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Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Draper Survives God-Mode Goffin, No Breaks in Ismaning

Jack Draper US Open

It was another thrilling week of Challenger Tour action as Jack Draper stole the show (and the championship match from David Goffin) in Bergamo. The only remaining carpet event on the circuit was held in Ismaning, while Taro Daniel took his 8th title at this level in Sydney. In Charlottesville, we got a maiden Challenger champion in Beibit Zhukayev, while Alejandro Tabilo picked up his 3rd trophy of the season. Read back on last week’s action:

ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Bergamo

After a couple of solid Challenger runs in France recently, Jack Draper returned to the circuit as the top seed in Bergamo. He instantly showed his class by dominating the first three matches in which neither of his opponents managed to grab more than four games in a set. It was only Brandon Nakashima who managed to trouble him in a rematch of their NextGen ATP Finals 2022 clash, but Draper came out on top after recovering from a break down in the decider.

David Goffin picked up a Challenger title at the beginning of the season at Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, but it didn’t exactly set him up for a great campaign. After back-to-back second-round exits to Arthur Fery in Mouilleron-le-Captif and Brest, the Belgian enjoyed a better draw here and was able to play himself into form. As the week went on, he scored a couple of high-quality wins over Alex Molcan and Mark Lajal, making his 2nd final of the season.

Goffin was in god mode in the opening set, flying all over the court and taking the ball with vintage timing. Draper managed to make him cool off and took the second set, but certainly wasn’t out of the woods yet. At one point, the break point conversion stats were at 1/1 for the Brit and 5/19 for the former World No. 7. Having fought back from a break down in the decider twice, Draper eventually claimed his 5th Challenger title 1-6 7-6 6-3. He plays the ATP 250 in Sofia next, while Goffin stays on the Challenger Tour in Helsinki.

Ismaning

Antoine Bellier had only made four Challenger quarterfinals all year, which made him fall out of the top 300 and forced him to start from the qualifying in Ismaning. Carpet is a wonderful surface for serve-and-volleyers and particularly when they can use the lefty angles and spins on their delivery. In six matches on the way to the final, Bellier saved all nine break points and all five tie-breaks played, not dropping a set. Bellier made his 2nd Challenger final (San Luis Potosi 2022).

Maximilian Marterer topped that though, having to fend off only one break point on the way to the final, although in four matches. Coming off a semifinal run at the ATP 250 in Antwerp, the German kept up that form and was serving incredibly all week, on top of crushing his +1 forehand while making very few mistakes. Reaching the final secured his top 100 return after over four years, which he already came one win away from in that aforementioned Antwerp run. He only needed one tie-break in eight sets.

This tournament deserved to end with a serve fest and that’s what it got. Bellier was the only one to face break points (3) across 36 straight holds. Once again, his first volley touch was superb and he drew out some key errors from Marterer’s forehand with the defensive slice. A tense deciding set tie-break saw the German erase a mini-break deficit three times, until his opponent found a brilliant backhand pass to end it. Bellier claimed his 2nd Challenger title 7-6 6-7 7-6. He picked up a special exempt for Helsinki, while Marterer plays the ATP 250 in Sofia.

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Sydney

Marc Polmans lost in the second round at Playford the week before, but managed to get more out of the second Australian Challenger of the fall. After a couple of straightforward wins, he was properly tested by Blake Mott in the quarterfinals. Thanasi Kokkinakis was his next opponent in what was the first head-to-head meeting between the two Aussies, but the Sydney top seed had to retire due to a right ankle injury after just a few games. Polmans made his second Challenger final of the season (Guangzhou).

Taro Daniel‘s schedule in recent years hasn’t included too many Challenger appearances, but the Japanese chose to end his 2023 campaign with a 4-week stretch of events at that level. He already looked like a threat in Playford, getting eliminated by a sensational performance from the eventual runner-up Coleman Wong. Daniel was a bit fortunate to get a couple of retirements in Sydney, although when push came to shove he took down second seed Rinky Hijikata in the deciding set tie-break in the semifinals.

The final was a little delayed by rain, but the players eventually got to the court. Despite several longer rallies, most of them were eventually going in Daniel’s favor. Polmans tried to stay on top of the points, but his level of comfort on the offense wasn’t too high and the Japanese was usually able to handle whatever was coming at him. Daniel claimed his 8th Challenger title 6-2 6-4 and made a big step towards securing his Australian Open main draw spot. Both finalists are scheduled for Matsuyama this week.

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Charlottesville

Beibit Zhukayev reached his maiden Challenger final at Little Rock earlier this year and impressed more recently by qualifying for the ATP 1000 in Shanghai. The 23-year-old was in serious trouble in the opening round, falling behind 4-6 3-5 against Thai-Son Kwiatkowski. He saved five match points on serve though, came back and then wasn’t broken again all the way to the final. He also went 4-0 in tie-breaks, two of them in the aforementioned Kwiatkowski battle.

Aidan Mayo made the semifinals at Granby well over a year ago, but then couldn’t repeat that for a while with his best Challenger finish of 2023 being a last-eight appearance in Lexington. Just like Zhukayev, he also fell into a tough situation early in the event, briefly a set and a break down to Christian Harrison in the qualifying. Mayo eventually ended up scoring a couple of solid wins against Alexander Ritschard and 2023 NCAA champion Ethan Quinn to make his first Challenger final.

Someone had to leave Charlottesville with a maiden title and it was Mayo who put the pressure on Zhukayev early. The Kazakh showcased his recent improvements in the stability of his baseline game and ability to play in the forecourt though, saving three break points and soon taking over. Along with that extremely fluid service motion, this was a scary mixture. Zhukayev took his first Challenger title 6-3 6-4 and will debut in the top 200. Both finalists are playing Knoxville next, Mayo with a special exempt.

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Guayaquil

Alejandro Tabilo had a very strong patch with three Challenger finals between April and July, but suffered a few disappointing losses in his most recent events. The Chilean won Guayaquil in 2021 and after not competing there last year, he came back trying to defend his title. The big win came over World No. 76 and top seed Federico Coria as Tabilo won a sensational 50/53 points on first serve, very rare on clay at sea-level. He had no issues following that up against Roman Andres Burruchaga.

Daniel Elahi Galan is fighting to secure his Australian Open main draw spot and chose to return to the basics in South American clay Challengers. While he was pushed by the 18-year-old Kilian Feldbausch in the opening round, the Swiss youngster was eventually forced to retire in the deciding set. Galan kept going and eliminated some big names like Hugo Dellien or Elias Ymer without that much of a hustle. He made his second Challenger final of the season (Sarasota).

The championship match itself ended up being a bit of a disappointment though. Tabilo’s snappy forehand offense was really bothering Galan, who couldn’t get his feet going early on in the match. The cross-court patterns of lefty spin against the Colombian’s weaker backhand weren’t to his liking either. Tabilo won his 4th Challenger title (3rd in 2023) 6-2 6-2 and is nearing a top 100 return. Both finalists are scheduled for Lima this week.

Challenger Tour magic:

 

Events held this week:

  • HPP Open (Helsinki, Challenger 125, indoor hard)
  • Calgary National Bank Challenger (Challenger 75, indoor hard)
  • Knoxville Challenger (Challenger 75, indoor hard)
  • Lima Challenger (Challenger 75, clay)
  • Unicharm Trophy Ehime (Matsuyama, Challenger 75, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Tomas Machac, Emil Ruusuvuori, Nuno Borges, Alexandre Muller, Jaume Munar, Flavio Cobolli, Arthur Rinderknech, Liam Broady (Helsinki)
  • Dominik Koepfer (Calgary)
  • Juan Pablo Varillas, Federico Coria, Daniel Elahi Galan (Guayaquil)
  • Taro Daniel (Matsuyama)

First-round matches to watch:

Helsinki

  • (1) Tomas Machac vs (SE) Antoine Bellier
  • (8) Liam Broady vs Brandon Nakashima
  • David Goffin vs (3) Nuno Borges

Calgary

  • (4) Gabriel Diallo vs Andrew Paulson
  • Maks Kasnikowski vs (3) Benoit Paire

Knoxville

  • (1) Michael Mmoh vs Martin Damm
  • Bernard Tomic vs (3) Alex Michelsen

Lima

  • (1) Juan Pablo Varillas vs Felipe Meligeni Alves
  • Mariano Navone vs (2) Federico Coria

Matsuyama

  • Seong-Chan Hong vs (3) Luca Nardi
  • Tung-Lin Wu vs (WC) Yasutaka Uchiyama

Main Photo Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran – USA TODAY Sports

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