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Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Comesana and Johnson on Hot Streaks, Ajdukovic’s Maiden Title

Recent Challenger Tour champion Steve Johnson in action.

Francisco Comesana is now making the quarterfinals (at least) in every single Challenger he plays, Steve Johnson overcame a terrible start to the season to win two titles in the past four weeks. Also on a lovely run of from is Jaume Munar. Meanwhile, Duje Ajdukovic claimed his first Challenger trophy and Luca Nardi recovered from a poor patch. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

San Marino

Andrea Pellegrino tends to be extremely streaky, but this year it just hadn’t been working out for him with three quarterfinals on the Challenger Tour being his best results before San Marino. It has to be said though that his draw was rather comfortable. In the second round, he eliminated the in-form Enrico Dalla Valle in three sets, before getting a retirement from Nerman Fatic in the final four (the score was 3-6 6-3 0-0). The 26-year-old made his first final in 11 months.

While Pellegrino might have had it fairly easy in terms of the path to the final, Munar definitely didn’t. He started out by taking out Francesco Passaro, before facing the veteran Federico Delbonis in the quarterfinals. The only set he dropped on the way to the championship match was against Daniel Rincon, who reached the semifinal of a Challenger for the third event in a row. San Marino was Munar’s fifth appearance on this circuit in 2023.

Pellegrino tried his best, but he just couldn’t hit through Munar effectively. Shortening the rallies was just impossible for him with the dropshots/net game being just a little too inefficient. He fought hard in the opening set (which took 10 games in 57 minutes), but fell apart once he lost it. Munar won his 9th Challenger title 6-4 6-1. Next up for him is likely US Open qualifying in a couple of weeks, while Pellegrino wants to squeeze in one more event in Todi before going to New York (but not right after San Marino).


Nardi looked to be in good position to break the top 100 this year but his season so far had been a disappointment, despite the final in Pune in February. The 20-year-old was able to produce some much stronger tennis in Porto, but it wasn’t always easy. He had to come back from a set down against Nicolas Mejia and struggled with the winner of seven ITF titles this year, Goncalo Oliveira. But the next two matches were probably the best performances we’ve seen from Nardi in 2023 so far.

Joao Sousa was out with an injury for about two months and right before he took a break, he was on a nine-match losing streak. Porto was his first event back and despite a terrible 5-21 record for the year before this week, the Portuguese veteran was able to execute his game at a very high level almost instantly. The only set he lost on the way to the final came in the opening round as Sousa delivered some excellent showings to make his first Challenger championship match since Helsinki 2021.

The roaring Portuguese crowd was definitely a factor in this match and helped out Sousa in producing a comeback from 1-3 down in the opening set. Nardi continued with his excellent performances from the previous two matches though, playing some very smart attacking tennis and not going for too much. Eventually, he also had a lot more left in the tank by the time they got to a decider. Nardi won his fourth Challenger title 5-7 6-4 6-1. He’ll be heading to the States to play in Winnipeg now (after a week of rest), while Sousa is supposed to come back to action at Augsburg or Prague in a few weeks.


Luedenscheid this week had massive issues with the rain and Ajdukovic was one of the players who actually played one match indoors. The Croat started from the qualifying draw and dropped a set there to Kai Wehnelt, before scoring a huge win over Maximilian Marterer in the first round of the main event. That really fired him up for the rest of the week and Ajdukovic, who’s had a fantastic resurgence this year with three ITF titles, made his first Challenger final.

Hugo Dellien was playing some of his best tennis ever at the very beginning of the season with a title in Santiago, but suddenly some health issues came and the Bolivian never recovered. That is until Luedenscheid, where he earned a main draw win for the first time since May. Dellien had to play twice on both Friday and Saturday, making a great comeback from 6-7 2-4 down against Benoit Paire to make his second Challenger final of the season.

With both the semifinals and the final being played out on Sunday, Dellien’s long battle against Paire didn’t exactly work to his advantage stamina-wise. Ajdukovic was much fresher with his semi ending in Raul Brancaccio’s retirement. He took the game to Dellien early and was soon heading towards the win with a 7-5 4-3 (break) lead. A bit of rain coming in seemed like it might help the Bolivian, but the 22-year-old was clinical to wrap up the match. Ajdukovic claimed his maiden Challenger title 7-5 6-4 and finds himself at a career-high ranking nearing the top 200. He’s playing Banja Luka next, while Dellien will fly over to Santo Domingo.


Comesana is on a hot streak recently, making the quarterfinals in each of his last six Challenger appearances. Five times he went to the final four and Liberec was his third final in that time frame. The key match in this run had him take out the young prodigy Dino Prizmic from 3-6 2-4 down at the last eight stage. Due to heavy rain, the last two rounds had to be moved to an indoor hard venue and despite next to no experience in such conditions, it didn’t derail Comesana at all.

Making his first Challenger final on the other side of the draw was Toby Alex Kodat, who had previously made the quarterfinals in Rome this year. For an American, he enjoys the clay a lot with his one-handed backhand (he’s also half-Czech and the half-brother of former WTA World No. 7 Nicole Vaidisova). The 20-year-old had to start his campaign in the qualifying draw and lost his only set on the way to the final against Timo Stodder in the first round of the main event.

Comesana had previously played just one indoor hard match in his career and didn’t even finish that with an injury. The tournament organizers couldn’t organize the streaming in time, but at least from the serving stats we can see that the Argentinian adapted extremely well. Against Kodat, he only dropped six points on serve in the entire match! Comesana won his fourth Challenger title 6-2 6-4. Both players will compete on the Challenger Tour next week with the champion going to Santo Domingo, while the runner-up took a special exempt for Banja Luka.


With a couple of early losses in Granby and Atlanta, Arthur Cazaux’s North American hard-court season wasn’t far from becoming a disappointment as he had to dig deep to beat Justin Boulais in the first round. But the talented 20-year-old was quick to forget about that and blast through his next three opponents. On the way to the final, he dropped serve just three times. The Frenchman made it to his fourth championship match.

Johnson saved his season with a title in Bloomfield Hills recently and he continued that fine form in Lexington, not dropping a set on the way to the final and only requiring two tie-breaks. One of them was against Billy Harris in the opening round, the other versus Tennys Sandgren in an all-American veteran matchup. Johnson, who was just 5-13 for the year after Wimbledon, managed to get his win rate to 15-15 by the time he made the final.

Johnson’s serve and forehand combination just carry real fire with it again and he was the much better player in the opening set. Cazaux’s great serving was keeping him in it all the way to tie-break though. The Frenchman actually had some chances later on, but his opponent’s great performance on pressure points meant that one sloppy game could end it. And that’s what happened as Johnson claimed his ninth Challenger title 7-6 6-4. Both finalists are supposed to play in Cary next. Johnson will be hoping that this run of form will put him in contention for a US Open wildcard.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held this week:

  • RD Open (Santo Domingo, Challenger 125, green clay)
  • Banja Luka Open (Challenger 100, clay)
  • M.A.R.A Open (Meerbusch, Challenger 75, clay)
  • Serena Wines 1881 – Acqua Maniva Tennis Cup (Cordenons, Challenger 75, clay)
  • Atlantic Tire Championships I (Cary, Challenger 75, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Sebastian Baez, Fabian Marozsan (Banja Luka)
  • Alexander Shevchenko (Cary)

First-round matches to watch:

Santo Domingo

  • Bernard Tomic vs (5) Hugo Dellien
  • (6) Felipe Meligeni Alves vs Eduardo Ribeiro

Banja Luka

  • (1) Fabian Marozsan vs Viktor Durasovic
  • Dragos Nicolae Madaras vs (2/WC) Marco Cecchinato


  •  (8) Gauthier Onclin vs (SE) Gerard Campana Lee
  • (WC) Nicola Kuhn vs (2) Jan Choinski


  • (3) Riccardo Bonadio vs Valentin Vacherot
  • Carlos Taberner vs (PR) Blaz Rola


  • (WC) Ethan Quinn vs (6) Gijs Brouwer
  • (5) Arthur Cazaux vs Abedallah Shelbayh

Main photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


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