Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Longest Final Ever; Purcell Makes It Three-From-Three

Max Purcell won his third Challenger Tour title in as many weeks.

What a final it was in Pau where Luca Van Assche took down Ugo Humbert, saving two match points in a record-breaking thriller. The 18-year-old is getting closer and closer to the top 100 and so is Aleksandar Kovacevic, the champion at Waco. Meanwhile, Max Purcell completed an incredible run of 15 wins in 20 days, jumping over 100 ranking spots to make his debut in the top 100 hundred. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap


Van Assche came into Pau with just one quarterfinal this year so far, but the 18-year-old was able to turn his season around with this run. It wasn’t easy from the get-go and required him to win three consecutive deciding sets in the first three rounds. Gijs Brouwer managed to take him to a third set tie-break, while Jurij Rodionov even led 6-4 2-0 at one point. Van Assche scored his most decisive win in the final four, giving just four games to top-seeded Arthur Rinderknech.

Humbert, meanwhile, was back in action quite early after suffering an injury in the second-set tiebreak against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first round in Montpellier. The 24-year-old landed a very tough opener against Calvin Hemery, eventually securing a key break at 5-4 up in the deciding set. From that point onwards it was just smooth sailing for the Frenchman, who only faced one break point in his next three matches (and he actually got broken in that game against Mathias Bourgue).

The final eclipsed the previous record of the longest Challenger championship match by 25 minutes! It was previously held by Somdev Devvarman over Daniel Nguyen in Winnetka 2015 and Genaro Alberto Olivieri over Tomas Martin Etcheverry in Montevideo 2022. When it seemed like Humbert just needs to close it out at 3-0 double break up in the decider, the Frenchman started spraying errors a little bit more. He ended up saving a match point at 4-5 (ace) to make it to the tie-break and even held two chances to close it out.

But in the end, Van Assche took it 7-6 4-6 7-6 in 3 hours and 56 minutes after Humbert’s backhand completely broke down in the last few points. The 18-year-old claimed his second Challenger title and now finds himself just about 40 points away from the top 100. It’s unclear where he’ll play next, while Humbert will travel to the States to feature in the main draw at Indian Wells.


Purcell won back-to-back Challenger Tour titles in Chennai and Bangalore two weeks ago, but the Australian wasn’t ready to stop just yet. While he did drop a set to Sasikumar Mukund in the opening round, he very swiftly regained control over the match and only dropped six points in the decider. As it turned out, the Indian was the only opponent who was able to break Purcell on the way to the final in Pune. Dimitar Kuzmanov, Francesco Maestrelli, and Miljan Zekic only managed one break point combined.

Luca Nardi lost to Purcell in the Bangalore quarterfinals the week before, winning just two games. The 19-year-old didn’t start his 2023 campaign that well, but was finally able to link a few wins together and grab his first deep run of the season. Nardi made his life complicated by blowing a few leads against Lorenzo Giustino in the second round (eventually winning 6-4 in the third), before stopping a great run from Dominik Palan in the final four, landing his only break of the match at 6-5 up in the decider.

Nardi didn’t really learn much from their previous match, still going for plenty of low-margin shots and struggling to keep the error count low. Purcell’s combination of the big serve, great slice and grinding has been way too much for plenty of younger talents in these three weeks in India and the 19-year-old fell victim to it for the second time.

Purcell took the final 6-2 6-3 and in just three weeks, earned 300 ranking points to jump from 203rd in the ATP Rankings to 95th, debuting in the top 100. The Australian is just the fifth player to win three Challenger titles in a row since 2015 (after Mikhail Youzhny, Benjamin Bonzi, Tallon Griekspoor, and Ben Shelton). Both finalists will take a much-needed break now and are only scheduled to return in two weeks’ time – Purcell in Les Franqueses del Valles, Nardi in Zadar.


Alexandre Muller grabbed by far the best main-tour run of his career in Doha recently, beating Zhizhen Zhang, Tomas Machac, Nikoloz Basilashvili, and Botic van de Zandschulp to make the quarterfinals. His first appearance since then almost ended with an opening-round loss, but Juan Pablo Ficovich wasn’t able to convert either of his two match points. The Frenchman then survived some of the best performers of the Challenger in Rome the week before – semifinalist Seong-Chan Hong and runner-up Alex Michelsen.

Aleksandar Kovacevic won his maiden Challenger Tour title in Cleveland recently and looked to be in solid form again while making the quarterfinals in Monterrey the week before Waco. Having been eliminated by Borna Gojo in Mexico, he got his revenge in the semifinals here, dispatching the Croat in straight sets. On the way to the final, Kovacevic didn’t drop a single set, required just two tie-breaks, and was only broken three times.

The big difference between the two players was the quality of their first serves and the comfort level when on the attack. Muller would often look really out of his element when trying to pressurize Kovacevic and it was the American who was a very dominant player for a set and a half. He wasn’t always taking his chances though and a sudden poor game at 4-5 down in the second set meant that for the first time this week, the 24-year-old had to go to a decider.

Kovacevic claimed his second Challenger Tour title with a 6-3 4-6 6-2 win and now finds himself just 30 points away from breaking the top 100. His next tournament will be Indian Wells, where he’s received a main draw wildcard. Muller has to start from the qualifying.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Puerto Magico Open Puerto Vallarta (Challenger 100, hard)
  • Challenger Santiago – Copa Kia (Challenger 75, clay)
  • Megasaray Hotels Open (Antalya, Challenger 75, clay)
  • Challenger BancoStato Citta di Lugano (Challenger 75, indoor hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Daniel Altmaier (Puerto Vallarta)
  • Nicolas Jarry, Marco Cecchinato, Facundo Bagnis, Hugo Dellien (Santiago)

First-round matches to watch:

Puerto Vallarta

  • (1) Daniel Altmaier vs Dominik Koepfer
  • (PR) Bjorn Fratangelo vs (PR) Alex Bolt


  • Andrea Pellegrino vs (4) Hugo Dellien
  • Riccardo Bonadio vs (2) Marco Cecchinato


  • (WC) Vilius Gaubas vs Steven Diez
  • Miljan Zekic vs (2) Fabian Marozsan


  • Ricardas Berankis vs (3) Norbert Gombos
  • (5) Liam Broady vs Mikhail Kukushkin

Main photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports