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Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Pouille and Vesely Back in the Winners’ Circle

Lucas Pouille, pictured, won a Challenger Tour title.

Lucas Pouille and Jiri Vesely had to wait for their next Challenger Tour titles (since 2019 and 2021, respectively), while Bu Yunchaokete is once again performing very strongly in the April/May Asian Swing. This week also produced a couple of maiden champions with Alejo Lorenzo Lingua Lavallen triumphing in Santos and Droguet overcoming a 0-4 Challenger final record to win Francavilla al Mare. Read back on last week’s action:

ATP Challenger Tour Weekly Recap

Mauthausen

Former world #10 Pouille has been healthier and more dangerous this season, including a Challenger final in Nonthaburi at the start of the year (where he actually had to retire with a back issue). This run was far from easy for the French veteran, but he started out by beating Dennis Novak in three sets and only improved along the way. Taking down Jan Choinski in two required some very clutch play, while top seed Francisco Comesana had to pull out with a calf issue down 6-7 1-3 in their tightly-contested semifinal.

Jozef Kovalik had already won two Challenger Tour titles this clay season, but facing Rome finalist Vilius Gaubas in the opening round seemed like a really tricky draw. As it turned out the Slovak didn’t even drop a set until the semifinals though, surviving some frustrating moments with blown leads against the aforementioned Lithuanian and Gerald Melzer. His final four match with Dimitar Kuzmanov was as tight as they come until the Bulgarian injured his thigh middle of the second set.

This final seemed like a treat and while it was still high-quality, Pouille claiming six games in a row from 4-3 to 6-3 4-0 kinda killed off plenty of excitement. The performance until that point was clinical and while he definitely wasn’t hitting as heavy as Kovalik, his all-rounded style was much more effective. Comeback attempt was brief and while in the last game the Frenchman had to dig himself out of a 0-40 hole, Pouille claimed his second Challenger title 6-3 6-3. It’s unclear whether this run will grant him a Roland Garros main draw wildcard or not. For now he’ll play Bordeaux/Turin this week, while Kovalik rests up before trying to qualify for the French Open.

Prague

Gauthier Onclin extended his indoor season with a nice run in March that included a 25K title in Saint-Dizier and was able to take that momentum to the clay season with some solid performances right out of the gate. It all came together in Prague though as the Belgian prevailed over Oriol Roca Batalla and Javier Barranco Cosano in thrilling matches, the former lasting way over three hours. His semifinal opponent, Alex Molcan, retired soon after the first set and Onclin made his maiden Challenger Tour final.

To state that 2024 hadn’t been kind to Vesely wouldn’t be a particularly bold statement, the former world #35 finding himself 1-11 for the year. But tennis works in mysterious ways and after surviving a thriller with Alejandro Moro Canas (missed five match points before finally claiming the win in a third set tie-break), things suddenly clicked for the 30-year-old. Three more victories allowed him to make his first final since the ATP 500 in Dubai in February 2022.

Vesely steamrolled Onclin in the opening set with big serving and early flat-hitting aggression on return, but the Belgian won a long 1-5 game and eased himself into the match. His baseline skills started prevailing over time and it wasn’t until 2-3 in the third set when he blinked again to gift the Czech a crucial break. What followed was a lot of nerves from both players with Vesely failing to serve out the win, missing three match points at 6-5, but ultimately claiming his ninth Challenger title 6-2 3-6 7-6. He chose to withdraw from Tunis, while Onclin picked up a special exempt into Oeiras.

Francavilla al Mare

Titouan Droguet was the top seed in Francavilla al Mare and lived up to that status, not dropping a set on the way to the final. The Frenchman only needed one tie-break (against Andrea Guerrieri), beating his compatriot Jules Marie and then three consecutive home country representatives. Having already missed out on a Challenger title earlier this year in Szekesfehervar, the 22-year-old was desperate to take the opportunity this time (0-4 record in finals overall).

Jacopo Berrettini has been in the shadow of his brother for years and while that likely won’t change anytime soon, the 25-year-old is recently showing he’s got plenty of hidden potential as well. After making his maiden Challenger semifinal in Barletta in April, the Italian went even deeper in Francavilla al Mare with four deciding set wins in a row, the craziest one including rallying from 0-4 in the third against Alexis Galarneau.

Despite all the long matches he had already played in Francavilla al Mare, Berrettini kept producing a good fight and was feeding off the energy of the crowd. Especially in the second set he kept pushing the Frenchman to the brink and even had a set point on return at 5-4, before eventually going down. Droguet claimed his first Challenger title 6-3 7-6 making his fifth final the charm. He’ll appear in Tunis next, while Berrettini picked up a special exempt for Oeiras. We’ll see whether this run can help the champion secure a Roland Garros main draw wildcard.

Wuxi

Former world #65 Egor Gerasimov has been playing a full Challenger schedule this year, but failed to push on after a good start to the season in Oeiras (semifinals). He then didn’t make another quarterfinal run all the way until Wuxi, but hit back with a top 100 win over top-seeded Max Purcell here. Against Jie Cui and Alibek Kachmazov he had to fight back from a set down, taking both matches including the latter which was moved indoors.

Bu has been having a great time this Asian swing, making the final in Gwangju and the semifinals in Guangzhou. This time the Chinese showed he’s strong early with a demolition of Omar Jasika in the opening round and was only pushed by Philip Sekulic in the semifinals. That match being moved indoors wasn’t really to Bu’s liking, but he still took it from 2-4 down in the decider to make a final in his home country for the first time in his professional career.

Bu was the favourite in the final and was definitely inspired by the crowd support. Gerasimov tried his best to stay close and put pressure on him in the rallies, but any longer, more physical exchanges were swiftly dominated by the Chinese. When the home crowd favourite went up a set and a break, his opponent had one small opportunity to fight back and when he missed it, the match was over in a flash. Bu claimed his second Challenger title 6-4 6-1 and will return to the top 200 when the new rankings are released after Rome. Both finalists will now take a week off with the champion coming back at Roland Garros qualifying, while Gerasimov intends to play the Challenger in Kachreti.

Santos

Hady Habib, a Lebanese-American player with college tennis history (Texas A&M), had only made one Challenger quarterfinal prior to Santos (2023 Karlsruhe). After coming over to Brazil for Porto Alegre and losing to Roberto Cid Subervi in the opening round, the 25-year-old stuck around for one more week and reached a milestone. The only player to trouble him on the way was Bruno Kuzuhara with an impressive win over Juan Bautista Torres ensuring his maiden final appearance.

Lingua Lavallen had only made one Challenger quarterfinal in his career (2022 Corrientes) but after picking up a 15K title in Bragado at the beginning of April, he was seeking to improve that best result in the South American Challenger 50 swing. He qualified but went out in the first round in Tucuman and lost in the final qualifying round in Porto Alegre, before finding his best level in Santos with just one set dropped in six matches on the way to the final (to Daniel Dutra da Silva).

Lingua Lavallen’s lefty game is a little more natural for clay courts, but he wasn’t really doing that much with the topspin cross-court early on and was getting burned by Habib quickly seizing his inside-out forehand opportunities. The Argentinian learned to avoid his opponent’s strengths as the match went on though. Eventually that took him over the line with Habib also struggling with a thigh issue in the deciding set. Lingua Lavallen claimed his first Challenger title 4-6 6-4 6-3 and will jump straight into the top 500 from 665th after Rome. Both finalists are still on the entry lists for ITF events next week (the champion in Argentina, runner-up in the United States).

Events held this week:

  • BNP Paribas Primrose (Bordeaux, Challenger 175, clay)
  • Piemonte Open Intensa Sampaolo (Turin, Challenger 175, clay)
  • Oeiras Open 4 (Challenger 75, clay)
  • 2024 Santaizi Challenger (Taipei, Challenger 75, hard)
  • KIA Tennis Open (Tunis, Challenger 75, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Arthur Fils, Pedro Martinez, Alexander Shevchenko, Roberto Carballes Baena, Daniel Evans, Mackenzie McDonald, Andy Murray, Rinky Hijikata, Taro Daniel, Roberto Bautista Agut, Stan Wawrinka, Constant Lestienne, Aleksandar Kovacevic, Sumit Nagal, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Hugo Gaston (Bordeaux)
  • Lorenzo Musetti, Mariano Navone, Matteo Arnaldi, Lorenzo Sonego, Luciano Darderi, Flavio Cobolli, Yannick Hanfmann, Thiago Seyboth Wild, Emil Ruusuvuori, Brandon Nakashima, Federico Coria, Yoshihito Nishioka, Luca Nardi, Corentin Moutet, Daniel Elahi Galan, Fabio Fognini, Maximilian Marterer (Turin)
  • Alex Michelsen (Oeiras)
  • Max Purcell (Taipei)

First-round matches to watch:

Bordeaux

  • (ALT) Zizou Bergs vs (ALT) Aleksandar Kovacevic
  • Qualifier vs (7/WC) Andy Murray

Turin

  • (ALT) Camilo Ugo Carabelli vs (5/WC) Luciano Darderi
  • (7) Yannick Hanfmann vs Maximilian Marterer

Oeiras

  • (1) Alex Michelsen vs (WC) Henrique Rocha
  • (7) Patrick Kypson vs Coleman Wong

Taipei

  • Yuta Shimizu vs (3) Adam Walton
  • Arthur Fery vs Tung-Lin Wu

Tunis

  • (1) Valentin Vacherot vs (WC) Nikoloz Basilashvili
  • (4) Jesper de Jong vs Valentin Royer

Main photo credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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