Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Mattia Bellucci Goes Back-to-Back

Another exciting week of Challenger Tour action this time consisted of two events in Europe, two in South America, and one in Asia. Mattia Bellucci claimed back-to-back titles despite going from outdoor hard courts to playing under the roof. Kamil Majchrzak and Facundo Bagnis claimed very important trophies in regard to their Australian Open main draw spots. Juan Manuel Cerundolo is now 12-1 in his last 13 matches after triumphing in Coquimbo. Meanwhile, Alexander Ritschard claimed his maiden title in Hamburg. Read back on this week’s action:

Busan

Having made the semifinal at Seoul last week, Kamil Majchrzak went even further despite a tougher draw in Busan. The 26-year-old easily took out Maximilian Marterer, before exacting revenge on Hamad Medjedovic for their match in Kozerki two months earlier. In the quarterfinals, he came back from 1-4 30-40 down in the third to defeat the top-seeded Soon-Woo Kwon. One more win over Christopher O’Connell followed as the Pole practically secured his Australian Open main draw spot.

Radu Albot also lost to Yibing Wu the week before, but was unfortunate enough to draw him in the opening round. The Moldovan was pushed early by Tung-Lin Wu, before advancing through the next two rounds courtesy of second-set retirements from Joris de Loore and Marc Polmans. In the semifinals, Albot had to stop the brilliant run of former junior World No. 2 Seong-Chan Hong, taking him out in straight sets.

Majchrzak out much better and it was soon clear that Albot doesn’t have much to hit through his opponent’s counter-oriented playstyle. The Pole grabbed a 6-4 3-0 lead, but tightened up to drop the next six games in a row. He was able to recover for the deciding set and clinched it 6-2, even though it required five match points as the finish once again got nervy.

It’s Majchrzak’s 4th Challenger title (St. Brieuc and Ostrava 2019, Prostejov 2020). He returns to the top 100 and has practically secured his Australian Open main draw spot. Both finalists will take a week of rest as Albot hopes to get into the Paris qualifying, while Majchrzak is scheduled to return to action in Bergamo.

Hamburg

Having lost the points for his 2021 Orleans title, Henri Laaksonen was in dire need of a big run. It didn’t come easily as the Swiss struggled in his first two rounds, blowing a big lead against Benjamin Hassan before eventually claiming the match in the deciding set tie-break. The confidence was back though and he crushed Gregoire Barrere and Robin Haase in the subsequent two rounds, performing at a level that he had barely shown in 2022 until then.

It was an all-Swiss final as Alexander Ritschard‘s game really enjoyed the fast indoor conditions in Hamburg. He went 1-3 down in the deciding set to Jonas Forejtek in the quarterfinals, before coming out on top 6-4. In the semifinals, he had to overcome a set deficit against Matteo Martineau. By making the championship match, Ritschard got a chance to exorcise his past demons. In the last Challenger final he played, Jack Draper defeated him after saving four match points.

Laaksonen put himself in a position to clinch the opening set serving at 5-4, but he got broken, which seemed to dishearten him a bit. He then struggled with a leg issue in set 2, receiving treatment on three consecutive changeovers. Going match point down at 5-7 5-6 30-40, Laaksonen decided not to play even one more point (even though it was his own serve) and retired.

Ritschard took his maiden Challenger title via retirement. He is scheduled to appear in Ortisei next week, while Laaksonen pulled out of Brest. His next plans remain unclear as he’s eighth on the alternate list for Bergamo in two weeks’ time.

Vilnius

Mattia Bellucci raised his maiden Challenger title in Saint Tropez the week before. The 21-year-old only competed in two previous indoor tournaments at this level, but had already established that experience doesn’t matter with him the week before. This time, his run to the final was even cleaner as he never dropped a set in the four matches required. Jules Marie and Nerman Fatic managed to take him to tie-breakers as Bellucci secured a chance to go for back-to-back titles.

Cem Ilkel missed most of the 2022 season due to personal reasons (his sister died in a car accident this spring). Now down at World No. 416 in the ATP Rankings, the Turk needed a big run and delivered it in Vilnius, despite starting from the qualifying draw. Mate Valkusz was the only player able to take a set off him in six matches. He was able to crush last week’s Saint Tropez runner-up Matteo Arnaldi, before coming up against that event’s champion in the final.

The Italian was running on fumes in the opening set, barely able to play due to the accumulated fatigue. Bellucci saved two break points at 1-6 2-2 though and showed tremendous fighting spirit to keep the match going. Ilkel eventually found a way to lead 5-3 in the decider but when he had the chance to close it out, he committed three double faults on four consecutive points, including his only match point.

Bellucci claimed his 2nd Challenger title 1-6 6-3 7-5, winning back-to-back titles (12 matches in 14 days!). He is now very close to breaking the top 150. He is scheduled to appear in Ortisei, while Ilkel will rest up and potentially play Bergamo in two weeks’ time, where he’s currently on the qualifying alternate list (he finished runner-up in that event last year).

Coquimbo

Juan Manuel Cerundolo took the title in Buenos Aires a couple of weeks earlier, before losing to Federico Coria in Rio de Janeiro quarterfinals. The Argentinian scored his first win over Gonzalo Villanueva in the opening round here, having previously lost to him on all four occasions. The key win of his run came as he took out Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6-4 in the 3rd in a highly-anticipated quarterfinal clash, making a second final in his last three Challengers.

Facundo Diaz Acosta survived a tight battle with Hernan Casanova in the opening round (6-7 7-6 6-1), before finding a completely different gear for the remaining part of the tournament. The 21-year-old was then barely dropping games as he blasted through Camilo Ugo Carabelli, Marco Cecchinato, and Timofey Skatov. Diaz Acosta secured his third final of the season, claiming the only title in May at the very same venue.

Just like against Ugo Carabelli in Buenos Aires, Cerundolo felt the nerves trying to close out the match and almost let Diaz Acosta pull it back from 2-5 (double break) down in the decider. He eventually clinched the title 6-3 3-6 6-4 on his 5th match point and coincidentally his 5th Challenger title. Both finalists decided to pull out of Lima and rest up.

Ambato

Facundo Bagnis won his only previous Challenger title of 2022 at altitude in Pereira, so he was also regarded as one of the favorites coming into this week. After taking out Santiago Rodriguez Taverna in the quarterfinals, the key moment of his run came in the semifinals as he battled the defending champion, Thiago Agustin Tirante. Despite saving at least a break point in four consecutive service games before the deciding tie-break, it was Bagnis who claimed the win and made the final.

Joao Lucas Reis da Silva had no wins against top 250 opponents coming into this week, but took out three of them – Juan Pablo Varillas, Juan Pablo Ficovich, and Miljan Zekic – to make his maiden Challenger final. The 22-year-old Brazilian took advantage of the altitude conditions with his fear-inducing forehand and very aggressive returning style. Nicolas Alvarez was the only opponent who managed to take a set off him on the way to the championship match.

Bagnis was eventually able to stop the cinderella run of Reis da Silva, taking his 16th Challenger title 7-6 6-4. The Argentinian found the only break of the match right after the tie-break and had to survive one rough moment as his opponent found three break points at 4-3 in the 2nd. Reis da Silva jumped 101 rankings spots and took a special exempt into Lima. Bagnis will is scheduled to play Montevideo in three weeks’ time.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Open Brest-Credit Agricole (Challenger 90, indoor hard)
  • Sparkasse Challenger Val Gardena (Ortisei, Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • City of Playford International (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Las Vegas Tennis Open (Challenger 80, hard)
  • Lima Challenger (Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Benjamin Bonzi, Nuno Borges (Brest)
  • Jordan Thompson (Playford)
  • Denis Kudla (Las Vegas)
  • Federico Coria, Tomas Martin Etchverry, Marco Cecchinato (Lima)

First-round matches to watch:

Brest

  • (3) Gregoire Barrere vs Dimitar Kuzmanov
  • (WC) Arthur Fils vs Gianluca Mager

Ortisei

  • Andreas Seppi vs (4) Yannick Hanfmann
  • Lucas Rosol vs (2) Nicolas Jarry

Seppi is retiring after this season with Ortisei being his last tournament. He’s a two-time former champion at this event (2012-13).

Playford

  • (1) Jordan Thompson vs James McCabe
  • (5) Rinky Hijikata vs Philip Sekulic

Las Vegas

  • Valentin Vacherot vs (6) Ben Shelton
  • Emilio Nava vs (8) Aleksandar Kovacevic

Lima

  • Facundo Diaz Acosta vs (6) Camilo Ugo Carabelli
  • (7) Juan Manuel Cerundolo vs (SE) Joao Lucas Reis da Silva

Main Photo from Getty Images