Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Cazaux Stopped by Shimabukuro, Titles for Shevchenko and Collarini

Andrea Collarini Wimbledon

Three ATP Challenger Tour events were held during the opening week of the 2023 Australian Open. Andrea Collarini and Alexander Shevchenko managed to grab their second titles at this level. Meanwhile, the French youngster Arthur Cazaux was still going strong in Nonthaburi but was eventually stopped by Sho Shimabukuro. Read back on this week’s action:

Tenerife

Alexander Shevchenko lost his opening matches at the Canberra Challenger and at the Australian Open qualifying, but suddenly managed to find his game for the event here. While usually not that effective on hard courts, the Russian’s serve proved to be an asset at various points during the week. Shevchenko started his campaign by defeating the former top-tenner Ernests Gulbis and defeated the talented Italian Francesco Maestrelli in the final four, making his 1st Challenger final off-clay.

Sebastian Ofner came to Tenerife after losing in the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open to Laurent Lokoli. The 26-year-old survived a nightmare opening-round draw against Luca Nardi, beating the talented youngster 6-4 in the third set. He would go on to reach the final of the event while not dropping a set in the next three matches played. On an outdoor hard court, Ofner hadn’t made a Challenger final in almost four years (May 2019, Puerto Vallarta).

The Russian managed to lock up an early break, but struggled to serve the set out after missing four set points. He was much more consistent than Ofner though and used his power-grinding playstyle to look for an advantage. The intensity from the baseline eventually brought him another opportunity and while he was broken at 5-4, he took 8 of the next 10 games to wrap up the match.

Shevchenko won his 2nd Challenger title 7-5 6-2 and is currently just about 70 points away from the top 100 in the Live Rankings. The 22-year-old will now play in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, before returning to Tenerife for two more weeks. Meanwhile, Ofner decided to withdraw from next week’s event in Quimper, even though he would have been available for a special exempt.

Piracicaba

Andrea Collarini suffered a disappointing loss to Valerio Aboian in the first week of the season, but the 30-year-old has done well to pick himself up since. The week before Piracicaba, he lost to eventual champion Juan Manuel Cerundolo in the Tigre semifinals. The key round for him in this event was the quarterfinals as he eliminated the top-seeded Alejandro Tabilo, before dropping his only set on the way to the final against Renzo Olivo.

Tomas Barrios Vera had to finish his 2022 campaign in June due to an injury, but the 25-year-old seems to be back in great shape. After losing in the second round at Australian Open qualifying, the Chilean had an excellent run in his first clay event of the year. After defeating three opponents in straight sets, Barrios Vera was involved in a tight battle with Camilo Ugo Carabelli. The semifinal had to be delayed and finished on Sunday with the 25-year-old leading 6-2 0-2.

Barrios Vera had to play sixteen more games with Ugo Carabelli on Sunday, eventually beating him 6-4 in the third. That gave Collarini a big advantage for the final, especially as the Argentinian’s beautiful lefty forehand was still really clicking. While the second set did get much closer, he was the frontrunner there all along.

Collarini grabbed his 2nd Challenger title (L’Aquila 2019) 6-2 7-6 and will return to the top 200. Both finalists are scheduled to feature in Concepcion next week, the champion as an alternate.

Nonthaburi

Arthur Cazaux won the previous event in Nonthaburi (and another one last year), but wasn’t granted a special exempt to the main draw as the final was played on Saturday and the qualifying event kicked off on Sunday. The 20-year-old showed absolutely no signs of tiredness though and won another six matches before the next championship match, not dropping a set. Federico Gaio, Stuart Parker, and Tennys Sandgren managed to take him to a tie-break each.

Sho Shimabukuro enjoyed a great campaign in 2022, grabbing two of his three Challenger semifinal appearances and winning 25K ITFs in Harmon and Monastir. After losing in the first two rounds of the first two Nonthaburi events, he managed to upset top-seeded James Duckworth here in three sets, scoring the second-biggest victory of his career ranking-wise. Shimabukuro then took out Zdenek Kolar and Seong-Chan Hong to make his maiden Challenger final.

Cazaux was finally feeling it a bit in the final, lacking a bit of that dynamic energy he often uses to go forward with every shot he plays. Shimabukuro didn’t look like he was playing his first Challenger championship match either, coming out onto the court with a very clear game plan of pressuring the Frenchman’s 2nd serve. After a straightforward first set, the Japanese managed to land a key break at 5-5 in the second.

Shimabukuro won his maiden Challenger title 6-2 7-5 and will break the top 250 for the very first time (and so will Cazaux). The Frenchman will now take a two-week break before appearing in Tenerife, while the champion at Nonthaburi 3 was supposed to play qualifying at Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, but decided to withdraw and rest up before going to the States (Cleveland).

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • BW Open (Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Challenger 125, indoor hard)
  • Open Quimper Bretagne Occidentale (Challenger 125, indoor hard)
  • Challenger Dove Men+Care Concepcion (Challenger 100, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • David Goffin, Mikael Ymer, Oscar Otte (Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve)
  • Quentin Halys, Gregoire Barrere, Vasek Pospisil, Radu Albot (Quimper)
  • Federico Coria (Concepcion)

World No. 50 David Goffin is the first top 50 player to compete in a Challenger event this year (you need a wildcard pre-approved by the ATP to do that). ATP #69 Mikael Ymer will start from the qualifying draw in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, having signed up as an alternate.

First-round matches to watch:

Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve

  • Lukas Klein vs Liam Broady
  • Borna Gojo vs (7) Zizou Bergs
  • Alexander Shevchenko vs (2) Oscar Otte

Quimper

  • (WC) Pierre-Hugues Herbert vs (5) Dominic Stricker
  • (8) Luca Van Assche vs Luca Nardi
  • Emilio Nava vs (2) Gregoire Barrere

Concepcion

  • (4) Juan Manuel Cerundolo vs Tomas Barrios Vera
  • Mikhail Kukushkin vs (6) Hugo Dellien
  • (ALT) Andrea Collarini vs (3) Juan Pablo Varillas

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