In the past five years, only four players have won a Challenger title before their 18th birthday – Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, Juncheng Shang, and now Jakub Mensik. Not a bad list to find yourself on. Aleksandar Vukic, meanwhile, is getting extremely close to the top 100 after triumphing in Busan, whilst Alejandro Tabilo and Hamad Medjedovic were also in the winner’s circile. Here’s a look back on last week’s action:
Max Purcell finished runner-up in Gwangju the week before, but the Australian had already proved on many occassions this year that going deep in back-to-back weeks wasn’t a problem for him. Just like in his previous final appearance, he didn’t drop even a single set on the way to the championship match with only Gabriel Diallo and Yasutaka Uchiyama coming somewhat close (both lost 4-6 5-7) as Purcell made what was already his sixth final of the season.
As luck would have it, his final opponent was Vukic, the runner-up of the other South Korean swing event this year – Seoul. Purcell’s countryman lost in both previous tournaments to Bu Yunchaokete and even despite avoiding the Chinese this time, his run was from easy. In the quarterfinals, he saved three match points at 6-7 5-6 down to Christopher Eubanks, before running away with the win and taking out Brandon Holt in the final four (exacting revenge for his Australian Open defeat to the American).
Vukic opened up the match with a 4-0 lead, but Purcell proceeded to keep him on his toes and eventually got it back on serve. At 4-5 down, the younger of the Australians slipped and rolled his ankle. He tried to play through the pain, deciding to retire a few games later (had to pull out of the doubles final too). Vukic claimed his second Challenger title 6-4 1-0 (retirement) and finds himself very close to a top 100 debut in the Live ATP Rankings (the next official edition will be published after Rome). The champion intends to make a mad journey to Oeiras, while Purcell hopes to heal up his injury before playing Lyon or Geneva in two weeks’ time.
Medjedovic had an extremely strong entry into the clay swing with the title in Szekesfehervar, but then picked up just two wins in his next four events. The Serbian loved the slight altitude conditions in Mauthausen though and looked very comfortable last week, not dropping a set on the way to the final. On Saturday, he defeated the top seed Dominic Thiem 7-6 6-2 in what was just his second top 100 win (after Kamil Majchrzak in Kozerki last year).
Filip Misolic also won a Challenger recently, triumphing in Roseto Degli Abruzzi. The day after he was eliminated in Madrid qualifying by Matteo Arnaldi, before taking a break until Mauthausen. Another enjoyer of faster clay conditions (see the runner-up appearance at the ATP 250 in Kitzbuhel last year), the 21-year-old had to dispatch Giovanni Mpetschi Perricard and Facundo Bagnis from a set down to get to his second Challenger final in his last two events at this level.
Sunday saw plenty of rain in Mauthausen and the final had to be stopped twice – first after just one game, the other with one player just four points away from the win. Medjedovic was the better player almost throughout the match and didn’t let losing the second set tie-break get to him. However, at 5-2 in the third, he run into some issues and after the second rain delay, had to save multiple break points to serve it out. Medjedovic won his third Challenger title, eventually completing a 6-2 6-7 6-4. He grabbed a special exempt into Bordeaux next week, while Misolic takes some time off before Roland Garros qualifying.
2022 Australian Open runner-up Mensik was drawn against the top seed Radu Albot in Prague, but the 17-year-old did not care about the rankings and took out the Moldovan. A big step forward for the talented Czech was the quarterfinal against Akira Santillan, which sort of mimicked the match he lost to Shintaro Mochizuki in Ostrava a couple of weeks ago. This time, Mensik fought back from 2-5 down in the deciding set, saving two match points and clinching the win in the deciding tie-break.
Dominik Koepfer had a bit of a funky path to the championship match with two retirement wins in his first two rounds. The German soon got the chance to prove his worth though and did so by eliminating one of the other main title contenders, Lukas Klein. He then went on to dispatch Nicolas Kicker and make what was already his third final since the clay season began. By Sunday, his win/loss record on the dirt in 2023 stood at 17-3.
The 17-year-old was extremely impressive in the final, saving the best for last. From 2-4 down in the opener, he was able to completely dominate the match and never fall into any trouble on his serve again. Mensik won his maiden Challenger title 6-4 6-3 and is close to landing at a spot where he could potentially get into Wimbledon qualifying. Both finalists will be in Tunis next week – Koepfer got in as an alternate, while Mensik received a special exempt due to his run in Prague.
Francavilla al Mare
Benoit Paire was engaged in an extremely wild match with Giorgio Tabacco in the opening round, saving five match points to beat the Italian 15-13 in the deciding set tie-break. Somehow it only got cleaner for him from there as he took out three more Italians to make his second final of the season. Interestingly, in that Puerto Vallarta run Paire had also saved a match point in the first round against Nicolas Mejia, although it was nowhere near as crazy as the Tabacco drama.
Due to rain delays, Tabilo had to play both his second round and the quarterfinal on Friday, but so did his opponent in the last eight stage, Kimmer Coppejans. The Chilean had made the final in his last Challenger event in Florianopolis and repeated that achievement in Francavilla al Mare. On the way to the final, he didn’t drop a single set, although both Giovanni Fonio and Nicolas David Ionel came extremely close to snatching tie-breaks against him.
Paire has many faces of late and this week certainly showed it perfectly. The Frenchman didn’t get off to a good start and dropped the opening set in merely 22 minutes. He did go 3-0 up in the second though, but it was just one of these days where not much was working for him outside of the first serve. Tabilo won his second Challenger title courtesy of 6-1 7-5 win in the final and grabs some much-needed points after falling off so much in the rankings in February. He will play Tunis next, while Paire got into Bordeaux as a special exempt.
Challenger Tour magic:
Max Purcell switches to a one-hander again (for a shot)! Especially important as he went on to win this game and the set along with it.
📷: @ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/2jdTptlbAi
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) May 12, 2023
Vintage @domithiem backhands 🙌#ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/uql82kTtZ6
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) May 10, 2023
Events held this week:
- BNP Paribas Primrose (Bordeaux, Challenger 175, clay)
- Piemonte Open Intesa Sampaolo (Turin, Challenger 175, clay)
- KIA Tunis Open (Challenger 75, clay)
- Oeiras Open 4 (Challenger 75, clay)
Top 100 players in action:
- Jan-Lennard Struff, Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, Adrian Mannarino, Ugo Humbert, Mikael Ymer, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Corentin Moutet, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Ilya Ivashka, Stan Wawrinka, Luca Van Assche, Arthur Rinderknech, Dominic Thiem (Bordeaux)
- Sebastian Baez, Daniel Elahi Galan, Juan Pablo Varillas (Turin)
- Pedro Cachin (Oeiras)
First-round matches to watch:
- (SE) Benoit Paire vs (ALT) Dominic Thiem
- (5) Ugo Humbert vs (ALT) Arthur Fils
- (ALT) Thiago Seyboth Wild vs (ALT) Francesco Passaro
- (ALT) Dominik Koepfer vs (ALT) Giulio Zeppieri
- (4) Maximilian Marterer vs Alejandro Tabilo
- Matteo Gigante vs (3) Tomas Barrios Vera
- (3) Radu Albot vs (ALT) Adrian Andreev
- Pedro Martinez vs (2) Hugo Gaston
Main photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports