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Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Lestienne Saves Seven Match Points in the Opening Round

Constant Lestienne, a Challenger Tour champion last week, in action.

Saving match points was a bit of a theme this week on the Challenger Tour with three finalists having been a point away from defeat somewhere along the way to the championship match. Only Constant Lestienne managed to finish off the job though. There were also maiden titles for Ryan Peniston and Luciano Darderi, while Jesper de Jong added a cherry on top to his excellent season in Kozerki. Read back on last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Stanford

Just 10-21 in 2023 prior to this week, Lestienne had only won consecutive matches once since February. That was mostly due to injuries and he finally showed he still has the quality. This run almost ended in the opening round again though as the Frenchman was forced to save seven match points against Dane Sweeny (the final set tie-break score was 14-12). The 31-year-old picked himself up right after that and delivered an impressive 6-2 6-2 beating to Borna Gojo in the quarterfinals.

Emilio Nava had to start from the qualifying draw in Stanford and blasted through it with ease. The American kept that form up in the main draw as well, prevailing in a blockbuster quarterfinal clash against Aleksandar Kovacevic. That wasn’t the toughest situation he had to deal with along the way to the final though. California’s own Tristan Boyer had a 6-2 5-2 lead over him in the semifinals, eventually going down 6-2 6-7 1-6.

Nava kicked off the match with a few great games and it even got scary for a moment when Lestienne fell at 1-2 0-15 down. He was able to continue though and quickly began turning the set around. His variety and counter-punching skills were proving difficult to handle for the American, who basically imploded after dropping the opening set tie-break. Lestienne claimed his seventh Challenger title 7-6 6-2. He’ll play the ATP 250 in Winston-Salem right now, while Nava attempts to qualify for the US Open.

Kozerki

It’s been a fantastic season for de Jong, although maybe lacking that one huge result like a Challenger title with two finals in Tigre and Rome thus far. The Dutchman was brilliant on his way to making another championship match though and didn’t drop a set in his first four matches. He completely dominated Polish hope Maks Kasnikowski in the quarterfinals and won a tight tie-break against Elias Ymer to make his first hard-court final on the Challenger Tour.

Benjamin Hassan is a master of saving match points, which he proved last year when he fended off a total of twelve of them against Lucas Miedler. In Kozerki, he managed to save two from 4-6 5-6 15-40 on return versus Jiri Vesely, extending the match by about ninety minutes and eventually winning. That was the only set he lost on the way to the final, having made four previous semifinals in 2023. By beating Denis Yevseyev, he secured his top 200 debut.

Hassan seemed like he was feeling the occasion a little bit with nervous shot selection and struggles to put points together. If it wasn’t won by a quick serve +1 play, it generally wasn’t won at all. The rival tried to up his pace on the forehand sometimes, but it was a little counterproductive. It was better to allow the Lebanese to get himself in trouble. Ultimately, de Jong claimed his second Challenger title 6-3 6-3 and will break the top 150. He’ll now head to US Open qualifying, while Hassan is on the alternate list and might have to play Augsburg instead.

Todi

Down to world #250 and on the alternate list for US Open qualifying, Darderi made an interesting call of not playing for a few weeks and only appearing in some league competitions in Germany and Switzerland. Whatever the reason was, that break seemed to do him good. He came up with a rejuvenated set of performances in Todi, beating four opponents in straight sets to make his second Challenger final of the season.

Clement Tabur reached his only previous Challenger semifinal in Meerbusch 2022, but was gradually improving his ranking through ITF results this year (won three 25Ks in Angers, Kursumlijska Bania, and Padova). The Frenchman was involved in a crazy match with Moez Echargui in the Todi quarterfinals, saving three match points at 4-5 on return in the third and then one more in the tie-break. To grab that maiden final, he had to defeat Giovanni Fonio.

Tabur went up 4-1 in the opening set, controlling most of the play with his forehand. That shot tightened up a bit though and he dropped the next five games. Darderi was clearly inspired since that point and while he was still mostly counter-punching, he loosened up majorly. It was time for the Frenchman to pull off a comeback from 4-6 5-6 down on return, but the third set was one-way traffic. Darderi claimed his first Challenger title 6-4 6-7 6-1. His next event will be in Prague, while Tabur intends to stay in Italy and play the 25K ITF in Lesa.

Winnipeg

From March onwards, this season has been one big health struggle for Leandro Riedi. But the talented Swiss was finally able to put a couple of wins together in Winnipeg, despite a tough draw that pitted him against David Goffin in the opening round. He would then go on to defeat Mattia Bellucci in a similar three-set affair and snap Liam Broady’s dreams of breaking the top 100 (at least for a couple of weeks). Riedi made his second final of the year (after Canberra in January).

Peniston suffered a significant fall in the rankings this year with two Challenger semifinals at the beginning of the season and then a long drought. But he already had something going again with the last eight stage in Cary and proved it the week after in Winnipeg. In his first three matches, he served his opponents three bagels and only lost five games in total! Peniston went on to defeat the up-and-coming Arthur Cazaux in the semifinals.

Riedi began the final with a long streak of errors, going down 0-4. He managed to get himself back on track, but not quickly enough to survive the opening set. It was a similar dynamic as Peniston’s semi against Cazaux with the Brit trying to control the play with his lefty spins. Eventually, they got to the deciding set and while it seemed like Riedi had all the momentum, he broke himself at 4-all in the decider. Peniston claimed his maiden Challenger title 6-4 4-6 6-4. Due to this run, he had to withdraw from Winston-Salem qualifying. Riedi will play the US Open next, also having to fight for the main draw first.

Challenger Tour magic:

The seven match points Lestienne saved against Sweeny:

Events held this week:

  • IBG Prague Open by Moneta Money Bank (Challenger 50, clay)
  • Schwaben Open (Augsburg, Challenger 50, clay)
  • Lima Open (Challenger 50, clay)
  • Hengqin International Tennis Challenger (Zhuhai, Challenger 50, hard)

There will be no top 100 players in action as this week has only Challenger 50 events along with US Open qualifying.

First-round matches to watch:

Prague

  • (3) Luciano Darderi vs Maxime Janvier
  • Lukas Rosol vs (4) Rudolf Molleker

Augsburg

  • Nino Serdarusic vs (5) Manuel Guinard
  • Carlos Taberner vs (3) Roman Andres Burruchaga

Lima

  • Adolfo Daniel Vallejo vs Pedro Boscardin Dias
  • (4) Murkel Dellien vs Mateus Alves

Zhuhai

  • Colin Sinclair vs Leo Borg
  • (8) Nam Hoang Ly vs Evgeniy Karlovskiy

Main photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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