Australia was the most prolific nation on the ATP Challenger Tour this week, producing two out of three champions. Thanasi Kokkinakis clinched his title in a rather straightforward manner, while Max Purcell had to battle for it, saving two match points in the final. Meanwhile, Giulio Zeppieri defeated Titouan Droguet in Cherbourg in a final between two 21-year-olds. Read back on this week’s action:
Thanasi Kokkinakis arrived in Manama for his first event this year since a brilliant patch of play at home in Australia. Unlike last year, he did not struggle to translate that form to other tournaments and instantly made the final at a stacked Challenger in Bahrain. The conditions throughout the week were extremely windy, but after struggling with them against Alexandre Muller, Kokkinakis adapted much better in blockbuster clashes against Alexei Popyrin and Jan-Lennard Struff.
Abedallah Shelbayh is already Jordan’s best-ever tennis player at the age of 19. The young talent has been working at the Rafa Nadal Academy for five years and spent one season playing for the University of Florida alongside Ben Shelton. He chose to go pro at the end of last year and it’s been going extremely well. The win over Vit Kopriva here was his second over a top 200 opponent, before he scored an even bigger one against ATP 79 Jason Kubler (the Australian served for the match twice, but lost in the deciding set tie-break).
The 19-year-old couldn’t really match his level from the previous days though, coming up with a lot more errors. He was also unable to stand up to Kokkinakis on return, mostly due to the Australian’s phenomenal serving performance (12 aces, 71% first serves in, 83% first serve points won). Shelbayh required treatment on his foot in the second set as well.
Kokkinakis grabbed his 5th Challenger title 6-1 6-4 and will return to the top 100 on Monday. Due to his run, he was forced to pull out of Doha (ATP 250) qualifying and will hope to get into Dubai (ATP 500) next. Shelbayh received a wildcard for Doha and will make his main tour debut against Soon-woo Kwon.
Nicolas Moreno de Alboran made three consecutive second-round appearances on the Challenger Tour before coming over to Chennai. This time, he managed to break that barrier by taking out top-seeded Chun-Hsin Tseng 6-2 6-4. The American was equally as comfortable in all his other wins on the way to the final, not allowing anyone more than four games in a set. By beating home crowd favorite Sumit Nagal in the semifinals, he made the Challenger final of his career.
Max Purcell has managed to put together a very strong start to his singles season, especially at the Australian Open when he qualified and caused plenty of trouble to Emil Ruusuvuori. The key moment of his Chennai run was the quarterfinal victory over the top seed of this event, James Duckworth, 6-4 in the third set. A victory over yet another countryman of his, Dane Sweeny, allowed Purcell to make his fifth Challenger final, the first since September 2021.
Moreno de Alboran lost his previous Challenger final on hard courts in an absolutely brutal fashion (four match points missed against Emilio Gomez, 7-6 5-3 40-0 up on serve, then again 5-2 up in the 3rd set). Trying to exorcise his past demons, the American was striking his forehand extremely well, really showing how the increased aggression on this shot has raised his ceiling. Up 7-5 5-3, he got broken for the first time though and then missed two match points on return (Purcell’s +1 forehand winner and an extremely makeable 2nd serve return).
An absolute grindfest ensued and it was Purcell who emerged the winner 5-7 7-6 6-4 after three hours and seven minutes. The Australian grabbed his 3rd Challenger title (Gimcheon 2016, Nur-Sultan 2021). Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Bengaluru next week.
Giulio Zeppieri hadn’t produced many results on the professional tour off-clay thus far, but the slow indoor courts in Cherbourg were definitely to his liking. The 21-year-old’s lefty first serve also did a lot of damage to his opponent throughout the week. Against Michael Geerts in the second round, Zeppieri had to go all the way to a deciding tie-break, clinching the match on his 7th opportunity. In the final four, he survived another third-setter versus Jan Choinski.
Titouan Droguet came through his qualifying round one match against Jurgen Briand in extraordinary circumstances. He saved four match points, one of them on a very controversial line call before his countryman received a verbal abuse point penalty at 8-9 down in the deciding set tie-break. Somehow, the 21-year-old managed to turn this into the best week of his career, scoring a number of quality wins over the likes of Joris De Loore, John Millman or Antoine Escoffier.
All these efforts took their toll on Droguet though and he was certainly feeling it a bit in the final. Throughout the week, the Frenchman was really efficient in making the slow courts look even slower, anticipating well and extending rallies in combination with his usual big-serving. Zeppieri’s weaponry off the ground was quite overwhelming for him in the final though, especially as his movement wasn’t that sharp and he required treatment on his thigh.
Zeppieri claimed his 2nd Challenger title (Barletta 2021) 7-5 7-6 and gets to a career-high ranking inside the top 130, about 100 points away from the top 100. Both players will be in Rovereto next week, which Droguet entered on a special exempt, while Zeppieri received a wildcard (but will be seeded 3rd).
Challenger Tour magic:
This would have been point of the year material if Sweeny made that last shot. Unbelievable scrambling.
What a crazy match it's been regardless as the Australian has already saved 4 MPs and we're going to a 3rd set after over 2,5 hours of play.
📷: @ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/l481hhcuWz
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) February 17, 2023
The aforementioned drama in the deciding tie-break between Briand and Droguet:
Voila la vidéo de la fin de match entre Droguet 🇫🇷 – Briand 🇫🇷 en Qualif a Cherbourg…
J'ai pris le match fin 3ème donc je sais pas s'il y a eu d'autres soucis dans le match
Mais entre les crampes de Droguet, et cette bdm à 7-8 et ce point de pénalité a 9-8 c'est hallucinant pic.twitter.com/nbNrJNN3G1
— Romain 🎾🇫🇷 (@RomainNextGen) February 12, 2023
Welcome to the @DreddyTennis show 🤯#ATPChallenger | @ChallengerChbg pic.twitter.com/ThXjIWkpov
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 16, 2023
Events held next week:
- Abierto GNP Seguros (Monterrey, Challeger 125, hard)
- Bengaluru Open (Challenger 100, hard)
- Coosa Valley Open (Rome, GA, Challenger 75, indoor hard)
- Citta di Rovereto (Challenger 75, indoor hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Adrian Mannarino, Emilio Gomez, Denis Kudla, Daniel Altmaier (Monterrey)
- Jordan Thompson (Rome)
First-round matches to watch:
- (1) Adrian Mannarino vs Aleksandar Kovacevic
- Steve Johnson vs (7) Taro Daniel
- (3) Denis Kudla vs Mattia Bellucci
- (WC) Ernesto Escobedo vs Benoit Paire
- Nicolas Moreno de Alboran vs (7) Dalibor Svrcina
- (4) Sebastian Ofner vs Max Purcell
- (6) Francesco Maestrelli vs (PR) Marc Polmans
- Elmar Ejupovic vs (8) Tennys Sandgren
- (7) Dominik Koepfer vs (WC) Alex Michelsen
- (1) Jurij Rodionov vs Li Tu
- (ALT) Raphael Collignon vs (7) Antoine Escoffier
Photo Credit: © Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports