Last week featured another couple of Challenger 175 events. These ones took place during the second week of Rome. Ugo Humbert won another tournament of that category after Cagliari, while Dominik Koepfer clinched the trophy in a bizarre situation in Turin where they had to switch from outdoor clay to indoor hard before the semifinals. Meanwhile, Sho Shimabukuro and Facundo Diaz Acosta were the other winners, while Aleksandar Vukic’s final run allowed him to secure a top 100 debut.
Tomas Martin Etcheverry got a terrible draw in Rome, losing in the second round to Novak Djokovic. The Argentinian was quick to bounce back in Bordeaux though, making the final without dropping a set. Only Arthur Cazaux managed to take him to a tie-break. In the semifinals against the recent Madrid runner-up, Jan-Lennard Struff, he lost just nine points on serve. By making the final, he secured his top 50 debut regardless of the result on Saturday (all Challengers this week finished on Saturday).
Ugo Humbert won the Challenger 175 event in Cagliari during the second week of Madrid, right after losing to Emil Ruusuvuori in the first round of that ATP 1000. History is prone to repeating itself and after losing to the Finn again in the opening round at Rome, he again went on a run in a 175. The one match you’d probably expect him to win comfortably was tough for him vs Gauthier Onclin (saved a couple of key break points at 5-5 in the 3rd), but he kept beating some big names soundly Arthur Fils, Stan Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet.
Etcheverry opened up an early lead, but it wasn’t long before things stopped going so smoothly for him. The Argentinian’s backhand looked quite shaky compared to how it usually is and Humbert was quick to take advantage. Just like over the past couple of weeks, the 24-year-old was also using the dropshot expertly and proving how much his dropshot has improved. Humbert won his 10th Challenger title 7-6 6-4 and took two of the five Challenger 175s this year. He will now rest up before Roland Garros, while Etcheverry still wants to play in Lyon.
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Dominik Koepfer has been on fire since end of March with three Challenger finals in his previous five events. After finishing runner-up in Prague the week before Turin, he survived an extremely tough match with Juan Pablo Varillas in the second round here, coming back from 0-3 down in the deciding set. Due to ongoing rain in Italy, the semifinal and final had to be moved to an indoor hard venue and played out on the same day. Of all the players in the final four, these conditions were definitely suiting the German the most.
Federico Gaio is recovering from a disastrous 2022 campaign this year and it’s working out quite well for him with two quarterfinals in Santiago and Mexico City already. Despite starting from the qualifying draw in Turin, he went through the first three rounds of the main draw by making an upset every single time, the biggest one against Oscar Otte. In the semifinals, he was a massive underdog against Sebastian Baez, but the match being held on indoor hard helped him take down the Argentinian.
Gaio was very dangerous behind his serve early on and after saving a set point at 4-5, he took it to Koepfer and won the tie-breaker. The match hit a very clear turning point though when the German broke early in the second. From that point onwards, Gaio was able to win just one game. Koepfer won his 4th Challenger title 6-7 6-2 6-0, definitely benefiting the most out of the four semifinalists from the Saturday action being moved indoors. Gaio’s next plans remain unknown.
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Aleksandar Vukic made the mad journey from Busan to Oeiras, despite winning the singles title in South Korea on Sunday. Two days later he was already out there playing a match on a different surface and after a very long flight, but he did surprisingly well. In fact, he dropped just two sets on the way to the final, including a comeback from 0-2 in the decider against Felipe Meligeni Alves. By making it to the championship match, Vukic secured his top 100 debut.
Facundo Diaz Acosta won the green clay Challenger in Savannah a few weeks earlier and decided to take some time off before heading over to Oeiras. On the way to another final at this level, he didn’t drop a set and only required a couple of tie-breaks against Emilio Nava and Nicolas Moreno de Alboran (interestingly, three of his four opponents were American). It meant that the final would be contested between two players on nine-match win streaks.
Despite all the tennis he had played recently, Vukic was holding up well physically and definitely made it competitive, particularly in the second set. It’s so hard to grind down Diaz Acosta though, especially when you’re not the freshest. Vukic’s ball-striking was really clean on the day and had good depth, but that wasn’t enough. Diaz Acosta won his 3rd Challenger title 6-4 6-3 and finds himself in the top 100 of the ATP Race. Both finalists will play Roland Garros qualifying next.
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Geoffrey Blancaneaux was probably one of the last players omitted by the French Tennis Federation when choosing Roland Garros wildcards. A junior champion in Paris seven years ago, the 24-year-old was quick to show he at least had a case for it. Despite a rather tricky draw, he took out Joao Sousa and Kimmer Coppejans in the opening two rounds. In the final four, he was able to eliminate Borna Gojo and deny the Croat a top 100 debut.
Sho Shimabukuro won his maiden Challenger title in Nonthaburi earlier in 2023, but his clay pedigree wasn’t great with just sixteen previous matches. Only two of them came at this level of competition and both on the green synthetic dirt in the US. But somehow, the Japanese kept pushing through the field despite starting the event in the qualifying draw. On the way to the final, he made two major upsets over in-form players – Tomas Barrios Vera and Jesper de Jong.
In a final stopped by many rain delays, it was a clear contrast of styles with Shimabukuro trying to close down the net and Blancaneaux trying to turn defense into offense. One player was significantly more successful and got a lot more out of his serve. Shimabukuro capped off his shock run with a 2nd Challenger title, beating Blancaneaux 6-4 6-4. The runner-up is heading to Roland Garros qualifying right now, while the champion might just miss out (fourth alternate at the time of writing).
Challenger Tour magic:
I love the way Thiago Seyboth Wild just clubs this last BH here. Looking like his match vs Sebastian Baez will be delayed by rain now, but the first few minutes sure looked quite promising for the Brazilian. He saved MPs vs Taro Daniel yesterday.
📷: @ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/zWkVsoNJdD
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) May 18, 2023
You usually wouldn't think of Vukic as a particularly fast player, but he was quite rapid here! Meligeni Alves was clearly impressed too, clapping for like ten seconds
📷: @ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/rgmzBk2f1I
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) May 19, 2023
Events held this week:
- Macedonian Open (Skopje, Challenger 75, clay)
There will be no top 100 players in action. The entry list in Skopje basically consists of players ranked 230 and below due to Roland Garros qualifying.
First-round matches to watch:
- Kacper Zuk vs Max Houkes
- Martin Landaluce vs (2) Evgeny Donskoy
Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports