It was a thrilling finish to the USTA’s Australian Open wildcard challenge with Alex Michelsen, Patrick Kypson, and Brandon Nakashima all making finals. Montevideo ended up with an extremely high-profile clay battle in the last South American event on the dirt this year, while Maximilian Marterer was rewarded for an extremely strong patch of late with a title in Danderyd. Zizou Bergs is back on track with a trophy in Drummondville, while Ajdukovic was a rather surprising indoor champion in Kobe. Read back on last week’s action:
Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Facundo Diaz Acosta dropped off a bit after debuting in the top 100 earlier in 2023, but a strong run in Montevideo could still let him fight for a top 100 finish. The Argentinian delivered clutch wins over Roman Andres Burruchaga and Gustavo Heide to get to the final, saving three match points against the latter (two groundstroke winners and an ace). As it turned out, to climb his way back into the top 100 he would need to win the title.
Recently finding some form after returning to South America, Thiago Monteiro hadn’t played in a few weeks since losing in the Santa Fe semifinals to Mariano Navone. Unseeded in Montevideo, the Brazilian was always going to be a dangerous unseeded floater though and managed to take out established opponents like Hugo Dellien and Camilo Ugo Carabelli. On the way to the final, he also defeated Dellien’s brother, Murkel.
Diaz Acosta came out with some really sharp aggressive hitting on Sunday, playing some of his best tennis of the week. Monteiro was falling behind in this lefty duel and also slipped in the second set, hurting his hand. He still held on for a few games, but just couldn’t come close to erasing the deficit and couldn’t hit his backhand properly. Diaz Acosta won his fifth Challenger title (fourth in 2023) 6-3 4-3 30-0 (retirement) and returns to the top 100 and his career-high of world #93. He’ll now rest up for a week before Temuco, while the runner-up is still in the draw for Brasilia.
Nakashima decided to finish his disappointing season with a three-week Challenger swing in Europe and is slowly regaining his form. In Bergamo two weeks before Danderyd, he led the eventual champion Jack Draper by a break in the deciding set. This event he was just extremely clean in though, only getting taken to one tie-break on the way to the final (by David Goffin). In the semifinals, he snapped a 15-match win streak of Alexander Blockx, this year’s Australian Open juniors champion, who was competing in his first Challenger ever.
Maximilian Marterer recently returned to the top 100 after over four years by making the final in Ismaning. The German’s great patch of play is far from over yet and by the time he made it to another championship match in Danderyd, he was already 13-3 in his last 16 matches. Only Maxime Cressy managed to take him to a deciding set, but Marterer stayed strong and delivered either a bagel or a breadstick to each of his first four opponents.
Marterer was the first opponent all week who found himself able to trade blows with Nakashima and come out on top a lot of the time. It’s not that it was easy to contain the American’s game though and until 2-6 5-4, he struggled to find a breakthrough being 0/8 on the break points. But once he did he emerged as the better player and made so many inroads on return in the last two sets. Marterer clinched his ninth Challenger title 2-6 6-4 6-3 and likely secured a top 100 finish. He’s still in the draw in Valencia though, while Nakashima chose to end his season and very likely missed out on the USTA wildcard for the Australian Open by just one win.
Michelsen broke the top 100 with his title in Knoxville the week before and kept it going, defeating Bernard Tomic in the opening round again (this time comfortably). Despite not earning any points in the first two weeks of the USTA’s Australian Open wildcard challenge, the 19-year-old suddenly found himself in pole position to win and secured it by making back-to-back finals. He was running low on steam against Titouan Droguet, but saved all 6 break points in the last two sets and prevailed.
However, second place in the USTA wildcard challenge could also prove important as Michelsen is likely to get into the Australian Open main draw automatically. Kypson, who won the Roland Garros wildcard earlier this year, kept himself alive in that race (for the second spot behind Michelsen) by making the final with a great win over Aleksandar Kovacevic along the way. But to get there he needed to beat Michelsen and for Nakashima to lose in Danderyd.
Michelsen was already on fumes in the semifinals against Droguet and his state didn’t improve on Sunday. He gave it a good fight, but Kypson really enjoyed himself in that matchup and dominated the rallies with his forehand. The 19-year-old wasn’t able to get enough out of his serve to possibly keep up. Kypson earned his second Challenger title 6-4 6-3 and if Michelsen gets into the Australian Open main draw directly (which looks likely), he’ll pick up the USTA wildcard. He also debuts in the top 200. The 24-year-old is still scheduled for Temuco after a week of rest, whereas the runner-up has already finished his season.
Having finally recovered from a wrist injury, Bergs came to Canada and lost to eventual runner-up Dominik Koepfer in Calgary. After two straightforward wins in Drummondville, his next opponent was again the German and at the very same stage of the event (quarterfinals). This time he managed to take out the top seed 7-5 in the third and benefitted from Michael Vrbensky’s withdrawal to make his seco
nd final of the season.
Having claimed back-to-back Challenger titles in Shenzhen and Playford recently, James Duckworth flew over to Canada and lost to Inaki Montes-de la Torre in the second round in Calgary. Drummondville was more up to his standards of late though as despite being forced to a deciding tie-break against Cannon Kingsley right away, the 31-year-old reached his sixth final of the season (2-3 record), beating Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, Ryan Peniston, and Li Tu.
Bergs led 4-1 with a double break after an electric start and while Duckworth got one of them back, the Belgian was playing some great offensive tennis and hitting his forehand much livelier than his opponent. Another big swing for him came at 2-5 down in the second set as he once again fired up for a few games and found a level of aggression that Duckworth couldn’t match. Bergs grabbed his sixth Challenger title 6-4 7-5 and will be trying to keep that momentum going in Yokohama next week. The runner-up is also a part of that draw.
Duje Ajdukovic had never made the quarterfinals of a hard court Challenger before this year’s Japanese swing, losing to August Holmgren at the last eight stage in Matsuyama the week before Kobe. The progress the Croat made this season keeps paying off though and he was able to lock up three consecutive deciding set wins, including over top-seeded Jurij Rodionov. This event was just his second ever final on hard courts after an ITF event in Tunisia back in 2018.
Sho Shimabukuro moved through the draw in much more dominant fashion, not dropping a set on the way to the final and requiring just two tie-breaks along the way. In the semifinals, the 26-year-old defeated last week’s Matsuyama champion Luca Nardi, who secured his NextGen Finals qualification with this run anyway. Shimabukuro earned his chance to exact revenge on Ajdukovic, who defeated him just 10 days prior to their final meeting in Kobe.
Shimabukuro started out handling Ajdukovic’s pace really well, absorbing and redirecting it to rush the Croat’s groundstrokes. The 3-0 lead with two breaks quickly evaporated though and the 22-year-old began taking over. In the second set, Shimabukuro required physio attention on every changeover and while he tried to keep going, he was just getting more and more overwhelmed by the vicious ball-striking of his opponent. Ajdukovic claimed his second Challenger title 6-4 6-2 and breaks the top 150 after his last event of the season (the runner-up finished his campaign too).
Challenger Tour magic:
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) November 13, 2023
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Events held this week:
- Aberto da Republica (Brasilia, Challenger 100, hard)
- Copa Faulcombridge (Valencia, Challenger 100, clay)
- Yokohama Keio Challenger (Challenger 75, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Cristian Garin (Brasilia)
- Roberto Bautista Agut, Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Maximilian Marterer (Valencia)
- Yosuke Watanuki (Yokohama)
First-round matches to watch:
- (4) Aleksandar Kovacevic vs (WC) Jose Fonseca
- Bernard Tomic vs (3) Hugo Dellien
- (1) Roberto Bautista Agut vs Andrea Vavassori
- (WC) Pablo Andujar vs (WC) Martin Landaluce
Former World No. 32 Pablo Andujar is playing the last event of his professional career in Valencia this week.
- (1) Yosuke Watanuki vs Yu-Hsiou Hsu
- (5) Maxime Cressy vs Andres Martin
Main photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports