Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Mark Lajal Becomes Estonia’s Second-Ever Challenger Champion

Clay-court tennis

Prospects from Estonia aren’t that common on the men’s tennis tour, but there are a few youngsters coming up right now and the most exciting one is clearly Mark Lajal. The 20-year-old claimed his maiden Challenger title in Little Rock this week, while Francisco Comesana and Ivan Gakhov also lifted titles. Here’s a look back on last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap


This season hadn’t been too kind for Frederico Ferreira Silva, but he made the final qualifying round at the French Open and kept that up in Troisdorf. His run to the championship match included three deciding set matches and in each of them, he lost the second set 3-6 before taking the win. He managed to separate himself from Benjamin Hassan and Henri Laaksonen quite early in these deciders, but Sumit Nagal was keeping up with him all the way until 4-all. Ferreira Silva locked up the fourth Challenger final of his career (0-3 win/loss record).

Gakhov slowed down a bit since his breakthrough runs in Girona (where he won a maiden Challenger title) and in Monte Carlo (qualified and kept it competitive with Novak Djokovic), but he returned to form in style in Troisdorf. He took out the defending champion Lukas Klein, before surviving a 3-6 7-6 7-6 thriller against Nick Hardt. In the final four, he outlasted his countryman and the top-seeded player at this event, Pavel Kotov in three sets.

Gakhov was first out of the gate, moving the ball around the court with his forehand and flattening it out when needed. Ferreira Silva fought back and was finding more and more opportunities to attack, which eventually resulted in a break from 0-40 down at 6-5 in the second for the Portuguese. His opponent recovered smoothly though and went on to dominate the decider. Gakhov took his second Challenger title 6-2 5-7 6-3. The runner-up will play in Prostejov next, while the champion decided to withdraw from that event. Ferreira Silva is now 0-4 in finals at this level (Sao Paulo 2020, Kobe and Yokkaichi 2022, Troisdorf 2023).


Fresh from making the final in Skopje, Comesana wasn’t going to slow down just yet. The Argentinian was perhaps playing even better in this run, dropping one set on the way to the final despite facing some very tough opposition (Kimmer Coppejans, Vitaliy Sachko, Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida, Francesco Passaro). By doing this, he kind of maintained his reputation as a streaky player (when he won back-to-back Challenger 50 titles last year, he didn’t win a single match until the end of 2022).

Pablo Llamas Ruiz got to the quarterfinal stage of a Challenger five times since last September, losing three semifinal matches. This week was the first time he went a step further. Having claimed his maiden ATP Tour win over Max Purcell in Lyon, the 20-year-old came into the event with plenty of momentum. The only player to take a set off him on the way to the final was Stefano Travaglia, who defeated Llamas Ruiz at an ITF event a couple of months back, but had to succumb to the Spaniard this time.

Llamas Ruiz was really embracing the variety in his baseline play in the opening set, making Comesana look lost in many cat-and-mouse rallies. The Argentinian soon got used to them though and even began dropshotting his opponent frequently himself. Eventually, he also had way more energy stored for the decider and ended up turning the match around. Comesana won his third Challenger title 3-6 6-2 6-2 and will break the top 200 after Roland Garros. He took a special exempt into Prostejov, while Llamas Ruiz intends to play in Lyon in two weeks’ time.

Little Rock

Lajal made his first Challenger semifinal in Morelos over a month earlier and had only played a couple of clay ITFs in Serbia since. The 20-year-old decided to embark on another journey overseas and that paid off really quickly. He eliminated the top seed and runner-up from last year, Tung-Lin Wu, dropping just one set on the way to the final (against Antoine Escoffier). Lajal became just the second-ever Challenger finalist from Estonia after former World No. 71 Jurgen Zopp.

Beibit Zhukayev received a bye in the opening round of the qualifying and only lost four games on his way to the main draw. After demolishing Peter Gojowczyk, he just kept prevailing in thriller after thriller. Against Nicolas Moreno de Alboran he was 2-4 down in the deciding set, Mikhail Kukushkin he took out 7-5 in the third, before scoring another deciding tie-break victory over Adam Walton in the final four. Zhukayev made his maiden Challenger final.

Lajal was returning the Kazakh’s serve really well and playing with more margin than usual. It was a smart choice, because he’s the better mover than Zhukayev and would always have the edge off the ground. On top of that, his opponent had the tougher road to the final and was clearly a bit fatigued, also struggling with a heel issue. Zhukayev pulled off a stunning return game at 4-all in the second, but the Estonian hit back instantly and never looked back. Lajal claimed his maiden Challenger title 6-4 7-5 and has a great chance to make US Open qualifying. Both finalists are expected in Tyler next, Zhukayev with a special exempt.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held this week:

  • Lexus Surbiton Trophy (Challenger 125, grass)
  • Neckarcup (Heilbronn, Challenger 125, clay)
  • Unicredit Czech Open (Prostejov, Challenger 100, clay)
  • Tyler Tennis Championships (Challenger 75, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Daniel Evans, Andy Murray, Mackenzie McDonald, Max Purcell, Jason Kubler, Constant Lestienne, Ilya Ivashka, Christopher Eubanks, Jordan Thompson, Christopher O’Connell, Alexei Popyrin, Aleksandar Vukic (Surbiton)
  • Marco Cechinato, Jaume Munar, Daniel Elahi Galan, Dominic Thiem (Heilbronn)
  • Jiri Lehecka, Federico Coria (Prostejov)

First-round matches to watch:


  • Aleksandar Kovacevic vs (8) Christopher Eubanks
  • (4) Max Purcell vs Zizou Bergs
  • (PR) Hyeon Chung vs (2) Andy Murray


  • (5) Matteo Arnaldi vs Norbert Gombos
  • Hugo Dellien vs (2) Jaume Munar


  • Nicholas David Ionel vs (WC) Jakub Mensik
  • Harold Mayot vs (2) Federico Coria


  • (ALT) Mark Lajal vs (5) Antoine Escoffier
  • Denis Yevseyev vs Mikhail Kukushkin

Main photo credit: Matthias Hauer/GEPA via USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message