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Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Nardi Maintains Form with First Clay Title

Luca Nardi returned to Europe after the Sunshine Double and came out on top in Naples as Pedro Martinez won a third Challenger title since October already. Meanwhile, two South American up-and-comers claimed their first trophies at this level with Nicolas Mejia in San Luis Potosi and Adolfo Daniel Vallejo in Sao Leopoldo. Read back on last week’s action:

Challenger Tour Weekly Recap


Pierre-Hugues Herbert survived a crazy encounter with Raul Brancaccio in the opening round, saving seven match points with some of them being just absolute madness (two he won with mishit mashes, one after an underarm serve). The Frenchman took all games until the end of the match and it kickstarted a stunning run of deciding sets as the 33-year-old made his first clay final at the Challenger level, going the distance every single time.

After beating World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and securing his Top 100 debut in Indian Wells recently, Luca Nardi had to make sure that this wouldn’t be a flash in the pan. No better way to do that than making a final (especially of a Challenger 125). His draw was filled with tricky in-form players, including last week’s Zadar champion Jozef Kovalik or his compatriots Matteo Gigante and Francesco Passaro. Nardi withstood all of that, taking the last two matches from a set down.

Herbert received treatment on his leg near the end of set 1, but Nardi didn’t pounce when needed and gave him too much space to attack in the 5-6 game. For a while it looked like the youngster might miss all of his chances as he also couldn’t serve out the second set at 5-4 with the errors creeping in. Nardi just kept coming though and eventually won his 6th Challenger title 5-7 7-6 6-2. The 20-year-old now finds himself inside the Top 50 of the ATP Race. Due to his run he had to withdraw from Estoril ATP 250 qualifying and it’s unclear yet where he’ll make his next appearance (the latter part he shares with Herbert).

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While Radu Albot used to get plenty of good results on clay at the beginning of his career, it had been almost five years since the Moldovan made it to a semifinal on this surface at any level. The 34-year-old found his footing again quite suddenly though, despite looking very uncomfortable in the loss to eventual Murcia champion Henrique Rocha the week before. This time he managed to make it to the final without dropping a set and only needing two tie-breaks (against Javier Barranco Cosano and Gregoire Barrere).

Pedro Martinez had to fight for his life in this tournament from the get-go and though he didn’t drop a set to Vilius Gaubas, it was surviving a mammoth 81-minute opening set that got him there. The game looked solid even in that encounter and he managed to make his second final of the season, once again on home soil (lost to Brandon Nakashima in Tenerife). Only Jesper de Jong was able to take a set from him on the way to Sunday’s championship match.

Martinez was getting through his service games a bit easier than Albot, but the Moldovan proved himself to be a rather tough nut to crack. It took until 5-all for him to come up with a couple of simple +1 forehand errors and his opponent took advantage with a brilliant return winner to land the first break. Things escalated from there as Martinez eventually locked up his 6th Challenger title 7-5 6-4. The champion will be in Estoril next, while Albot picked up a special exempt spot for Barcelona despite originally not planning to appear at that event at all.

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Sao Leopoldo

Enzo Couacaud‘s first South American venture this year ended with an early exit in Asuncion, but the Frenchman quickly made up for it in Sao Leopoldo. Particularly impressive were the three-set wins over recent Challenger Tour champions in Camilo Ugo Carabelli and Juan Pablo Varillas, the latter from a set down. Couacaud managed to make his second final of the season after losing to Arthur Cazaux in the opening week of the year in Noumea.

Former junior World No. 1 Adolfo Daniel Vallejo made his maiden Challenger final in Santa Fe last year and had been on the lookout for another breakthrough result since. He finally managed to land it in Sao Leopoldo despite Liam Draxl serving for the match against him in the opening round. The 19-year-old kept going though and was eventually quite fortunate to run into a very tired Felipe Meligeni Alves in the semifinals (due to rain, the Brazilian had to play for the second time that day).

Both players were coming off impressive runs but it was Vallejo who managed to show up with a better level in the final. The Paraguayan talent has a strong upside and was able to unleash it in one of the most important matches of his career. Vallejo claimed his maiden Challenger title 6-3 6-2 and finds himself ranked just outside the Top 300. Both players intend to appear in Florianopolis next, the Sao Leopoldo champion via a special exempt.

San Luis Potosi

Nicolas Mejia is known for enjoying altitude conditions, but it had been a while since the Colombian made any major impact at the Challenger level. With just one quarterfinal in 2023 (Medellin). After qualifying he had to survive two consecutive match points on return against Ernesto Escobedo in main draw round one, winning that clash from 6-7 3-5 down. That was the turning point as among Mejia’s scalps this week we eventually saw players like Thiago Agustin Tirante or Denis Kudla.

Matias Soto recently attracted a bit of attention by beating Andrea Vavassori in ATP 250 Santiago qualifying, but the 24-year-old Chilean only had one Challenger quarterfinal in his career prior to this week (Medellin 2023) and a career-high ranking of 523. It was a true cinderella story as he made it through the qualifying and just never stopped winning, only dropping one set on the way to the final (ironically in the one main draw match he was favored to win).

Soto’s final showing was really tense from the get-go and it took him almost an entire two sets to loosen up. Once he did, he took the last four games of the second from 3-5 down and was also threatening to go up a break right away in the decider. Mejia survived that tough moment with the momentum against him and claimed his maiden Challenger title 6-1 5-7 6-2, over the course of the match controlling the ball a lot better. Both finalists picked up special exempt spots into Mexico City.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held this week:

  • Mexico City Open (Challenger 125, clay)
  • ENGIE Open (Florianopolis, Challenger 75, clay)
  • Emilio Sanchez Academy by Waterdrop (Barcelona, Challenger 75, clay)
  • Open Citta della Disfida (Barletta, Challenger 75, clay)

There will be no Top 100 players in action.

First-round matches to watch:

Mexico City

  • (1) Thiago Agustin Tirante vs Federico Gaio
  • (SE) Matias Soto vs (3) Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard

Soto beat Mpetshi Perricard in the San Luis Potosi semifinal last week.


  • (ALT) Edoardo Ribeiro vs Alvaro Guillen Meza
  • (SE) Adolfo Daniel Vallejo vs (4) Roman Andres Burruchaga


  • (5) Vitaliy Sachko vs Tristan Lamasine
  • Lukas Neumayer vs (2/WC) Bernabe Zapata Miralles


  • (4) Benjamin Bonzi vs Jiri Vesely
  • (8) Francesco Maestrelli vs Francesco Passaro


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