Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Young, Armed, Dangerous

Arthur Cazaux won his first Challenger Tour title last week.

It was a very young and exciting set of winners on the ATP Challenger Tour last week. The oldest of them, Juan Manuel Cerundolo, is barely 21 years old! It was also a good week to be a Frenchman named Arthur as both Cazaux and Fils grabbed titles. For the latter, it was his maiden success at this level (and actually a first professional title at any level). Here’s a look back at everything you might have missed:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Nonthaburi

Lloyd Harris came back last week after a wrist surgery that forced him out of the sport for more than half a year. While understandably rusty, it was a good start with a semifinal appearance to his name in the opening week of the season. If anything, he was only looking better last week, crushing all his opponents on the way to the final. The least competitive match had him lose just three games to Kasidit Samrej, the most – only seven to Daniel Michalski.

Arthur Cazaux began his season last week after an injury-ridden 2022 campaign (which still included a maiden Challenger title at this very venue). Starting from the qualifying draw, the 20-year-old won six consecutive matches to get to his third final at this level, all in Nonthaburi. In the second round, Cazaux had to save three match points against Prajnesh Gunneswaran. They were all on serve, but each was at least a medium-length rally with the Indian netting two shots and the youngster coming up with a brilliant slice approach+volley combination.

Cazaux has a very potent serve for his height and that showed in the final as he took 87% of his first serve points. In an incredibly tight first set, it was Harris who made the loose error at a key point of the tie-breaker. Soon enough the Frenchman was able to extend the lead, still executing his attacking game with great efficiency.

The 20-year-old won his second Challenger title 7-6 6-2 and will find himself at a new career-high ranking, back inside the top 300. As the Nonthaburi 2 event finished on Saturday, he doesn’t receive a special exempt for the one next week and will have to start it from the qualifying again. Harris didn’t have much time to travel to Melbourne, but still managed to beat Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at the Australian Open.

Oeiras

Joris De Loore won his maiden Challenger title at Oeiras the week before and had no intention of slowing down. Having received a special exempt to join the main draw, the 29-year-old blasted 38 aces in 4 matches and only got broken once (by Raphael Collingon) to up his winning streak to 11 and get to another final. While he did spend some time in the top 200 in the past (World No. 174 in 2016), this fortnight was probably the best De Loore has ever played.

Arthur Fils is an extremely promising youngster, who made four Challenger quarterfinals last year but couldn’t get over the line in either of them. He’s gathered the experience though and should be prepared for a push up the rankings in 2023. The first sign of that was last week’s event in Oeiras as he grabbed quality wins over Cem Ilkel and top-seeded Ricardas Berankis and made it over his quarterfinal hurdle by defeating Maximilian Neuchrist.

De Loore was finally feeling the effects of playing his 12th match in 14 days and took a medical timeout after dropping the opening set 1-6. Perhaps he could have navigated the fatigue if Fils was subpar, but the Frenchman came out with some violent hitting and wasn’t slowing down. It got complicated soon though as from 6-1 4-2 up, the 18yo found himself having to defend seven set points at 4-5. His serving was really clutch as he pretty much gave De Loore a play only on one of them.

Fils won his maiden Challenger title 6-1 7-6 and has broken into the top 200 as a result. He decided to withdraw from the qualifying draw in Tenerife and will rest up before appearing in Quimper. De Loore is also not playing this week but should be back in action in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve.

Tigre

Juan Manuel Cerundolo won last week’s event in Tigre and had no intention of slowing down, getting his 9th win in a row by the time he got into the final (14th consecutive victory in Argentina as well). Edoardo Lavagno was the only player who pushed him, but after a very streaky match with both players winning a few games in a row on multiple occasions, Cerundolo eventually found a way to gain the upper hand in the deciding set, which he won 6-2.

Jesper de Jong also played the first event in Tigre, suffering a disappointing exit to Guido Andreozzi from a set up. The 22-year-old was quick to bounce back though and took out top-seeded Camilo Ugo Carabelli in the second round last week, despite going down 0-4 to start the match. He made things a bit complicated for himself in the final four, blowing a 6-4 5-2 lead against Alessandro Giannessi, but took the decider dropping just one game.

The first set of the final featured a service break in eight out of nine games as de Jong couldn’t find his way to hit through Cerundolo. The Argentinian wasn’t able to keep up good depth off the ground though and sort of similarly to his final against Dellien last week, had a long patch where it allowed the opponent to swing way more freely.

But in the end, Cerundolo won his seventh Challenger title 6-3 2-6 6-2. He’s now 24-3 in his last 27 matches, having won four trophies since October. Both finalists are signed up for Piracicaba this week.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Tenerife Challenger 1 (Challenger 100, hard)
  • Brasil Tennis Challenger (Piracicaba, Challenger 75, clay)
  • Bangkok Open 3 (Nonthaburi, Challenger 50, hard)

Radu Albot will be the only top 100 player in action (Tenerife).

First-round matches to watch:

Tenerife

  • (6) Luca Nardi vs Sebastian Ofner
  • Kaichi Uchida vs Benoit Paire

Piracicaba

  • Timo Stodder vs (5) Renzo Olivo
  • Alessandro Giannessi vs (2) Camilo Ugo Carabelli

Nonthaburi

  • (1) James Duckworth vs (ALT) Beibit Zhukayev
  • (7) Peter Gojowczyk vs Denis Yevseyev

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images