Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Big Names Succeed in the First Week of the Year

Juan Manuel Cerundolo won an ATP Challenger Tour title in Tigre.

The ATP Challenger Tour returned with five events held during the opening week of the season and there was plenty of entertaining action across the five tournaments in Canberra, Noumea, Nonthaburi, Oeiras and Tigre. Here’s a look back at what you might have missed:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Canberra

Marton Fucsovics was the top seed in Canberra, where he had already made the final back in 2018. The run wasn’t as smooth as expected with Matteo Arnaldi and Marc Polmans forcing him to play a third set. Against the Australian, Fucsovics had to come back from a set down to win 3-6 6-4 7-5. In the semifinals, the 30-year-old snapped Yosuke Watanuki’s 13-match win streak and earned the chance to try to stop an even bigger one in the championship match.

Leandro Riedi ended his 2022 on a 12-match win streak and managed to get it up to 16 by the time he reached the final in Canberra. It is especially impressive due to the extremely strong field in this event, which is self-explainable when you check the list of his opponents – Nicolas Jarry, Hugo Gaston, Liam Broady, Jan-Lennard Struff. The latter two took him to a deciding set and he was extremely clutch in saving seven break points early in the third against Broady.

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Despite not being the most naturally powerful player in the world, Fucsovics is a fantastic ball striker who can hit with plenty of pace. He really stood up to Riedi and was often the one moving the opponent from one corner to another, unlike in most of the youngster’s previous matches.

Fucsovics won his sixth Challenger title and along with the trophy he won in Bratislava in November, he’s now 13-1 in his last three Challenger events. Riedi’s runner-up appearance allows him to break the top 150. The Swiss will now feature in Australian Open qualifying, while Fucsovics takes a week off before playing the main draw in Melbourne.

Noumea

Raul Brancaccio had never been past the quarterfinals at a hard-court Challenger before, but the 25-year-old keeps riding the momentum of his breakthrough 2022 campaign. He dropped just six games in his first two matches in Noumea against Calum Puttergill and Zsombor Piros, before coming back from a set down against a couple of very established names. Both Benoit Paire and Cristian Garin are pretty far off their prime at the moment, but it was still a great effort from the Italian, who made his second Challenger final.

For Laurent Lokoli, this was a first Challenger championship match as he had only appeared in two semifinals before this week (one in 2013, the other last year). The 28-year-old made it a habit to crush his opponents in deciding sets this week, dropping just two games total in three of them. The most impressive win saw him take out second seed Hugo Grenier. Lokoli didn’t have to take the court in the semifinals as Ryan Peniston withdrew due to a right thigh injury.

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Just like in his previous two matches, Brancaccio fell behind early and had to play catchup. The Italian recovered from a 0-4 deficit in the first set, but still lost it and went match point down at 4-6 4-5. After a 29-shot dramatic rally, Lokoli thought he won the point (see the video in the Challenger magic section), but it turned out the match wasn’t over yet. Brancaccio won that game and broke to serve for the set when an over four-hour-long rain delay came.

When they returned, Lokoli was just a shadow of what he played in the first hour or so of the match. Brancaccio took his second Challenger title 4-6 7-5 6-2 and will break the top 150 for the very first time. Both players are headed to Australian Open qualifying right now.

Nonthaburi

Dennis Novak finished his 2022 campaign with a loss via retirement in Bergamo at the beginning of November, but quickly managed to get himself back in shape. It was a pretty straightforward draw for him in Nonthaburi with just one top-250 opponent on the way to the final (Antoine Escoffier). Marek Gengel was the only one to play him close as the other three rivals didn’t take a set and didn’t even manage to break the Austrian’s serve.

Tung-Lin Wu ended his year on a much higher note with a final in Matsuyama and just kept it going. He managed to survive three-set battles against Evgeny Donskoy and Yasutaka Uchiyama, before going on to play the former world #31 Lloyd Harris in the semifinals. The South African was playing his first event since Roland Garros and seemed to be getting back to his best with every match, but Wu swiftly stopped him in his tracks.

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Novak had a great read on Wu’s serve early, which really helped him tame the aggression of the Taiwanese. The 29-year old was fully in control until trying to serve out the match at 5-3 in the second set when he missed three match points. Fortunately for him, Wu’s comeback attempt was short-lived.

It’s the third Challenger title for Novak, who defeated Wu 6-4 6-4. The Austrian won both of his previous trophies in 2019. Wu will now head to Australian Open qualifying, while the winner of the first event in Nonthaburi didn’t sign up for that event and instead plans to stay in Nonthaburi for two more weeks.

Oeiras

Joris De Loore missed the entire 2019 and 2020 seasons and had to undergo seven surgeries to return to tennis. He worked his way back up through three ITF titles last year and now set his sights on a maiden Challenger title. In Oeiras, he was in brilliant form from the get-go, smashing his way through the qualifying draw. Only Cem Ilkel took him to a decider on the way to the final and in a dramatic third-set tiebreak, De Loore saved a match point with an ace to make his second final at this level (St. Remy 2016).

Also seeking his first title, Filip-Cristian Jianu made it to his third Challenger semifinal, having lost final four stage encounters in Aguascalientes and San Marino last year. The former junior world #5 had never achieved much indoors and was almost out of the tournament in the opening round against Mark Lajal, coming back from 2-5 down in the deciding set. The 21-year-old went on to win his next three matches in straights to challenge De Loore for the title.

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The big-serving Belgian was on fire though, winning 91% of his first serve points in Sunday’s final and saving the only two break points faced. His powerful sustained hitting allowed him to keep breaking through Jianu’s defense. De Loore won his maiden Challenger title 6-3 6-2 and returns to the top 300, along with Jianu, who will be at a career-high ranking. Both finalists are staying in Oeiras for the next event.

Tigre

Juan Manuel Cerundolo chose not to travel to Australia and instead look for points and match rhythm at home. Top seed and the massive favorite for the title in Tigre, he fell into a bit of trouble in the second round against Thiago Seyboth Wild. Down 3-4 in the deciding set, he had to save a couple of crucial break points but did it in great style, upping his aggression and really going for his shots. As it turned out, this was the only tough moment he needed to endure on the way to the final.

Murkel Dellien was a semifinalist at this event last year, but then didn’t proceed to make much Challenger impact the rest of the year (won four ITF titles though). The 25-year-old clearly loves this venue as this time he was able to make his maiden final at this level. Dellien survived a very tough draw against third seed Juan Bautista Torres in the opening round, taking him out 10-8 in the deciding tiebreak (saved three match points). It turned out to be the key moment of Dellien’s run.

Interestingly, Cerundolo put in his weakest performance of the week in the final, playing some very subdued tennis until the middle of the second set. Meanwhile, Dellien was doing well to punish the weaker serves, introduce some all-court tactics and control the points with his forehand. Soon enough, the Argentinian found better depth on his groundstrokes and managed to produce the comeback. Cerundolo won his sixth Challenger title 4-6 6-4 6-2 and will return to the top 150. Both finalists are staying in Tigre for another week of Challenger action.

Challenger Tour magic:

The aforementioned moment when Lokoli thought he won his maiden Challenger title:

Events held next week:

  • Bangkok Open 2 (Nonthaburi, Challenger 75, hard)
  • Oeiras Indoor 2 (Challenger 75, indoor hard)
  • Challenger Aysa de Tigre 2 (Challenger 50, clay)

First-round matches to watch:

Nonthaburi

  • Yasutaka Uchiyama vs (3) Kacper Zuk
  • Dan Added vs (8) Tennys Sandgren

Oeiras

  • (1) Ricardas Berankis vs Mate Valkusz
  • Pierre-Hugues Herbert vs (3) Matteo Gigante
  • (5) Hamad Medjedovic vs Joris de Loore

Tigre

  • Juan Ignacio Londero vs (7) Alessandro Giannessi
  • (5) Juan Bautista Torres vs Murkel Dellien

Main photo:
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