Abdullah Shelbayh is already Jordan’s best-ever player and last week he also managed to clinch the country’s first Challenger title. Another maiden champion was Oriol Roca Batalla, who reached that milestone at 30 years old. Tomas Machac beat Jack Draper in a high-quality final in Orleans, while Thiago Agustin Tirante proved his altitude expertise with a title in Bogota. Read back on last week’s action:
Jack Draper only played one other Challenger this year (Winnipeg quarterfinals), but decided to return to the tour after a very promising run at the US Open. Orleans is one of the strongest events on the calendar and the draw had to be tough from the get-go. The Brit had none of it though and won his first four matches without even letting Radu Albot, Tristan Lamasine, Gijs Brouwer, or Luca Van Assche get to a tie-break, let alone take a set.
Tomas Machac is on fire in September, making the final in Cassis and then winning two matches for team Czech Republic at the Davis Cup. The 22-year-old had to play tie-breaks unlike Draper, but also didn’t drop a single set. His draw was even tougher though, pitting him against three players who recently won titles/made finals on the Challenger Tour – Maxime Cressy, Constant Lestienne, Benjamin Bonzi. The Czech went on to defeat Richard Gasquet in the final four.
The final line-up was one of the best we’ve had on the Challenger Tour recently and the final more or less delivered too. The long week caught up with Draper a bit and it in the final moments of the deciding set, it was the Czech who was taking more risks and changing directions with his down-the-line backhand. Machac won his 5th Challenger title 6-4 4-6 6-3 and returns to the top 100 (so will Draper). Both finalists are scheduled to play in Mouilleron-le-Captif.
This is the first season in which Gustavo Heide plays almost exclusively on the Challenger Tour (appeared in one ITF event, which he won). Earlier this year it led him to his first semifinal in Palmas del Mar, but the altitude clay 125-pointer in Bogota turned out to be even more successful. For the first three matches, the Brazilian only faced one break point in total. David Jorda Sanchis was the first player who managed to break him, but he finally went down in two sets as well.
Thiago Agustin Tirante is always one of the most dangerous altitude players with previous titles in Ambato and Morelos (the latter in 2023). Despite that, his first two matches in Bogota were extremely tough. Both Blaise Bicknell and Viktor Durasovic took him to a deciding set tie-break with the Norwegian even creating three match points. Tirante took these wins and played much cleaner in the next two rounds, taking out top-seeded Tomas Barrios Vera.
Unfortunately, Heide got sick and gave a walkover before the final. That left Tirante with his 3rd Challenger title, all at altitude. The runner-up still managed to take a special exempt spot into Campinas, since technically he was still in the event on Sunday despite pulling out at the last minute. Tirante will have a very short turnaround as he intends to play in Alicante.
Duje Ajdukovic won his maiden Challenger title in Luedenscheid at the beginning of August. This is by far the best season that the Croat has ever produced, but since that event he only managed one quarterfinal in his next five appearances. Things weren’t looking that much easier for him in Braga. The 22-year-old fought back from 1-6 0-2 down against Jan Choinski though and went on another run, coming back from 1-3 in the decider against Mate Valkusz to make his 2nd Challenger final.
Oriol Roca Batalla made his first Challenger final in Kenitra in 2015 when he was just 22 years old. Little did he know that he would need to wait for the next opportunity until he was in his thirties. It came at the end of August in Augsburg and while he couldn’t take that either, he managed to get another shot at a title about a month later. The only set he lost on the way to the final was actually in the qualifying to Giovanni Fonio, his run in the main draw very clean.
It was an electric start from Ajdukovic, who kept finding his backhand down-the-line and bailing out of all the cross-court rallies that way. Roca Batalla began taking the rallies into more favorable patterns though and the Croatian youngster eventually imploded. The last two sets were just complete error fests. Roca Batalla claimed his maiden Challenger 4-6 6-1 6-1, getting that milestone at the age of 30. Both finalists will now head to Lisbon with the champion grabbing a special exempt into the main draw.
Oliver Crawford has been one of the most successful players of the ITF Men’s Tennis Tour over the past three years, winning six titles in that time frame. In 2023 alone, he managed to make seven finals on that circuit. The 24-year-old, who had a college tennis stint for the Florida Gators, had made just two quarterfinal appearances at the Challenger level though. In Charleston, he tore his own record to shreds by not dropping a set on the way to the final (only needed one tie-break against Laurent Lokoli).
Abdullah Shelbayh lost a bit of his steam from the beginning of the season and down a set and a break to a fellow talented youngster Mark Lajal in round one, it seemed like the Jordanian might be out of Charleston on the first hurdle. But he picked himself up impressively to make the match more about his assets, before taking out Brandon Holt and Ethan Quinn. In the final four, he managed to outlast Ryan Peniston physically in a tough three-setter.
Shelbayh is the much more creative player of the two, using his lefty angles and court craft to play out the points the way he wants to. Crawford was always on the back foot, but a good fighting effort allowed him to level the match and take it to the decider. He never broke his opponent though and that proved costly as Shelbayh won his 1st Challenger title 6-2 6-7 6-3, becoming the first-ever Challenger champion from Jordan. The winner intends to play in Tiburon, while Crawford will take a couple weeks of rest before competing in Santa Fe.
Challenger Tour magic:
"Are you kidding me?!" 😯
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) September 27, 2023
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) September 27, 2023
Events held this week:
- Open de Vendee (Mouilleron-le-Captif, Challenger 100, indoor hard)
- Alicante Ferrero Challenger (Challenger 100, hard)
- Campeonato Internacional de Tenis (Campinas, Challenger 100, clay)
- Del Monte Lisboa Belem Open (Lisbon, Challenger 75, clay)
- Tiburon Challenger (Challenger 75, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Hugo Gaston, Dominic Stricker, Benjamin Bonzi, David Goffin (Mouilleron-le-Captif)
- Federico Coria, Juan Manuel Cerundolo (Campinas)
- Constant Lestienne (Alicante)
- Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Lisbon)
First-round matches to watch:
- (1) Hugo Gaston vs Otto Virtanen
- (7) Jack Draper vs Jakub Mensik
- Pablo Carreno Busta vs (3) Pedro Martinez
- Dennis Novak vs (2) Alex Molcan
Carreno Busta is down to World No. 193 after only playing four matches this season (1-3) due to elbow issues.
- (6) Hugo Dellien vs (WC) Eduardo Ribeiro
- Federico Delbonis vs (3) Facundo Diaz Acosta
Eduardo Ribeiro took out Hugo Dellien 6-3 2-6 6-3 in the opening round at Bogota last week.
- (WC) Pedro Sousa vs (6) Titouan Droguet
- (7) Zdenek Kolar vs Gilles-Arnaud Bailly
This will be the final appearance of former World No. 99 Pedro Sousa. He basically retired earlier this year, but said he might return for one last event in his hometown, Lisbon.
- (4) Denis Kudla vs Bernard Tomic
- Adam Walton vs (6) Vasek Pospisil
Main Photo Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports