It was another thrilling week of action on the ATP Challenger Tour, this time with four events on four different continents (since Antalya is in the Asian part of Turkey). Fabian Marozsan and Otto Virtanen grabbed their 2nd Challenger titles, while Hugo Dellien and Benoit Paire were some more usual victors. At least in terms of the number of titles, because the Frenchman actually hadn’t won a title at this level since 2015. Read back on last week’s action:
Benoit Paire saved a match point against Nicolas Mejia in the opening round (forced passing shot error), coming back from 2-5 down in the deciding set. As it turned out, the Colombian was the highest-ranked opponent the 33-year-old had to face all week at ATP 246. The veteran of the tour also survived three-setters against the 2021 US Open boys’ singles champion Daniel Rincon and a fellow legend of this circuit Ilya Marchenko.
Yuta Shimizu reached his maiden Challenger semifinal in Burnie this year and the Japanese managed to go even a stage further this time. At 1.63m tall (5 feet, 4 inches), the 23-year-old is one of the smallest high-level players on the men’s professional circuit right now. Despite that, Shimizu fought back from 2-4 down in the decider to Gabriel Diallo in round one, before erasing a similar deficit to score the first top-100 win of his career against Daniel Altmaier.
Playing a bit like his fellow Japanese lefty Yoshihito Nishioka, Shimizu emerged into a lead in the final, but completely lost his mind due to the pressure of being so close to the title. He dropped the next ten games with some very weird decision-making and wild misses and while there was a small comeback effort, Paire’s 1st serve stood too strong for the Japanese to get a serious look at another win from behind.
Paire took his 7th Challenger title (1st since November 2015) 3-6 6-0 6-2. The Frenchman will return to the top 200 after Indian Wells, while Shimizu is now very close to Grand Slam qualifying range. The runner-up is supposed to feature in a 25K in Bakersfield this week, while Paire grabbed an alternate spot into Phoenix qualifying.
Hugo Dellien played three Italians in a row, dropping a set to each of them. Andrea Vavassori and Franco Agamenone even took him to a deciding set tie-break and against the latter, it was an absolute thriller with the Bolivian eventually triumphing in three hours and 36 minutes. Agamenone served for the match three times and had four match points (one on serve). These three breaks were the only ones Dellien was able to land all match. Despite such a marathon, the 29-year-old easily took out Genaro Alberto Olivieri in the final four.
Thiago Seyboth Wild had been struggling over the past couple of seasons, but finally seemed to be starting to piece something together at the beginning of 2023. This recent improvement was extremely visible this week as the Brazilian scored some incredible wins in the main draw (after starting from the qualifying), taking out Juan Manuel Cerundolo, Facundo Bagnis, and Facundo Diaz Acosta. On the way to the final, he dropped just one set in six matches.
These long battles earlier in the week were still in Dellien’s legs on Sunday as he clearly wasn’t the freshest. Seyboth Wild was the dominant player early on, but anytime he was close to securing a bigger lead, his error count would go up and the forehand wouldn’t be as hurtful as before. The Brazilian eventually led 3-1 in the deciding set, but dropped the next five games as he got visibly tense.
Dellien claimed his 9th Challenger title with a gritty 3-6 6-3 6-3 win. It’s not enough to keep him in the top 100, but it will all pay off in the latter half of the season (he finished his 2022 campaign after Wimbledon due to an elbow injury). Both players are scheduled to appear in Vina del Mar, Seyboth Wild on a special exempt.
At just one quarterfinal this year so far, Otto Virtanen was in dire need of a big result and that’s exactly what he found in Lugano. Against Oleksii Kruytkh in the second round, the Finn had to go all the way to a deciding tie-break before eventually coming up on top. Another key moment of his run was definitely the semifinal stage. 2021 champion Dominic Stricker had been looking like the strongest player in the draw all week, but the 21-year-old snapped his run just like in Bergamo last year.
Cem Ilkel has been an extremely consistent force on the circuit since the middle of October last year, getting to a 33-9 win/loss record since then by the time he reached the final in Lugano (20-6 in 2023). Still under-ranked due to missing a large chunk of the 2022 season, Ilkel had to start from the qualifying and won four consecutive matches in three sets. Despite going down 3-5 in the decider to Lukas Klein, the Turk survived and after straight-setting Vitalyi Sachko, won another long one against Antoine Escoffier in the final four.
The Finn seemed like he was cruising to victory a set and a break up, but eventually fell into plenty of trouble. Ilkel pushed him in three consecutive service games, one of them at 4-5 down in the 2nd set. Virtanen stood strong under pressure though and maintained a great percentage of 1st serve points won (37/40). Throughout the final, he was balancing his big weapons and consistency extremely well.
Virtanen claimed his 2nd Challenger title 6-4 7-6, capitalizing on a crucial net cord at 5-5 in the tie-break. After Indian Wells, he’ll break the top 150 of the ATP Rankings. Both finalists will now skip a week before they’re back on the Challenger Tour – Ilkel in St. Brieuc, Virtanen in Biel.
Fabian Marozsan struggled a bit in the first couple of months this year, getting just one quarterfinal in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve. But back on his favorite surface, the Hungarian instantly found more success as he dropped just one seed en route to his third Challenger final. The 23-year-old dropped his opener to Daniel Michalski 1-6 in the quarterfinals, but managed to produce a much better level in the latter two sets, dropping just three more games.
Sebastian Ofner came two points away from losing to Marozsan’s countryman, Mate Valkusz, eventually prevailing in the deciding set tie-break. The Austrian’s first two months of the year were a bit better than his final opponent’s as he finished runner-up to Alexander Shevchenko in Tenerife. The 26-year-old beat Gianluca Mager in the semifinals via a couple of tie-breaks, making Antalya the second Challenger of the year with a final between the top two seeds (after Burnie; Rinky Hijikata vs James Duckworth).
Ofner had a slightly better start, but Marozsan was quick to get back on the board. The Hungarian missed a couple of set points at 5-4 up in the opener, coming back two games later to take the set on that occasion. As the match went on, he began winning plenty of short rallies on serve and moving the Austrian very effectively and mixing things up with the dropshot. Ofner succumbed to the pressure and began rushing way too much.
Marozsan won his 2nd Challenger title 7-5 6-0, taking the last eight games of the match. He’ll break the top 150 after Indian Wells. The Hungarian is the top seed on home soil in Szekesfehervar this week, while Ofner takes a bit of rest and should be back in action in Zadar.
Challenger Tour magic:
Vit Kopriva came up with a couple of spectacular match point saves in Antalya today. The first one is a 26-shot rally capped off in style, the other a forehand pass on the run that just clipped the line.
He took 8 of the next 9 games and won 6-7 7-5 6-1.
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— Damian Kust (@damiankust) March 10, 2023
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Events held this week:
- Arizona Tennis Classic (Phoenix, Challenger 175, hard)
- Vina Challenger Tennis (Vina del Mar, Challenger 75, clay)
- Kiskut Open (Szekesfehervar, Challenger 50, clay)
The Arizona Tennis Classic in Phoenix is the first-ever Challenger 175 event, open for all players ranked outside the top 10 of the ATP Rankings.
Top 100 players in action:
- Matteo Berrettini, Diego Schwartzman, Richard Gasquet, Alexander Bublik, Jiri Lehecka, Marc-Andrea Huesler, Mikael Ymer, Emil Ruusuvuori, Constant Lestienne, Gregoire Barrere, Filip Krajinovic, Arthur Rinderknech, Roberto Carballes Baena, Nuno Borges, Quentin Halys, Oscar Otte, Ilya Ivashka, Christopher O’Connell, Denis Kudla, Zhizhen Zhang, Thanasi Kokkinakis (all Phoenix)
First-round matches to watch:
- (1/WC) Matteo Berrettini vs Ilya Ivashka
- (5) Jiri Lehecka vs (ALT) Thanasi Kokkinakis
- (ALT) vs (2/WC) Diego Schwartzman
Vina del Mar
- Lautaro Midon vs (SE) Thiago Seyboth Wild
- (4) Felipe Meligeni Alves vs Tomas Barrios Vera
- (1) Fabian Marozsan vs Mili Poljicak
- Kimmer Coppejans vs (4) Zsombor Piros
Main Photo Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports