament with three consecutive wins over Italians (Andrea Pellegrino, Flavio Cobolli, Andrea Vavassori), before beating Vit Kopriva in the semifinals. By the time he reached the championship match, he found himself on a nine-match win streak.

Skatov’s forehand was at his best in some parts of the final, allowing his grinding game to also have some point-winning engine. The 21-year-old got really passive in the second set tie-break, allowing Kovalik to have total control over the points. The Slovak then imploded to go down 0-5 in the decider, but almost made the comeback, proving that the match was more on his racket.

The Kazakh won his maiden Challenger title 7-5 6-7 6-4 after Kovalik made his first double fault match point down. Skatov opted not to take a special exempt spot into Rio de Janeiro and instead delay his South American swing by a week. Kovalik will also take some time off, intending to return in the qualifying for one of the ATP 250 events in two weeks’ time.

Mouilleron-le-Captif

Jelle Sels caught fire at the beginning of September, reaching his second Challenger final in Tulln and ending the month with a 14-2 win/loss record. The Dutchman continued this form in October and on a different surface as well. He had a rough battle against David Poljak in the opening round, coming back from a set down to beat him 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. The next match pitted him against top-seeded Jiri Lehecka, who retired in the second round, before Sels earned two more victories and another shot at a Challenger title.

When Vasek Pospisil lost in Tel Aviv qualifying the week before, his form was still looking he quite dire. He got in as a lucky loser though and quickly found a completely different level, eventually playing a very good match against Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. He kept that going in Mouilleron-le-Captif as he beat Hugo Grenier in the opening round and then took out two top 100 players in deciding set battles – J.J. Wolf and Hugo Gaston.

Pospisil was the heavy favorite coming into the final, but he wasn’t the only player entering it on a hot streak. Sels was returning incredibly well, keeping the ball low and unpleasant for the Canadian. He managed to land four breaks of serve, while only limiting his opponent to one and impressing with beautifully disguised forehand dropshots.

Sels took his maiden Challenger title 6-4 6-3 and is now 18-2 in his last 20 matches. He’s jumped 114 ranking spots in just about a month. Pospisil is scheduled to appear in Ismaning next week, while the champion will take a week off before competing in Hamburg.

Alicante

Lukas Klein hadn’t competed on hard courts yet in 2022, starting his season in March and only going off clay at Wimbledon. The Slovak is capable on all surfaces though and his game definitely excels in faster conditions. He survived a rough battle against Michael Geerts in the second round, eventually taking him out 4-6 7-6 6-4. The other three wins were more comfortable as Klein made the second Challenger final of his career (won Troisdorf earlier this year).

Nick Hardt drew the second seed Geoffrey Blancaneaux in the opening round, but was given a slice of luck as the Frenchman retired in the second set. Perhaps the player from the Dominican Republic would have won anyway though, because his standard of play was quite excellent throughout the week. He also pulled off gritty wins over Emilio Nava and Matteo Arnaldi from a set down. Hardt had just one Challenger semifinal in Bogota before this run, making his first final at this level.

Klein was in complete control of the final, leading 6-3 1-0 with a break in the second set. However, the Slovak soon began spraying errors and Hardt won a lot more free points on serve in the next couple of games. Despite that, Klein cleaned up his tennis and took the second set from 1-4 down.

The 24-year-old took his 2nd Challenger title 6-3 6-4 and will break the top 200 on Monday. He intends to play in Ismaning next week, while Hardt received a special exempt spot in Saint Tropez.

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Gwangju

Emilio Gomez had made the final in four of his previous five Challenger events and with Yibing Wu out in the second round, he became a massive favorite to reach another championship match. Beating Ji-Sung Nam and required third sets though (to beat the Australian, he even needed the deciding tie-break). By winning four matches in Gwangju, Gomez reached another milestone. At the age of 30, he secured his top 100 debut (coincidentally, his father was the same age when he had the greatest achievement of his career – winning Roland Garros 1990).

Zsombor Piros fell in the qualifying at ATP 250 events in Metz and Tel Aviv recently, but was much more successful returning to the Challenger circuit in Gwangju. The 22-year-old won a couple of three-setters against Kimmer Coppejans and Cristopher Eubanks, but wasn’t discouraged by allowing his opponents to level, claiming both deciders very convincingly. Piros made his third Challenger final of the season, winning his maiden title in Tampere earlier this year.

Piros came out firing, winning a surprising amount of serve +1 forehand points. He was also turning defense into offense well in stunning fashion, especially through a couple of brilliant lobs. The Hungarian basically didn’t set a foot wrong all the way until having to serve out the match, but luckily for him, he had a three-game cushion.

The 22-year-old claimed his second Challenger title 6-2 6-4. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in the next two South Korean Challengers in Seoul and Busan. Gomez losing in the final did not impact his top 100 debut.

Tiburon

Ben Shelton took a longer break after the US Open, before coming back in Tiburon. The American struggled mightily in his opening round, eventually being forced to face two match points against Roberto Quiroz. His standard of play soon improved though and he was back to his usual self, dismissing his former University of Florida colleague Sam Riffice and Mitchell Krueger with relative ease. He then benefitted from a Denis Kudla retirement to make his third Challenger final.

Zachary Svajda was on a bit of an upswing in recent weeks, but still had to survive a couple of deciding set tie-breakers in the opening two rounds here. The one against August Holmgren followed a pretty standard rhythm, while taking out Michael Mmoh required him to fight back from 1-5 down in the deciding set. Svajda would then win the next two matches in straights to make the first Challenger final of his career.

Shelton won the first four games and it looked as if his game was just going to be far too explosive for Svajda. It was basically target practice as he won all of his first-serve points in the opener and blasted winners off the ground. His opponent didn’t give up though and did exactly what he does best – literally stopped missing groundstrokes and watched Shelton’s game implode.

Svajda took his maiden Challenger title 2-6 6-2 6-4 as his opponent is now 0-3 in Challenger finals, having lost to Yibing Wu and Roman Safiullin earlier this year. Both finalists are scheduled to appear at Fairfield next week.

Campinas

Jan Choinski is definitely on the upswing after missing most of the 2021 season with injuries. The Brit reached the quarterfinals at Szczecin last month, before coming to South America and reeling off six straight wins to make his 2nd Challenger final (Meerbusch 2018). The only opponent who got him into trouble was Alexandre Muller in the quarterfinals, but Choinski eventually prevailed with the quirky 6-0, 1-6, 6-4 scoreline, before beating lucky loser Remy Bertola in the final four.

Juan Pablo Varillas got injured in the second round against Facundo Diaz Acosta at Villa Maria a couple of weeks earlier. The Peruvian took a bit of time off and came back stronger for the Challenger in Campinas. On his way to the final, he only needed one tie-break with Gastao Elias, claiming all his victories in straight sets. Varillas reached his second Challenger championship match of the season, having lost to Paul Jubb at Santa Cruz back in March.

The final had to be put off until Monday due to rain with Choinski being 6-4 2-3 up (a break down in the second though). When they returned to the court the day later, not much changed. Varillas just wasn’t nearly as sharp as throughout the week, struggling to read Choinski’s serve and spraying errors on regulation balls.  The rain came again at 6-4 4-4 and the last two games were finished 90km away from the original venue in San Paulo.

Choinski grabbed his maiden Challenger title 6-4 6-4. The indoor conditions helped him to hold serve and Varillas then broke himself with a few rather unrequired mistakes. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Rio de Janeiro, the champion getting a special exempt to join the main draw.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • FILA Seoul Open Challenger (Challenger 110, hard)
  • Saint Tropez Open (Challenger 100, hard)
  • Wolffkran Open (Ismaning, Challenger 80, carpet)
  • Fairfield Pro Tennis Championship (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Challenger Dove Men+Care Rio de Janeiro (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Radu Albot, Chun-Hsin Tseng, Alexei Popyrin, Emilio Gomez (Seoul)
  • Hugo Gaston (Saint Tropez)
  • Quentin Halys (Ismaning)
  • Denis Kudla (Fairfield)
  • Federico Coria (Rio de Janeiro)

First-round matches to watch:

Seoul

  • (1) Radu Albot vs Yibing Wu
  • (5) Christopher O’Connell vs Ryan Peniston
  • Maximilian Marterer vs (2) Chun-Hsin Tseng

Saint Tropez

  • (1) Hugo Gaston vs Matteo Arnaldi
  • (WC) Luca van Assche vs (5) Gregoire Barrere

Ismaning

  • (1) Quentin Halys vs Michael Geerts
  • (WC) Marko Topo vs Jonas Forejtek

Fairfield

  • Gabriel Diallo vs Leandro Riedi
  • Paul Jubb vs (3) Michael Mmoh

Rio de Janeiro

  • Thiago Agustin Tirante vs (7) Juan Manuel Cerundolo
  • Luciano Darderi vs (4) Camilo Ugo Carabelli
  • Andrea Collarini vs (2) Juan Pablo Varillas

Main Photo:
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