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Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Kukushkin and Napolitano Claim Their First Titles in Years

Mikhail Kukushkin hadn’t triumphed on the Challenger Tour in six years, Stefano Napolitano in eight. But besides the veterans, it was also a week for the youth, with Clement Chidekh claiming his maiden title and Zsombor Piros getting close to the Top 100 yet again. Read back on last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap


Richard Gasquet found himself on a five-match losing streak coming into Manama and didn’t even get an easy opening round with Marc-Andrea Huesler awaiting him in a bit of a blockbuster. But the Frenchman, who played seven Challengers last year and made the San Benedetto final, was able to bounce back quickly and only dropped one set on the way to another championship match. In the quarterfinals, he took out Billy Harris 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.

Coming off a semifinal run in Nottingham, Mikhail Kukushkin just kept showing how well he’s started this season. The Kazakh never allowed anyone to get more than four games in a set on the way to the final and fended off a couple of very talented youngsters. Abdullah Shelbayh was the Manama runner-up last year, but perhaps even more impressive was how Kukushkin handled Jakub Mensik in the semifinals, rendering the Czech completely powerless.

It was a final with a combined age of 73 between the two players, the oldest Challenger Tour final since David Ferrer beat Ivo Karlovic at 2018 Monterrey. Kukushkin trailed the head-to-head 0-4 (including a main tour final in 2013), but he just wasn’t going to be stopped this special week. Any time Gasquet would hit the ball with a bit more loop (and you get that a lot from his forehand technique especially), his opponent was instantly there to crack his forehand cross-court. Kukushkin claimed his 15th Challenger title (1st since 2018) 7-6 6-4 and returned to the top 200 shortly after missing the cut for Australian Open qualifying last month. He’ll skip this week’s Tenerife event and be back for the next one now, Gasquet plays the ATP 250 in Doha.

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Seong-chan Hong made a couple of deep runs in Nonthaburi at the start of the year and had only played Davis Cup since until showing up in Bengaluru. The South Korean had to suffer in the quarterfinal against Ramkumar Ramanathan, finally putting away the home-crowd favorite in just under three hours. In the final four, he had to stop Oriol Roca Batalla, who was having a bit of a magical week despite being away from his favorite surface.

Stefano Napolitano was the player to snap Sumit Nagal’s run, as the Indian was already on eight wins and sixteen sets in a row. While fatigue definitely played its part, it’s not like Napolitano hadn’t been on an upswing for at least a few months. He lost to eventual runner-up Luca Nardi in the Chennai quarterfinals and followed it up here with his first Challenger Tour final since 2019. Moez Echargui had him on the ropes in the second round with a 2-0 lead in the second set and a 4-2 one in the decider.

Napolitano started the final with some sloppy errors on the attack, and to his credit, Hong was playing with a lot of inspiration as well. Purely in terms of ball-striking, he was much stronger than the South Korean, though, and over the course of the final, he was really starting to show it. Their ability to create offense was the big difference-maker as Napolitano claimed his 2nd Challenger title (1st since Ortisei 2016) 4-6 6-3 6-3 and earned a Top 200 return. Both finalists are expected to appear in Pune as well.


Matteo Martineau has been enjoying a full-on Challenger Tour breakthrough the past couple of weeks, making the semifinals in Orleans, maiden final in Nottingham and now getting all the way to Sunday again in Cherbourg. After dropping a set to his young countryman Mae Malige in the opening round, the 25-year-old went on to put in impressive displays against Benoit Paire, Alibek Kachmazov, and Michael Geerts to make back-to-back Challenger finals.

Zsombor Piros had a god-like streak in the spring of last year, but after that failed to the next step and break the Top 100. The run in Cherbourg was his return to form after a long while. Taking advantage of a bit of an easier draw he first, he really managed to play himself into the right groove by the end of the week. The only player to take a set off him was Nikolay Vylegzhanin in the quarterfinals, and Piros came back the next day to score a big win over second-seed Quentin Halys.

Martineau tried his best, but for the second time in two weeks, couldn’t quite secure that maiden title. Perhaps a little tired from all his efforts, he approached the match with an even more aggressive game plan than usual and was trying to close down the net as often as possible. The Hungarian always had the defensive resources to beat him, though, and just kept turning defense into offense on him time and time again. Piros claimed his 5th Challenger title 6-3 6-4 to get 44 points away from the Top 100. He will try to get it done in Tenerife the next two weeks, while Martineau entered Pau on a special exempt.

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Clement Chidekh was a college tennis star for the University of Washington, which didn’t stop him from picking up six ITF titles over the past few years. The 22-year-old hadn’t been past the quarterfinals at the Challenger level though, reaching a few milestones this past week. Getting to the final put him on a nine-match win streak, along with a 15K title in Grenoble, and the Frenchman only lost one set in his first four matches (to Hamish Stewart).

Paul Jubb had his 2023 season ruined by an injury, missing six months and slowly coming back step-by-step to win an ITF title in December. This year he’s hitting the Challengers again and has been very consistent, making it through the opening round in every single event. Starting from the qualifying draw in Glasgow, Jubb won six matches, including tough battles with last year’s Wimbledon junior champion Henry Searle or Elmar Ejupovic to make his 2nd Challenger final.

Chidekh was extremely nervous in the first thirty minutes of the final, losing seven games in a row. It seemed like Jubb would be able to keep up the pressure regardless of the Frenchman raising his level, as he was really going after his shots. But a beautiful sequence of points to break at 4-4 0-30 in the second set provided the 23-year-old an opportunity to level the match, and he rode that momentum onto the decider, suddenly becoming the dominant player offensively and really taking Jubb’s game apart. Chidekh won his maiden Challenger Tour title 0-6 6-4 6-1 and returns to the Top 400. He’ll appear in Pau with a special exempt now, while the runner-up takes some rest before Santa Cruz in March.

Events held this week:

  • Terega Open Pau Pyrenees (Challenger 125, indoor hard)
  • Pune Metropolitan Region Challenger (Challenger 100, hard)
  • Tenerife Challenger 2 (Challenger 75, hard)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Jurij Rodionov, Arthur Rinderknech, Brandon Nakashima (Pau)
  • Sumit Nagal (Pune)

First-round matches to watch:


  • (8) David Goffin vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert
  • Joris De Loore vs (3) Brandon Nakashima


  • (1) Sumit Nagal vs Yu-Hsiou Hsu
  • (ALT) Philip Sekulic vs (5) Dalibor Svrcina


  • (4) Filip Misolic vs Dimitar Kuzmanov
  • Alejandro Moro Canas vs (3) Pablo Llamas Ruiz


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