Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Dusan Lajovic and Luca van Assche Finish the Season with Titles

Dusan Lajovic 2022 Australian Open

The last two Challenger events of 2022 were a new tournament in Maspalomas and Maia, which has been ending the season since its introduction in 2019. Dusan Lajovic claimed his 7th title at this level in the former, while the up-and-coming 18-year-old Luca van Assche joined the winners’ circle. Read back on this week’s action:

Maia

Maximilian Neuchrist had only reached one Challenger semifinal before and was definitely not mentioned among the possible contenders in Maia this week. But the 31-year-old saved a match point against Andrea Picchione in the qualifying (unreturned serve), before going on a fantastic run that included long three-set battles against Timofey Skatov (3 hours 32 minutes!), Jan Choinski, and the hometown hero, Nuno Borges. Completely out of the blue, he managed to lock up a chance for his first Challenger title.

Luca van Assche threw a stinker in the final at Valencia the week before, but instantly found another chance to secure his maiden Challenger trophy. The 18-year-old easily dispatched his first three opponents, before going down a set to Aleksandar Vukic in the semifinals. Van Assche managed to get a better read on his opponent’s serve and produced the comeback. He reached his fourth Challenger final, all in the past two months or so.

Neuchrist was fairly comfortable in this matchup at first, defending a lot with the slice. All the tough battles he had all week took their toll though and van Assche was slowly working things out. The Austrian eventually had to keep the points shorter and approached the net with more frequency, but his opponent’s passing shot game was too strong.

Van Assche won his maiden Challenger title 3-6 6-4 6-0 to break the top 150. With his strong finish to the year, he’s laid some great groundwork for a top 100 push in 2023. Both finalists have ended their season.

Maspalomas

Steven Diez found himself down at World No. 348 before this week with just one Challenger quarterfinal in 2022 (Malaga). His road to a first final in 21 months was quite adventurous, especially as he had to take the first three matches in deciding sets. Valentin Vacherot led him 4-2 in the 3rd, Gian Marco Moroni was also up a break (2-0). In the semifinals, Diez scored his only straightforward win over Oriol Roca Batalla, whom he had lost to in a 25K final at Giron a month earlier.

Dusan Lajovic had to do well in Maspalomas to finish in the top 100 for the ninth consecutive time. The Serbian had played five Challenger events this year already, but couldn’t win any of them and was coming off a round one loss to Miljan Zekic in Valencia. A walkover from ATP 197 Adrian Andreev really cleared up his path though and the 32-year-old didn’t face a single top 350 player on the way to the final. The up-and-coming Pablo Llamas Ruiz took a set off him in the semifinal, but Lajovic soon steadied the ship.

Lajovic had a very good idea as to how to play against Diez. He was patient in waiting for the right opportunities to attack, focusing on getting great placement on his groundstrokes. With the Canadian basically unable to inject pace by himself, he can’t do much if an opponent like Lajovic is in good rhythm off the ground.

The 32-year-old won his 7th Challenger title 6-1 6-4. This run allows him to return to the top 100 and secure an Australian Open main draw spot. Both players have ended their season (Diez withdrew from an ITF event in Madrid next week).

Main Photo from Getty Images