Jurij Rodionov had a career-high of World No. 100 before this week, but will now get his first real opportunity to stabilize at that level after picking up the Challenger Tour trophy in Koblenz. All the other events had fratricidal clashes to decide the title with an all-American final in Cleveland, an all-Australian final in Burnie, and an all-Argentinian final in Piracicaba. Read back on last week’s action:
Jurij Rodionov chose to miss the Australian Open due to an illness he picked up in December and instead started his season in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve the week before. The Austrian had to wait until Koblenz to pick up his first win of the season but fired up to make his way to the final without dropping a set and ensuring a top 100 return (having only spent one week there at No. 100 in 2023). Only Valentin Royer was able to take him to a tie-break as Rodionov scored impressive wins over Rudolf Molleker and Jurij Rodionov.
Brandon Nakashima has now made the semifinals (or better) in the last six Challengers he appeared in, including three in as many weeks. After struggling physically against eventual champion Leandro Riedi in the Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve semifinals, the 22-year-old was soon back to being a machine on the Challenger Tour circuit. Just like Rodionov, Nakashima didn’t drop a set and only needed one tie-break on the way to the final (against Filip Krajinovic, who was playing his first event since Roland Garros).
Rodionov came out with a clear gameplan, trying to grind down Nakashima and attack the forehand whenever possible. After a back-and-forth 79-minute opening set, it seemed like this plan would fail him. He was showing signs of fatigue and had to start going for it more to combat it. But it turned out the American only had a good poker face. Nakashima wasn’t in any shape to compete from 1-4 in the 2nd set and the 79-minute drag of an opener actually ended up granting the win to the player who lost it. Rodionov took his 7th Challenger title 6-7 6-1 6-2 and will return to the top 100, having only spent one week there in 2023. Both finalists will now take a week off.
Patrick Kypson almost beat the eventual champion Arthur Cazaux in Noumea and had a very decent showing against Emil Ruusuvuori at the Australian Open, which was a definite suggestion the American made plenty of progress with recent experience and the off-season. That became clear in Cleveland as he scored two awesome wins on his way to the final, first from a set down against Emilio Nava and then over top-seeded James Duckworth.
The reigning NCAA singles champion Ethan Quinn made two Challenger Tour semifinals at the tail end of 2023, but his start to the new season was actually quite poor with just one win in the Oeiras double and a round one loss at an ITF event. But Quinn is also becoming more and more complete as we speak and after blasting his way past tricky opponents like Stefan Kozlov and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, he beat Denis Kudla to make his first-ever final at this level.
Kypson was the favorite in the final and he raced to a 4-2 lead. That’s when Quinn had his best patch though, chipping a lot of returns back and making things uncomfortable for his older compatriot. The 24-year-old’s development hasn’t only been his service game though and he’s also growing as a match player. From that point onwards, he found a lot more composure to respond to every pressure moment with confidence and brought in a very mature performance. Kypson claimed his 3rd Challenger title 4-6 6-3 6-2 and will be back at Delray Beach in a week, while Quinn received a main draw wildcard for the ATP 250 in Dallas.
Federico Coria suffered an opening round loss to Renzo Olivo in the opening round at Punta del Este and got drawn against the same opponent in Piracicaba. Despite conditions that would theoretically suit his compatriot more, it was actually Coria who claimed the win this time and managed to get on a run, dropping just one set on the way to the final against last week’s champion Gianluca Mager. The 31-year-old was also in a Challenger Tour final just before the Golden Swing last year, winning Concepcion.
Camilo Ugo Carabelli almost qualified for the Australian Open, serving for the match against Jesper de Jong. Just like Coria, the Argentinian couldn’t be satisfied with his Punta del Este result (second-round loss to Murkel Dellien), but was able to turn things round in Piracicaba. Ugo Carabelli had a bit of a softer draw to the final being a sizeable favorite in every match and he took care of all that very well, only requiring one tie-break along the way (against Carlos Taberner).
The margins were slim in the all-Argentinian battle, but all the small percentages were only going in one player’s favor in this matchup. Especially at a bit of altitude, Ugo Carabelli would get a lot more out of his serve and just attack a lot more freely. Coria only started fighting back for control over the rallies when it was too little, too late. Ugo Carabelli claimed his 5th Challenger title 7-5 6-4 and had to miss out on Cordoba ATP 250 qualifying due to his run here. Coria will be defending his runner-up points from last year at that event, which could bring him down significantly in the rankings if he fails.
Omar Jasika won this event back in 2017 and this time returned to Burnie after a successful Australian Open qualifying campaign, which came as quite a bit of a surprise. He was able to clinch three deciding set wins, before not proving too much of a threat to eventual quarterfinalist Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinals. The key win on the way to another Burnie final came in the second round as he took out World No. 74 Rinky Hijikata, handling the windy conditions much better than his established opponent.
Alex Bolt also had a solid result qualifying in the Australian summer (second round in Adelaide), but not at the Melbourne Slam where he didn’t receive a wildcard. In Burnie, the 31-year-old was able to handle beatdowns to Stefanos Sakkelaridis and Adam Walton, before surviving two thrillers against Japanese players. Particularly the one against Yasutaka Uchiyama stood out with Bolt only just claiming the win in under three hours.
But it wasn’t the physical aspect that ruined Bolt’s chances at a win, it was more so how he was unable to blast through Jasika, who turned on the turbo mode with his feet. The more experienced of the two Australians claimed the second set in a tie-break by playing with a bit more patience, but overall didn’t generate anything on return up until the very last game of the match. Jasika claimed his 2nd Challenger title 6-2 6-7 6-3 and finds himself just a few spots behind his career-high of 223. Both finalists are expected in the second event in Burnie as well.
Challenger Tour magic:
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) February 1, 2024
Events held this week:
- Chennai Open (Challenger 100, hard)
- HCi Burnie International 2 (Challenger 75, hard)
- Lexus Nottingham Challenger (Challenger 75, indoor hard)
There will be no top 100 players in action.
First-round matches to watch:
- (WC) Nikoloz Basilashvili vs Chun-Hsin Tseng
- Tung-Lin Wu vs Evgeny Donskoy
- Rio Noguchi vs (4) Dane Sweeny
- Alex Bolt vs (2) Yuta Shimizu
- (WC) Kyle Edmund vs (7) Joris De Loore
- (WC) Henry Searle vs (4) Abdullah Shelbayh
Main Photo Credit: Robert Deutsch – USA TODAY Sports