Two weeks ago, the Challenger Tour crowned two Australian champions. Two Australians lifted a title again last weekend. One of them, Max Purcell, went back-to-back, while Jordan Thompson joined him in the winner’s circle and got his own number of titles at this level to a double-digit number. Meanwhile, Dominic Stricker stopped Giulio Zeppieri from going for his own two trophies in a row streak. In the biggest event of the week in Monterrey, Borna Gojo came out of the victor of a Challenger 125. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Nuno Borges decided to play more on hard courts early this year, which paid off nicely with a decent result in Delray Beach and the run here. On the 500m altitude in Monterrey, the Portuguese’s serve was incredibly dangerous and on the way to the final, he was only broken once by Mitchell Krueger. That opponent took him to a couple of tie-breakers, another one of these he had to win against Daniel Altmaier. He arrived in the biggest final of his career with a perfect 8-0 set record in Monterrey.
If the conditions favor big servers, Borna Gojo was always going to be dangerous in them too. The Croat dropped his serve just twice on the way to the final (to Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez and Aleksandar Kovacevic). He was particularly impressive in the wins over Yosuke Watanuki and Taro Daniel, not facing a break point and dropping just four points on serve against the latter. Gojo made his third Challenger final, all since February 2022.
A sloppy Gojo service game right at the beginning of the match allowed Borges to take advantage and clinch the opening set. However, as the match went on, the Croat was getting closer and closer to having some impact on return and dominating the baseline rallies. That paid off in the tie-breaker as he went up 6-4, but two consecutive double faults at 6-5 and 6-6 really killed his chances to take it to a decider.
Borges won his third Challenger title 6-4 7-6, only dropping his serve once all week and winning all four tie-breaks. He will now play the ATP 500 event in Acapulco, while Gojo took a special exempt for Waco.
Max Purcell was the winner in Chennai the week before, saving two match points to beat Nicolas Moreno de Alboran in the final. The Australian is usually more recognized for his doubles efforts, but decided to focus more on his singles game this year and it’s working out extremely well so far. Getting to another final wasn’t easy though – he was briefly down a break in the decider to Sebastian Ofner and made a mess out of the semifinal with Hamad Medjedovic (served for the win at 6-2 5-4 before taking it 7-6 in the third).
James Duckworth lost to Purcell in the Chennai quarterfinals, but this time managed to avoid him all the way until the championship match. The Australian was basically unstoppable all week, getting broken just twice in his first four matches (by Rio Noguchi and Dimitar Kuzmanov). He impressed especially by breaking down the inspired runs of youngsters Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard and his countryman James McCabe.
Going down 3-6 1-3 15-40, it seemed A slike Purcell was really feeling the physical toll the past two weeks had on his body. He suddenly chased down a few great stop volleys though and started mounting up the comeback. Until the end of the match, he saved 13 break points in a row, four of them at 5-5 in the third set, to get it into a deciding tie-break. Purcell won his fourth Challenger title (and 10th match in 13 days) 3-6 7-5 7-6 and will find himself just 70 points away from the top 100. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Pune this week.
18-year-old Alex Michelsen had already scored a couple of brilliant wins this year (Jack Sock, Zachary Svajda). The American was a Wimbledon boys’ doubles champion last year with Sebastian Gorzny and has been developing at a rapid pace since. He basically smashed Dominik Koepfer off the court in round one in Rome, before being a little fortunate and getting a retirement from Mats Moraing at 6-7 3-1 down. In the final four, he scored a clutch win over Seong-Chan Hong.
Jordan Thompson was ranked almost 80 spots higher than anyone else in the field but Rinky Hijikata and throughout the week, he did not need to face a single top 250 opponent. After three really comfortable wins, the Australian ran into some trouble against Zachary Svajda, but managed to prevail in a couple of tie-breakers. His final opponent was ranked 466th before last week, although that position probably didn’t do him justice.
Michelsen kicked off the match with a sloppy service game and wasn’t able to make up for it. He wasn’t getting much play on return and struggled to hit through Thompson, who was basically a wall out there and really shrinking the court for him. Even when he tried to stay more patient, the opportunities didn’t present themselves and the Australian would just grind him down into oblivion. Thompson claimed his 10th Challenger title 7-6 6-2. Both players are scheduled to play in Waco next, where the 18-year-old received a special exempt to join the main draw.
Giulio Zeppieri came to Rovereto straight off his second Challenger title in Cherbourg and wasn’t keen on slowing down. The 21-year-old dropped opening sets to Antoine Escoffier and Charles Broom, very briefly going down a set and a break to the Frenchman. He was able to find his game in time in both matches though, quickly pulling away from the opposition. In the final four, he took out Kaichi Uchida to grab his ninth win in a row.
Dominic Stricker suffered a disappointing exit to Joris De Loore in Vilnius recently, taking just four games and perhaps still struggling with his thigh injury. The Swiss youngster was extremely close to going out in the opening round here again, falling 3-6 3-4 with a break behind to Mili Poljicak. While not usually known for his ability to grind out tough wins, the 20-year-old fought for it extremely hard and was rewarded not only with that win, but also with his first final since July.
Zeppieri opened up with a break lead early, but wasn’t able to quite drive it home after missing a set point at 5-3. It was an absolutely wild tie-break with the Italian losing the first four points and then winning the next six, but eventually it was Stricker who came out on top, taking it 10-8 by surviving another four chances. As it turned out, Zeppieri didn’t have much more left in the tank.
Stricker won his 4th Challenger title 7-6 6-2 and is once again less than 100 points away from breaking the top 100. Both players were scheduled to appear in Pau next week, but decided to withdraw after the final.
Challenger Tour magic:
We'll see if he takes this match vs Emilio Gomez (just dropped the first set), but one thing is certain. Bernard Tomic is still a force in the "best forehand dropshot disguise" contest. pic.twitter.com/Fbdl5HRwFM
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) February 24, 2023
🇺🇸 @AlexRybakov27 goes AROUND THE NET in Rome, Georgia!#ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/n4isQWBKQN
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 23, 2023
Events held next week:
- Terega Open Pau Pyrenees (Challenger 125, indoor hard)
- Pune Metropolitan Region Challenger (Challenger 100, hard)
- Texas Tennis Classic (Waco, Challenger 75, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Arthur Rinderknech, Ugo Humbert (Pau)
- Jordan Thompson (Waco)
First-round matches to watch:
- (WC) Mark Lajal vs (8) Jurij Rodionov
- (7) Zizou Bergs vs Zsombor Piros
- (WC) Calvin Hemery vs (2) Ugo Humbert
- Harold Mayot vs (7) Yu-Hsiou Hsu
- Arthur Cazaux vs (2) Chun-Hsin Tseng
- (1) Jordan Thompson vs Aleksandar Vukic
- (SE) Alex Michelsen vs (5) Maximilian Marterer
- (4) Mattia Bellucci vs Seong-chan Hong
Main photo credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports