It was an extremely busy week of ATP Challenger Tour action with six events on the schedule, most of them in Europe. All the finals ended in straight sets, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t exciting. Christopher O’Connell prevailed in the final of top seeds in Shanghai, while Roberto Carballes Baena retained his Seville crown. Mattia Bellucci and Damir Dzumhur w much-needed trophies with the latter ending a losing streak of six Challenger Tour finals. Thiago Seyboth Wild went back-to-back to become the first player this year to grab four titles at this level. Read back on last week’s action:
Seyboth Wild ensured his top 100 debut by making the second round in Genoa, although only a very extreme set of circumstances could have kept him out in the first place. Last week’s Como champion didn’t stop there though and despite going down a set and a break to Riccardo Bonadio in the opening round, he managed the physical strain of going back-to-back weeks well later on. The 23-year-old didn’t drop another set on the way to the final.
Fabio Fognini has always been one of the players people didn’t expect to see grinding Challengers again, but the Italian has been surprisingly motivated this season (although he did say in an Instagram rant that the only reason he played Genoa was getting ready for Davis Cup, where he eventually didn’t make the team). Making his first final at this level in almost thirteen years, Fognini didn’t drop a set and wasn’t even taken to a tiebreak.
Seyboth Wild kicked off the final with a few rocket forehands and quickly ran away with the set. Fognini did improve his level though and the roaring crowd seemed to be getting to the Brazilian a fair bit. He was able to erase a small deficit though and stick around to have a chance at closing this out in the tiebreak. Seyboth Wild won his fifth Challenger Tour title 6-2 7-6 and became the first player to take four trophies at this level in 2023. He’ll represent his country in Davis Cup World Group I next. Fognini, as mentioned earlier, was originally intended to be part of Italy’s squad but didn’t make the cut in the end.
The defending champion in Seville (and runner-up from 2021) Carballes Baena was the top seed and the main title favorite. He was coming fresh off the US Open where he managed to take out Holger Rune, but wasted no time finding his clay-court rhythm again. After three rather comfortable wins, the Spaniard took on Hugo Gaston in the final four. It took him three hours and twenty five minutes to eventually prevail, saving three match points in the process.
Calvin Hemery reached the final in Troyes recently after a few years of drought and managed to lock up another huge run, this time in a Challenger 125 event. His win over world #66 Pedro Cachin was the first time he defeated a top 100 player in over four and a half years. He almost blew a 5-2 lead in the decider, but played a very clutch tiebreak. Third sets were the theme of Hemery’s week with all of his wins on the way to the final getting wrapped up in that way.
Hemery’s aggressive peaking kind of ran out by the time he made the final though. Both players were feeling it a bit after their thrillers on Saturday, but Carballes Baena was still so effective at grinding it out. The Frenchman tried his best to keep the points short but ultimately just didn’t control his attacking game well enough. Carballes Baena claimed his 11th Challenger Tour title 6-3 6-1 and retained his 2022 crown. Both finalists chose to withdraw from Szczecin this week.
Vit Kopriva won the title in Verona recently and seems to be doing much better since. The Czech did not have it easy in any round in Tulln with former top 100 players or gritty competitors all over his draw. Jurij Rodionov was the only one who pushed him to a deciding set, but quickly went down 1-5 and getting one of the breaks back was not enough. In the semifinals, Kopriva improved his head-to-head record against Maximilian Marterer to 3-0.
Sumit Nagal’s resurgence this year brought him back to the top 200 and the Indian is still getting some great results. Vitaliy Sachko was the only opponent who pushed him to a decider on the way to the final, before the 26-year-old scored high-quality wins against Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Flavio Cobolli. Nagal made his third Challenger championship match of the season, having defeated Jesper de Jong in Rome and Dalibor Svrcina in Tampere.
Kopriva maintained his incredible level from the previous two rounds, overwhelming Nagal early with just how fast he’s able to play off the ground. The Indian kept it a lot closer in the second set, but was unable to find a response to such brutal attakcing play from his opponent. Kopriva claimed his third Challenger title 6-2 6-4, grabbing two trophies in his last three appearances at this level. The Czech is now heading to Szczecin, while Nagal will be representing his country in Davis Cup World Group II.
O’Connell had a very successful Asian swing in 2022, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise that he headed there right after the US Open (where he lost to eventual finalist Daniil Medvedev in the first round). Top-seeded in Shanghai, he had very few issues on the way to the championship match. Yasutaka Uchiyama was the only player to take him to a tiebreak, but the Japanese was forced to retire not long after that. This event was just the fifth Challenger appearance of the season for O’Connell.
Yosuke Watanuki lost a tight four-set battle with Adrian Mannarino in the first round of the US Open and headed to China to compete in a Challenger. While the Japanese has a very high-risk, high-reward playstyle, he was quick to show how much separates him from the other players in the draw. The 25-year-old dropped just fourteen games on the way to the final with the standout win coming against former junior world #1 Juncheng Shang 6-4 6-2.
O’Connell was able to extract a lot of errors out of Watanuki from the very beginning of the match, giving him issues with low-dipping slices. The Japanese hit 20 aces in two sets, but was still playing catch-up. He did get his chance eventually with three set points at 5-4 in the second, narrowly missing a forehand that would have ended the point on one of them. O’Connell claimed his fifth Challenger Tour title with a 6-3 7-5, the previous one he earned also defeating Watanuki in the final. He’s going to play Guangzhou next, while the runner-up isn’t signed up for any tournament until the ATP 1000 in Shanghai (same venue).
Bellucci was extremely disappointing this season after a thrilling finish to 2022 and the way he qualified for the Australian Open in style. But the Italian is getting back on track and after two consecutive quarterfinal appearances at the Challenger level, it was time for his best run of the year. The only opponent who got him in trouble on the way to the final was Lucas Poullain, but Bellucci recovered from losing the opening set in a blowout to win 1-6 6-3 6-0.
Tomas Machac scored a great win over Kevin Anderson in the US Open qualifying, but lost to Borna Gojo in the final round (the Croat eventually made the last sixteen stage of the main event). His level was excellent though and he proved it in Cassis, making his second final of the season. In the final four, he took on the top-seeded Alexandre Muller and was forced to come back from a break down in the deciding set, eventually saving a match point in the tiebreak (unreturned serve).
Bellucci has a very wide repertoire of skills, but over the past few months he was often struggling with his shot selection. This time he was once again using his tools with confidence and clarity. His lefty serve was pretty incredible too, making a 48% in rate worth it for the Italian as he only lost one point on his first delivery. Bellucci claimed his third Challenger Tour title 6-3 6-4. He’s playing Rennes next, while Machac will be representing his country at the Davis Cup World Group stage.
Despite losing in the first round at US Open qualifying, Dzumhur made sure to turn that disappointment into a great couple of weeks during the main event. He made the semifinals in Mallorca, before going a step further in Istanbul. The only tough match on the way to the final saw him battle the 18-year-old sensation Dino Prizmic. Down 3-5 in the decider, Dzumhur won a 62-shot rally break point up to claw his way back into the match.
Lukas Klein needed a big run with plenty of points to defend until the end of the season (and in the ATP Race he was barely inside the top 250). While he eventually got there, it was nowhere near easy. The Slovak saved two match points in the opening round against Martin Damm, while Denis Yevseyev and Jesper de Jong were a hold of serve away from kicking him out of the event. In such wild fashion, Klein secured his first final of the season.
Dzumhur was on a six-match losing streak in Challenger Tour finals, dating back to June 2017 (and two of these only last year in Banja Luka and Sibiu). The unsinkable Klein couldn’t capitalize on a 0-40 on return at 6-5 in the first set and that’s where the match was won. Dzumhur clinched his eighth Challenger title (first in over six years!) 7-6 6-3. Both players will now represent their countries in Davis Cup World Group I.
Challenger Tour magic:
Dzumhur vs Prizmic was entering Monfils vs Simon AO territory, especially with this 62-shot slugfest of a rally. Eventually, it's the veteran who claims the 6-3 6-7 7-5 win (from 3-5 down). Prizmic's consistent style gives him the space to use his court craft.
📷: @ATPChallenger pic.twitter.com/mEElh0WZlS
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) September 8, 2023
Events held this week:
- Invest in Szczecin Open (Challenger 125, clay)
- Open Blot Rennes (Challenger 100, indoor hard)
- Atlantic Tire Championships (Cary, Challenger 75, hard)
- Challenger Bolivia (Santa Cruz, Challenger 75, clay)
- Guangzhou Nansha International Challenger (Challenger 75, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Pedro Cachin, Jaume Munar, Alexander Shevchenko, Federico Coria, Facundo Diaz Acosta, Hugo Gaston (Szczecin)
- Richard Gasquet, Gregoire Barrere, Quentin Halys, Corentin Moutet (Rennes)
- Juan Manuel Cerundolo (Santa Cruz)
- Christopher O’Connell (Guangzhou)
First-round matches to watch:
- (1) Roberto Carballes Baena vs Vit Kopriva
- Jan Choinski vs (2) Pedro Cachin
- (7) Liam Broady vs Zizou Bergs
- Maxime Cressy vs Emilio Nava
Now down to world #124, Maxime Cressy is playing his first Challenger event since Lugano 2022 (March).
- Bernard Tomic vs (5) Ryan Peniston
- Maxime Janvier vs (2) Alex Michelsen
- Joao Lucas Reis da Silva vs (7) Luciano Darderi
- Roman Andres Burruchaga vs (2) Genaro Alberto Olivieri
- (7) Evgeny Donskoy vs Antoine Bellier
- Beibit Zhukayev vs (2) Marc Polmans
Main photo credit: Taya Gray/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK