Four Challenger 50 events were organized during US Open qualifying. Rudolf Molleker and Carlos Taberner returned to the winners circle after a while in the two European ones. Meanwhile, Arthur Weber and Alvaro Guillen Meza claimed rather unexpected maiden titles elsewhere. Read back on last week’s action:
Rudolf Molleker had been on an improved run of form since April, reaching the semifinals in Heilbronn and Amersfoort. His last event had ended with a disappointing exit to Ergi Kirkin though, but the German was quick to show that his better patch was far from over yet. On the way to the final, he didn’t drop a set and in fact, he was only broken once by Lukas Rosol. This brilliant display allowed to him to make it to a championship match on the Challenger Tour for the first time in well over four years.
The 2022 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion, Gabriel Debru made his maiden Challenger semifinal in Lyon recently, losing to eventual champion Alexander Ritschard. He was 15-4 since that event going into Prague and he was quick to improve that record. Starting from the qualifying draw, Debru survived six opponents and three deciding sets with Joao Sousa pushing him particularly close (3-1 up in the third). The 17-year-old was clutch when it mattered and made his first Challenger final.
It looked like the long week and the clash with Sousa took quite a lot out of Debru though. The young Frenchman kept trying to lure his opponents into backhand cross-court exchanges, but just wasn’t coming out on top in almost any of them. Despite a brief lapse of concentration at 6-2 5-0, Molleker claimed his 2nd Challenger title 6-2 6-2 (the previous one came when he was just 17 in Heilbronn 2018). His next tournament will be in Como, while Debru intends to rest up before Genoa qualifying.
Down to World No. 361 with both injuries and a poor run of form, Carlos Taberner was able to find a great space for himself at the Challenger 50 in Augsburg. The Spaniard was in trouble against Oliver Crawford in the second round, 0-4 down in the deciding set. He won the next four games and the match though, while the 1-6 opener in that one turned out to be the only set he lost on the way to the final. Taberner made his first Challenger final since March 2022.
That’s still nothing compared to the gap that Oriol Roca Batalla had, making his lone Challenger final back in 2015 in Kenitra. Since then, he only managed a couple of semifinals, including one late last year in Maspalomas. Roca Batalla also dropped just one set on the way to the championship match, beating Cristian Negritu in round one. He then impressed with a couple of routings of seasoned veterans like Steven Diez and Nino Serdarusic.
Taberner and Roca Batalla have somewhat similar, forehand-oriented grinding playstyles. There’s a big difference though in the offensive potential of their stronger wings. The 26-year-old was able to make things so much easier for himself with how he can spread the court and keep pushing Roca Batalla behind the baseline. Taberner claimed his 7th Challenger title 6-4 6-4 and will return to the top 300. Both players are expected to be back for Sevilla qualifying in a week.
Alvaro Guillen Meza has been pretty impressive at the ITF level recently, winning a couple of ITF 15Ks in Slovenia and Peru. It was the latter country that brought him his first huge Challenger run too (previous best was a quarterfinal). In Lima, he was a little unclutch when trying to finish off Gustovo Heide and Arklon Huertas del Pino (a little might be an understament). But he was alsways the one ahead, eventually winning both matches despite taking the scenic route.
With just seven Challenger appearances prior to this week, Blaise Bicknell was yet to win a main draw match. The Jamaican plays college tennis for the University of Tennessee and won his maiden ITF title in July. His path to the final involved a number of tricky matches, especially the 3-6 2-5 comeback against Ignacio Buse and a match point saved versus Murkel Dellien. This run ensured Bicknell’s top 500 debut.
The opening set was very even with Bicknell mostly blasting through his service games. You could see that Guillen Meza is just a much more skillful clay-courter, but he was struggling to make that visible. The Jamaican eventually faltered with a few simple errors in the tie-break though and that started the avalanche. Guillen Meza won his maiden Challenger title 7-6 6-1 and pushes his ranking into the top 400. He is scheduled for a 15K in Buenos Aires next, while Bicknell intends to appear at 25K Oldenzaal (making it to Europe in time won’t be easy though).
On a bit of a resurgence this year, Jason Jung was certainly among the favorites to raise the title. This event pitted him against some of the best players China had to offer before the emergence of the trio that we often see on the main tour right now. Out of Yan Bai, Zhe Li, and Fajing Sun, it was definitely the latter that made him work hardest for the win. Jung was already 3-5 down in the 3rd, but fought back to make his first Challenger final in almost exactly four years.
Arthur Weber is a fascinating case as the 31-year-old wasn’t even active on the professional circuit until 2017 and only started playing a full schedule around the summer of 2022. In about a year, the Frenchman got himself into the top 400. His two previous Challenger appearances both ended in the qualifying competition, he was a direct entry here. A winner of three ITF titles this year, Weber was able to make a final in his debut showing at the higher level.
Weber’s lefty counter-punching game was giving Jung a lot of trouble and he just couldn’t get his shot selection right. He had some amazing moments though with beautiful ball-striking and gutsy play, saving himself down a break point at 3-4 in the 2nd. The Taiwanese managed to pull off some great shots to take this match to a decider, but wasn’t able to maintain that. Weber claimed his maiden Challenger title 6-3 5-7 6-3, becoming the 4th oldest Challenger first-time champion ever (after Joseph Sirianni, Peter Fleming, and Martin Rodriguez). Both players will stay in China at Zhangjiagang next.
Events held this week:
- Challenger Citta’ di Como (Challenger 75, clay)
- Rafa Nadal Open by Movistar (Mallorca, Challenger 75, hard)
- Zhangjiagang International Challenger (Challenger 75, hard)
Due to US Open round one, Federico Coria (Como) and Hugo Gaston (Mallorca) will be the only top 100 players in action. They didn’t make the cut for the main draw and lost in the qualifying competition.
First-round matches to watch:
- (1) Thiago Seyboth Wild vs Franco Agamenone
- Rudolf Mollker vs (6) Flavio Cobolli
- (7/WC) Fabio Fognini vs Gerard Campana Lee
- (ALT) Luciano Darderi vs (3) Thiago Monteiro
- (1) Tomas Barrios Vera vs (ALT) Jules Marie
- (5) Mattia Bellucci vs (ALT) Yaroslav Demin
- (7) Ricardas Berankis vs Yasutaka Uchiyama
- (5) Li Tu vs Philip Sekulic