Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Li Tu’s Brilliant Story

Li Tu won his first Challenger Tour title.

Another action-packed week has come and gone on the ATP Challenger Tour circuit. Marco Cecchinato and Michael Mmoh maintained their great form, while Quentin Halys once again proved he is one of the Challenger kings of the season. Meanwhile, Li Tu and Mattia Bellucci claimed maiden titles at this level. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Seoul

After a disappointing loss to Ji-Sung Nam in Gwangju the week before, you could have had slight concerns about Yibing Wu’s form. The Chinese was recovering from illness though and was back to his best in Seoul. He needed to be, drawing top-seeded Radu Albot in the opening round. After beating the Moldovan in three sets, he added another notable win in the semifinals as he took out Kamil Majchrzak 6-4 in the decider.

Li Tu’s story can’t really be explained in a few sentences (see the tweet below). The Australian was still unranked at the end of August 2021, but has scored seven ITF titles since. Before this week, he was pretty much bouncing off the Challenger level though, reaching just one quarterfinal in Winnetka. This all changed as Tu qualified and scored a couple of brilliant wins over his countrymen – Christopher O’Connell and James Duckworth.

In a final full of excellent rallies, Tu impressed with his resilience. Despite being forced to play a bit more reactively than usual, his defense held up well thanks to the backhand slice. On a number of occasions, he produced unthinkable gets to keep the rally going and eventually clinch the point.

One unbelievable exchange like that happened in the last game as Tu secured a 7-6 6-4 victory, breaking the top 200 and clinching his first Challenger title. He also handed Wu just his 7th loss of the season (40-7). Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Busan this week.

Saint Tropez

Matteo Arnaldi made the semifinals in Alicante the week before, showing he can translate his game from clay to hard courts. However, the field in Saint Tropez was so much stronger. To reach the final, the 21-year-old had to beat Alexander Shevchenko, Harold Mayot, Gregoire Barrere, and Ugo Humbert. He didn’t just defeat all of them, he never lost more than four games in a set on his way to the championship match, showing some completely new layers to his game.

Mattia Bellucci fared very well on hard courts on the ITF Tour, winning four 15K titles in Monastir. This was his first Challenger appearance on this surface (outdoors) though and it’s fair to say it went extremely well. The Italian qualified for the event and won six matches in a row to get to the final, including an incredibly impressive defeat of two-time champion this year, Hugo Grenier. He lost his only set in the first six matches to Jurij Rodionov in the semifinals.

Bellucci has very high tennis IQ and can find himself in many different playstyles. Against Arnaldi, it was all about mixing up the spins and depth, making the opponent with a much more conventional baseline game uncomfortable.

It worked like a charm as the 21-year-old grabbed his maiden Challenger title 6-3 6-3, breaking the top 200 as a result of his title. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Vilnius next week, Arnaldi took a special exempt.

Ismaning

It’s the only carpet Challenger on the calendar this year and Quentin Halys has a great game of the surface. The top seed was still involved in a number of tight matches though as almost every clash on a very fast, but also extremely slick court like that is all about a few points here or there. He managed to eliminate Ramkumar Ramanathan 7-5 in the 3rd and Alastair Grey in the deciding set tie-break, blasting 83 aces in four matches and only getting broken once.

Max Hans Rehberg came to Ismaning after taking his maiden professional title at a 15K in Forbach a couple of weeks earlier. The 19-year-old has only really performed indoors in his career so far and the low bounce of the carpet courts was perfect for him as well. His serve also got a massive boost, evidenced by the fact that on his way to the final, he only faced one break point (vs Robin Haase). Wins over Tomas Machac and Vasek Pospisil were the best he’s ever scored ranking-wise.

In the opening set, both players won 100% of their first serve points as practically nothing was happening. A great short combination on return finished with a volley gave Halys the key point at 6-6 in the tie-break. It was Rehberg who eventually gave into the pressure, dropping his serve for the first time all week in the 2nd set.

The Frenchman took his third Challenger title of the season 7-6 6-3 and will try to take that form to the main tour in Stockholm (ATP 250). Meanwhile, Rehberg will appear in Hamburg, receiving a special exempt to join the main draw.

Rio de Janeiro

Yannick Hanfmann’s South American swing wasn’t going particularly well up until this week with just three wins in three previous events. The 30-year-old finally managed to find his groove in Rio de Janeiro though and only dropped 19 games on the way to his first final of the season. Along the way, he took out both the champion of last week’s Campinas Challenger (Jan Choinski) and the runner-up of that event (Juan Pablo Varillas).

For Marco Cecchinato, this was the first event in South America since February. Unlike Hanfmann, the recent Lisbon champion had a couple of tight battles on the way to the final. He survived a deciding set tie-break against Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida and came back from a break down in the third to beat Federico Coria. By doing so, he set up his fourth career meeting with Hanfmann, only winning one set in their previous three matches.

Hanfmann’s heavy ball troubles Cecchinato, because it doesn’t give him much time to be creative. The German’s serve is also an issue, guaranteeing free points that his opponent can’t get. But while the first set looked exactly like their three previous meetings, Cecchinato eventually started working things out and found a good rhythm on return too. On top of that, Hanfmann tightened up in many pressure moments.

Cecchinato claimed the title 4-6 6-4 6-3, winning a second Challenger in his last three events. He’ll play in Coquimbo next, while Hanfmann takes a week off to return to Europe.

Fairfield

After winning the Cary Challenger, Michael Mmoh suffered a disappointing exit to eventual champion Zachary Svajda in Tiburon, having led 5-1 in the deciding set. The American made sure not to make the same mistake twice and only dropped 18 games in the seven sets he needed to reach the final (Paul Jubb retired after dropping the opener). Sam Riffice was the only one to score four games in a set against Mmoh, going down 4-6 4-6 in the semifinals.

Gabriel Diallo also triumphed in a North American Challenger recently, taking the title in Granby at the end of August. The University of Kentucky Senior played just one event since, making the quarterfinals in Columbus. This week, he came back from a set down to beat Leandro Riedi and Ben Shelton (the latter from 5-7 2-4 down). In the final four, he claimed a comfortable win over his fellow Wildcats teammate Alafia Ayeni.

The highly-anticipated final turned out to be a bit of a bummer. Diallo couldn’t control his aggressive shots at all until 3-6 0-5, while Mmoh was the errorless machine that completely dominated the whole event. The American would eventually get broken for the very first time this week (after saving 18 break points combined!), but it was all too little, too late.

Mmoh claimed his 2nd Challenger title this year 6-3 6-2 and is now about 40 points away from returning to the top 100, where he spent just one week back in 2018. Both players are scheduled to play in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Busan Open (Challenger 125, hard)
  • Hamburg Ladies & Gents Cup (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Vilnius Open by Kevin. (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Ambato La Gran Ciudad (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Challenger Dove Men+Care Coquimbo 2 (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Soon-woo Kwon, Radu Albot, Chun-Hsin Tseng (Busan)
  • Federico Coria, Tomas Martin Etcheverry (Coquimbo)

First-round matches to watch:

Busan

  • Maximilian Marterer vs (6) Kamil Majchrzak
  • (9) Christopher Eubanks vs Yibing Wu

Hamburg

  • (1) Gregoire Barrere vs (ALT) Raphael Collignon
  • Kacper Å»uk vs (2) Jelle Sels

Vilnius

  • Mate Valkusz vs Ernests Gulbis
  • (5) Lukas Klein vs Alastair Gray

Ambato

  • Giovanni Mpetschi Perricard vs (PR) Jan Choinski
  • (5) Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna vs Malek Jaziri

Coquimbo

  • (1) Federico Coria vs Alessandro Giannessi
  • Genaro Alberto Olivieri vs (5) Camilo Ugo Carabelli

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images