Alex Michelsen cooled off recently after his sensational summer, but a title in Knoxville allowed him to debut in the top 100. Luciano Darderi and Luca Nardi are trying to make it to the NextGen Finals and are currently just seven points away from each other after triumphing as well last week. Corentin Moutet was another player who found his form after a poor patch, while Liam Draxl picked up his maiden trophy in Calgary. Read back on last week’s action:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Moutet made a quarterfinal in his first Challenger event of the season in Bordeaux, but fell into a big slump and arrived in Helsinki on a six-match losing streak (including three at this level). He managed to take out the serve-and-volleying duo of Maxime Cressy and Antoine Bellier first up, before getting engaged in a dramatic semifinal with Arthur Rinderknech. Moutet saved two match points at 5-7 4-5 on return (defending a couple of smashes on one of them) and made his first final in 14 months.
Sumit Nagal had only appeared in five indoor Challengers in his career, winning one match back in 2019 at Drummondville. The Indian entered Helsinki on three losses in a row, although he did push Dominik Koepfer in Basel qualifying. Somehow he found himself much more at home in the indoor conditions at this event, beating the likes of Dennis Novak or Jakub Mensik. In the quarterfinals, he stopped hometown hero Emil Ruusuvuori (via second-set retirement).
What usually causes issues for Nagal indoors (or on any faster surface) is the serve advantage for his opposition and the way they can overpower him off the baseline. That doesn’t hold up with Moutet though and the match eventually became a drawn-out baseline battle, which the Indian enjoys. He was even able to put himself in a 2-0 lead in the decider, but didn’t win a game after that. Moutet claimed his seventh Challenger title 6-3 3-6 6-2 and plays Danderyd next, while Nagal will rest for a week before Valencia.
After making a major splash with the Challenger title in Chicago and ATP 250 final in Newport earlier this year, Alex Michelsen suffered a few disappointing exits down the stretch as he was trying to secure Australian Open main draw. He eventually found his mojo again in Knoxville, but it didn’t come easy. Bernard Tomic briefly led him by a set and a break, while Gabriel Debru and Tennys Sandgren also took him to deciding sets on the way to the championship match.
Denis Kudla suffered a few early losses in the next events after winning Columbus and avoided another one here despite a tough opener with Patrick Kypson. Emilio Nava also took the first set against him, falling to a second Kudla fightback in the semifinals. The 2017 runner-up made it to the championship match in Knoxville again, beating three compatriots and one foreigner in Aidan McHugh. After a mostly mediocre season, the 31-year-old found his second deep run.
It took Michelsen a long while to finally break Kudla and turn his advantage in most of the games into a set lead, but he finally did on his eighth opportunity. The older of the Americans fought back though and while he couldn’t match his opponent in terms of the ease of dictating and pulling the trigger, he did produce a few stunning shots to get back on level terms. It was all to no avail as Michelsen claimed his second Challenger title 7-5 4-6 6-2 and broke the top 100, which he’ll now want to confirm to make the Australian Open main draw. Both players are supposed to wrap up their seasons in Champaign.
Dominik Koepfer returned to the Challenger level for the first time since June to try to defend his Calgary title. The German was barely dropping games on the way to the semifinal, not allowing either of his first three opponents to take more than three games in a set. Just like in the 2022 edition, Koepfer was supposed to play Gabriel Diallo in the semifinals. This match never got to be though as his opponent withdrew before it started with an injury.
Having graduated University of Kentucky this year, Draxl won two ITF titles since the summer and made the quarterfinals in his only Challenger appearance in Palmas del Mar. Five months later he returned to this level of competition with a Calgary wildcard and had a career-best run, beating fellow collegians Inaki Montes-de la Torre and Andres Martin in three-set battles on the way to the final. With only one top 300 opponent faced on the way, Koepfer was surely going to be his toughest test yet.
Usually a bit more of a grinder with lots of grit, Draxl played such inspired, bold tennis all week in Calgary in front of the home crowd. That continued in the final, which was tight until he found a bit of an opening for himself at 5-4 up in the opener. Koepfer didn’t take that well and playing some shocking tennis to go down 0-4 in the second. His brief fightback was expertly thwarted by Draxl, who picked up his maiden Challenger title 6-4 6-3. The Canadian jumps over a 100 spots in the ATP Rankings to break the top 300 and picks up a special exempt for Drummondville, where Koepfer will be the top seed again.
Darderi put himself right back into NextGen ATP Finals talk with his run in Lima, making his third Challenger final of the season. After barely surviving Kilian Feldbausch in the opening round, he scored another three-set win over the top seed and home crowd favorite, Juan Pablo Varillas. The 21-year-old also snapped Alejandro Tabilo’s eight-match win streak (including the title in Guayaquil the week before) by taking him out in the semifinals.
Mariano Navone has been the best player of the Challenger season, picking up five titles and arriving in Lima on a 10-match win streak. The Argentinian drew Federico Coria in the opening round, a rematch of their recent Buenos Aires final. Despite that horrific luck, he managed to beat one of his tennis inspirations again and kept his brilliant patch going, defeating Francisco Comesana in the semifinals (he’s now 4-1 against him this year, a matchup he once was 0-6 in).
Navone had been a beast in Challenger finals in 2023, owning a 5-0 record. He started the match with another emphatic display in the opening set, but soon enough Darderi’s forehand began taking over the control over the rallies. The Argentinian almost pulled off an inspired comeback from 3-5 down in the decider, eventually coming up short four games later. Darderi claimed his second Challenger title 4-6 6-3 7-5, snapping Navone’s 14-match win streak. He’s now engaged in a very tight contest for the last NextGen Finals spots. Both finalists are scheduled for Montevideo this week.
Coming off the title in Sydney, Taro Daniel was the top seed and overwhelming favorite for the title in Matsuyama as well. The Japanese dropped a couple of sets along the way (to Moez Echargui and Yu-Hsiou Hsu), coming out on top in both deciders. Playing two matches on Saturday might have been a bigger issue with the accumulated fatigue, but he didn’t really let it show. By the time he made the final, he had won 9 matches across the past 12 days.
Nardi, who’s still in contention for the NextGen Finals, chose to chase that goal with the full Japanese Challenger swing. His opener in Matsuyama almost ended up poorly when he blew a 5-2 lead in the decider against Seong-Chan Hong, but the Italian managed to steady the ship in time for the deciding tie-break. Playing twice in a day also wasn’t a problem for him, especially as he took out both Bu Yunchaokete and Geoffrey Blancaneaux in straights on Saturday.
Daniel went up to a 6-3 3-0 lead in another final, hoping to lock up back-to-back titles. Was that when a touch of fatigue kicked in? We can only guess, but the facts are that Nardi started bullying him around the court with the forehand. Over the next fifteen games, Daniel was able to take only three. Nardi won his fifth Challenger title, 2nd this year, 3-6 6-4 6-2 and is now locked in a very tight race for the last NextGen Finals spot. He will keep playing the Japanese swing, while the runner-up chose to finish his season after earning 155 points in 3 weeks and securing his Australian Open main draw spot.
Challenger Tour magic:
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) November 11, 2023
Events held this week:
- Uruguay Open (Montevideo, Challenger 100, clay)
- Good to Great Challenger (Danderyd, Challenger 75, indoor hard)
- Paine Schwartz Partners Challenger (Champaign, Challenger 75, indoor hard)
- Challenger Banque Nationale de Drummondville (Challenger 75, indoor hard)
- Hyogo Noah Challenger (Kobe, Challenger 75, indoor hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Pedro Cachin, Federico Coria (Montevideo)
- Hugo Gaston, Maximilian Marterer, Flavio Cobolli (Danderyd)
- Dominik Koepfer (Drummondville)
First-round matches to watch:
- (6) Hugo Dellien vs Oriol Roca Batalla
- Camilo Ugo Carabelli vs (2) Federico Coria
- (1) Hugo Gaston vs Corentin Moutet
- Oscar Otte vs (2) Maximilian Marterer
- (3) Emilio Nava vs (WC) Ethan Quinn
- Bernard Tomic vs (2) Alex Michelsen
- Luke Saville vs (6) Zizou Bergs
- Cannon Kingsley vs (2) James Duckworth
- (1) Jurij Rodionov vs Frederico Ferreira Silva
- Yu-Hsiou Hsu vs (7) Bu Yunchaokete
Main photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports