Time to recap another thrilling week of ATP Challenger Tour action. Leandro Riedi grabbed his maiden title in Helsinki, while Yosuke Watanuki proved how much he enjoys the courts in Kobe. Vasek Pospisil and Juan Pablo Varillas were the big names claiming trophies, while the story of the week was definitely Ben Shelton. The 20-year-old American not only broke the top 100, but also became the youngest player ever to win three Challenger events in consecutive weeks. Read back on this week’s action:
Tomas Machac barely lost to Marton Fucsovics in Bratislava semifinals the week before and kept up that form (or even improved it) in Helsinki. On the way to the championship match, he was only broken twice and didn’t drop a set. Both times he lost his serve were in the opening round against Alibek Kachmazov as the Czech then crushed the likes of Yannick Hanfmann or Zizou Bergs. For the first time in his career, Machac found himself one match away from a top 100 debut.
The runner-up at Lugano earlier this year, 20-year-old Leandro Riedi had to wait a fair bit before he was able to grab another deep Challenger run. After tough battles against Mark Lajal and Arthur Cazaux in the qualifying, the Swiss played himself into form and didn’t drop his serve for the first seven sets in the main draw. His semifinals against Jelle Sels got very complicated from 6-3 6-5 up on serve, but Riedi fought back from a break down in the decider to make his 2nd Challenger final.
Machac’s top 100 debut was clearly messing with his head on Sunday as the Czech looked visibly tight and didn’t even ask the question in the second set. But that doesn’t take away from Riedi’s performance. The 20-year-old was extremely confident in stepping inside the court and just blasting winners all over the place. Riedi won his maiden Challenger title 6-3 6-1 and will debut in the top 200 on Monday. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Andria next week.
Ben Shelton reached 14 wins in a row by the time he made the final, combined with his titles in Charlottesville and Knoxville. The 20-year-old showed some signs of fatigue as the week went on, but that didn’t stop him from comfortably taking out his first three opponents. The semifinal one, Aleksandar Kovacevic, was able to snatch the opening set, but could just watch as Shelton produced an insane serving performance – 25 aces for an ace rate of 28%.
Aleksandar Vukic was the runner-up in Calgary last week and kept his form going in Champaign, which is played on the courts of his alma mater, the University of Illinois. The Australian was also in the final here in 2021 and performed at a much more consistent level in this run than in the one achieved the week earlier. Only two players got him to a tie-break – Christopher Eubanks and Nicolas Alvarez Varona (Vukic stopped the former from locking up a third Shelton vs Eubanks final in a row).
Shelton’s recent weeks were finally catching up with him as Vukic blasted through the opening set, taking it 6-0. But somehow, the youngster mustered enough energy to produce a comeback. He once again showcased his incredible potential in an excellent effort both physically and tennis-wise.
The 20-year-old became the youngest player ever to win three Challengers in consecutive weeks, beating Vukic 0-6 6-3 6-2. He will break the top 100 on Monday. As he earned direct entry to the Australian Open, Eubanks will take the USTA wildcard. Shelton has ended his season, while Vukic aims to keep playing in Europe.
Vasek Pospisil suffered a disappointing quarterfinal exit to Maks Kaśnikowski in Calgary last week, but was determined to go deep in at least one of the indoor Challengers at home. The Canadian was supposed to face Dominik Koepfer in the opening round, but his opponent withdrew and left him with a more pleasant draw. On the way to the final, Pospisil only dropped one set against Antoine Escoffier in the final four.
Michael Mmoh was trying to fight for the USTA’s Australian Open wildcard, but Christopher Eubanks secured 2nd place with a semifinal appearance at Champaign. That didn’t stop the American from playing extremely well most of the week, only allowing a maximum of five games in a set to his first four opponents. Valentin Vacherot, the aforementioned Kaśnikowski, and Charles Broom were able to get to 5-5 against him, but neither took Mmoh to a tie-breaker.
It was a blockbuster final clash as Pospisil had to try to break through Mmoh’s athletic game. The Canadian fed off the energy of the crowd and it was especially needed in the final stages of the match, when he was struggling with physical issues.
Pospisil eventually found a way to prevail 7-6 4-6 6-4 in almost three hours and will return to the top 100. He also probably gained enough points to secure an Australian Open main draw spot. That’s why he’s already ended his season, while Mmoh is taking the trip to Andria next week, trying to achieve the same.
Facundo Bagnis had recently taken the title in Ambato, before suffering a quarterfinal exit at Montevideo. Top-seeded in Sao Leopoldo, he encountered a draw full of Brazilians. His four opponents on the way to the final were home-country players, but Bagnis went through the draw in a rather comfortable fashion. Only Felipe Meligeni Alves and Gustavo Heide took him to a tie-break with the former winning it, before eventually going down in three sets.
Juan Pablo Varillas was the runner-up in Santa Cruz and Campinas earlier this year, earning himself a third chance at a Challenger title in 2022. His road to the final was more eventful than his opponent’s. He was briefly a break in the decider down to Eduardo Ribeiro in the opening round and had to fight back from 6-7 4-5 on return against Daniel Dutra da Silva in the quarterfinals. The veteran Brazilian squandered big leads in both sets he lost and Varillas managed to make it to the final.
Bagnis fought back from 3-5 in the opening set and took a 5-1 lead in the tie-breaker. Varillas came up with the goods though and played with guts when he needed it most, winning the next six points. While the Argentinian leveled the match, it was again his younger opponent grabbing control over the proceedings in the decider. He wasn’t able to avoid a small choke at the end, but it didn’t end up mattering.
Varillas won his 5th Challenger title 7-6 4-6 6-4 and finds himself close to securing direct entry to the Australian Open. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Temuco next week.
This event has been a very happy hunting ground for Yosuke Watanuki, who won it in 2019 and finished runner-up in 2018. Along with the final this week, he’s now reached 60% of his championship matches on the Challenger Tour in Kobe. The 24-year-old loves these courts and it was very clearly visible as he raced through four matches without dropping a set. In the final four, he exacted revenge on Christopher O’Connell, who had just beaten him in the final at Yokohama.
Frederico Ferreira Silva had a pretty rough campaign in 2022, especially as he had to skip three months due to an injury. The Portuguese started his Japanese swing with a couple of second-round losses, but managed to break the streak with a clean win over Rinky Hijikata. Surprise quarterfinalist Shinji Hazawa gave him a run for his money as Ferreira Silva had to save two match points at 4-5 down in the 3rd, before beating Nino Serdarusic to make his 2nd final at this level (Sao Paulo 2020).
While Watanuki’s mastery of these Kobe courts was proving vital in his dominance in the rallies, Ferreira Silva was holding up very well in conditions that aren’t quite as natural for him. However, the Japanese started holding serve with ease after dropping the opening set tie-break, not even letting it get to deuce as the match went on.
After two hours and 53 minutes, Watanuki eventually claimed the win 6-7 7-5 6-4, fighting through his inconsistency and producing enough attacking combinations on return to take his 2nd Challenger title. Both finalists are signed up for Yokkaichi next week.
Challenger Tour magic:
Steve Johnson having a bit of fun in Champaign with an absolutely massive one-handed backhand, followed up by an even bigger forehand.
Maybe slicing most of his career and doing everything possible to run around his two-hander wasn't the way to go😂 pic.twitter.com/R5bxNBlxCG
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) November 17, 2022
16yo Joao Fonseca had his Sao Leopoldo run snapped by the top seed, ATP 103 Facundo Bagnis, but the youngster definitely went out in style. What a half-volley in the penultimate game of the match!
Watch out for him next year!
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) November 18, 2022
Events held next week:
- Challenger Dove Men+Care Temuco (Challenger 100, hard)
- Copa Faulcombridge (Valencia, Challenger 90, clay)
- Castel DemOntte Open (Andria, Challenger 80, indoor hard)
- Yokkaichi Challenger (Challenger 80, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Facundo Bagnis (Temuco)
- Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Roberto Carballes Baena, Nuno Borges (Valencia)
- Marton Fucsovics (Andria)
First-round matches to watch:
- Juan Bautista Torres vs Nick Hardt
- Thiago Agustin Tirante vs Daniel Dutra da Silva
- Adrian Andreev vs (6) Timofey Skatov
- (3) Nuno Borges vs Kimmer Coppejans
- Stefano Travaglia vs (6) Elias Ymer
- Leandro Riedi vs (2) Hugo Gaston
- (1) Kaichi Uchida vs Prajnesh Gunneswaran
- Yasutaka Uchiyama vs (7) Nam Hoang Ly