Roberto Bautista Agut and Fabio Fognini met in the first former top 10 Challenger final since Guillermo Canas beat Nicolas Lapentti in Montevideo in 2006. That encounter really delivered as well, featuring a couple of stunning match point saves and a deciding set tie-break. We’re nearing the end of the season and everyone is trying to lock up their Australian Open main draw spots. Yosuke Watanuki and Alejandro Tabilo produced great efforts to get closer to that, taking trophies in Yokohama and Brasilia, respectively. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:
ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap
Bautista Agut hadn’t played a Challenger in over 10 years before Malaga at the beginning of October. The Spaniard used it to come back after an injury and while it didn’t go well (lost to Billy Harris in round two), he decided to finish his season at another event of this level in Valencia. This time the veteran was much cleaner, not dropping a set on the way to the final. He didn’t even allow his opponents to get to a tie-break with only Andrea Pellegrino and Alejandro Moro Canas getting to a 5-7 scoreline.
Fognini is determined to end the season on a very strong note and in Valencia, he was trying to follow up an ATP 250 semifinal in Metz. After some patchy performances against Riccardo Bonadio and Jozef Kovalik, he was in phenomenal shape in the matches against Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, barely dropping his focus at any point. The Italian made his second Challenger final of the season (Genoa), despite not playing an event at this level for 11 years before this summer.
It was just the fifth final in history between two former top 10 players, first in 17 years (Guillermo Canas defeated Nicolas Lapentti at 2006 Montevideo). And what a final it was as Bautista Agut was in the lead early, serving for the win at 6-3 5-4. Fognini saved two match points and took it to a decider, which maybe wasn’t as rich in quality as the first two sets, but certainly had all the drama.
The Italian once again needed lots of focus and determination to come up with the constant excellence that his opponent’s precision forces you to bring. He did just that and claimed his seventh Challenger title (first since 2010) 3-6 7-6 7-6. He’ll fight for the Australian Open main draw in Maia next week, while Bautista Agut has ended his season.
No one could have predicted Roman Andres Burruchaga’s run when he was really struggling against Hernan Casanova in the opening round and looked weaponless on a hard court. But the Argentinian soon found a way to excel in the altitude conditions, controlling the ball better than his opponents and taking advantage of the free points on serve he usually can’t get. In the aforementioned opener against Casanova, he was 1-6 3-5 down and saved three match points.
Alejandro Tabilo was the third-highest ranked player in the field, but had to start from the qualifying as a late sign-up. That didn’t bother him though, especially as the draw wasn’t full and he only needed one match to get into the main event. It was clear that he could really shake things up depending on where he lands and that’s precisely what he did. To make the final, he needed to survive an absolute thriller against Bernard Tomic in the quarterfinals, saving two match points.
The last few aggressive opponents couldn’t solve the Burruchaga riddle, so what could Tabilo do to end up with a different outcome? For starters, the Chilean was serving extremely well and never allowed his opponent any look on return. His previous matches also seemed to help him play with controlled aggression that usually isn’t possible in such tough conditions at altitude. Tabilo did have a minor blip in the second set tie-break losing a 6-3 lead, but eventually took his fifth Challenger title, fourth in 2023, 6-3 7-6.
The runner-up in Yokohama last year, Yosuke Watanuki still needed to gain plenty of points to finish the year in the top 100. As the top seed at the event, he was moving through the draw in a very convincing manner despite dropping sets to Giovanni Fonio and Michael Mmoh. He only lost one game combined in these two deciders though. Watanuki made his eighth Challenger final, six of which have been on home soil. Even getting to the championship match wasn’t enough to get Watanuki back into the top 100 though.
Yuta Shimizu made a couple of finals earlier this year in Puerto Vallarta and Chicago, finding another great run here. After beating Marc Polmans and Jason Jung, he was engaged in a crazy thriller with Coleman Wong in the quarterfinals. After failing to serve out the match twice and missing two match points in the second set, Shimizu then had to save three of his own until he prevailed in a three-tie-break clash. The final run more or less secured his Australian Open qualifying spot.
Watanuki quickly went up 3-0 40-0 with insane shotmaking, but it did feel like it’s impossible to keep that sort of level up against a counter-puncher like Shimizu. The 24-year-old was able to make it much tougher for his opponent from that point onwards, not falling into the trap of trying to rush off the ground as much as his opponent was anymore. The contrast of styles made for an entertaining affair, but ultimately it was the top seed Watanuki who managed to prevail and clinched his fourth Challenger title 6-4 7-6. Both players are expected to show up in Yokkaichi where they’ll face each other in the opening round!
Challenger Tour magic:
Fabio Fognini wins his 7th Challenger title (1st since 2010), beating Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6 7-6 7-6 in Valencia.
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) November 26, 2023
Tabilo is already in the SFs, although the win over Tomic today was wild. Had to save 2 MPs to take it 6-4 6-7(4) 7-6(9).
Bernie won a 36-shot rally to break in the 3rd, making himself tough to hit through with that slice/pushy groundstrokes combination. Such a key point here: https://t.co/eU3G0JPxDo pic.twitter.com/wIkVBb5u4I
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) November 24, 2023
Events held this week:
- Maia Open (Challenger 100, indoor clay)
- Yokkaichi Challenger (Challenger 100, hard)
- eo Hotels Maspalomas Challenger (Challenger 75, clay)
- Challenger Dove Men+Care Temuco (Challenger 75, hard)
Top 100 players in action:
- Nuno Borges, Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Maia)
- Yosuke Watanuki (Yokkaichi)
First-round matches to watch:
- (5) Elias Ymer vs Marco Trungelliti
- Jozef Kovalik vs (2) Albert Ramos-Vinolas
- (1) Yosuke Watanuki vs Yuta Shimizu
- (4) Zizou Bergs vs Altug Celikbilek
It’s a very early rematch of Sunday’s Yokohama final as Watanuki takes on Shimizu again.
- (1) Pedro Martinez vs Nicholas David Ionel
- Alejandro Moro Canas vs (2) Sumit Nagal
Moro Canas defeated Nagal 6-4 6-3 in the opening round at Valencia last week.
- Pedro Sakamoto vs (8) Juan Pablo Ficovich
- Federico Agustin Gomez vs (4) Aleksandar Kovacevic
Main photo credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports