2015 Taipei, Anning, Sao Paulo, Tallahassee, Ostrava and Turin Challenger Recaps
Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
Top seed Yen-Hsun Lu is the all-time leader when it comes to Challenger titles (21), with most of them coming out of Asia, but he wasn’t able to add another one in his home country. In the quarterfinal it was Konstantin Kravchuk who upset him after a long battle, 7-6(4) 4-6 7-5. A round before Kravchuk profited from Ryan Harrison’s right ankle injury, which forced him to retire after only one game. Former world #61 Matthew Ebden managed to pick up some nice wins, beating #4 seed and world #91 Lukas Lacko 7-5 6-3 in the second round, after which he took out another seed in the quarterfinal, as he beat #7 Iliya Marchenko 6-3 6-4. Kravchuk was one bridge too far, however, in a match settled through the most titanic scoreline possible, 6-7(3) 7-6(4) 7-6(4).
In the bottom half Yuki Bhambri continued building up his ranking, taking out #8 seed Jimmy Wang 6-3 6-1 in the second round and #3 seed Go Soeda 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the next. Big-serving Sam Groth was next and proved to be too much, with the Australian #2 seed winning 6-4 7-5 to book a place in the final against Kravchuk. Here Kravchuk continued his trend of long and grueling matches, but this time with his opponent as the winner, as Groth won 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(3). Groth clearly made a great choice to play a Challenger after a bad run on the main tour, rising seventeen spots to a career high ranking of #68. Kravchuk rose one spot more, eighteen to #149.
Top seed James Duckworth made a good start to the tournament with two easy victories, but had to bow to Grega Zemlja in the quarterfinal. The former world #43, coming back from injury, beat Duckworth 7-6(2) 7-5. In the semi-final Zemlja faced a very surprising player, Gavin van Peperzeel, the world #458, who is normally only a fixture on the Futures circuit. However, Van Peperzeel showed he has a lot of potential, beating Zemlja 6-7(3) 6-2 6-2 for a place in the final. Remarkably enough the bottom half had exactly the same story, with world #547 Franko Skugor reaching the final after beating #4 seed Boy Westerhof in the first round, after which Ruan Roelofse, Duckhee Lee and #5 seed Tsung-Hua Yang followed suit. The final was an one-sided affair, with Skugor beating Van Peperzeel 7-5 6-2 to claim his second career title. Naturally both men made tremendous jumps on the ranking, with Skugor rising 229 spots to #318 and Van Peperzeel 119 spots to #339.
The higher seeds fell like flies, with top seed Maximo Gonzalez bowing out in the first round against Germain Gigounon (6-7(4) 6-2 6-4), while #3 seed Andre Ghem lost 6-3 6-4 to Alexis Musialek and #4 seed Chase Buchanan 6-4 6-3 to Christian Lindell. In the second round #2 seed Blaz Rola joined the pack, losing 6-4 4-6 6-4 to wildcard Rogerio Dutra Silva. Lindell powered through after his first round win, eventually taking out #8 seed Guido Andreozzi 3-6 6-4 6-1 in the semi-final. Joining him in the final was the one seed who managed to reach the quarterfinal stage in the bottom half, #5 Guido Pella. Far from smoothly, however, needing a third set tiebreak in the first round and a 7-5 in the third set in his quarterfinal against Orlando Luz. His semi-final against Jose Hernandez-Fernandez went easier, 6-3 6-3.
Pella managed to win the final as well against Lindell, in two hard fought sets, 7-5 7-6(1). It meant the second title of the year for him, now sitting on an impressive 8-1 record in Challenger finals. It also meant a good improvement ranking wise, rising twenty-seven spots to #132. Lindell reached the top 200 for the first time in his career, rising forty-two spots to #180.
Calling him a sensation almost would be an understatement at this point, but one thing is for sure, Frances Tiafoe is quickly leaving his mark on the tennis world. The 17-year-old started the year outside of the top 1000, but after a quarterfinal and semi-final run in his first ever Challengers, he already seems ready to march to the gates of the main tour. His third event here in Tallahassee continued the pattern, taking out top seed and world #90 Facundo Bagnis 1-6 7-6(5) 6-4 in the first round. Our own Jean-Yves Aubone followed in the second round, Emilio Gomez in the quarterfinal and Tennys Sandgren as well in the semi-final after a long battle, 1-6 6-4 7-6(1). In the bottom half #5 seed Facundo Arguello seemed to be compensating the early loss of his countryman Bagnis, beating four Americans in a row to reach the final. Respectively Stefan Kozlov, Tommy Paul, Mitchell Krueger and Jared Donaldson had to bow out against the Argentinean.
Tiafoe came close in the final, very close, but he couldn’t hold onto his 6-2 *4-3 40-30 and 3-0* in the tiebreak leads. Despite an impressive comeback from Tiafoe in the third set, winning four games in a row from 0-4 down, Arguello came out the winner, 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4. Nevertheless, this obviously was yet another impressive week from Tiafoe, winning him a Roland Garros wildcard and an improvement of eighty-eight in the rankings, landing at #293. Arguello rose twenty-four spots to #141 after winning his third Challenger title.
Two veteran Spaniards marched to the semi-final stage, 33-year-old Daniel Munoz-De La Nava and 37-year-old Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo. #8 seed Ramirez Hidalgo impressively did it without dropping a set. Unfortunately for them youth prevailed in the end. 20-year-old Adam Pavlasek took out top seed Lucas Pouille in the quarterfinal, after which he did the same with Munoz-De La Nava after a long battle, 6-4 5-7 7-5. Ramirez Hidalgo fell to 25-year-old countryman Inigo Cervantes in a similar struggle, 6-3 3-6 7-5. Cervantes took out #2 seed James Ward in the second round. In the final Cervantes won after two tight sets, 7-6(5) 6-4, claiming his third Challenger title and making a big ranking jump of ninety-three to #184. Pavlasek is on the verge of the top 200, rising fifty-four spots to #209.
A similar trend here in Turin, with the top seeds failing to live up to their seedings. Top seed Malek Jaziri lost 6-2 7-5 to Jesse Huta Galung in the first round, with #2 seed Aljaz Bedene following suit against qualifier Gianluca Naso, 7-6(6) 6-4. #3 seed Tobias Kamke had already lost a round earlier, falling 6-2 6-7(5) 6-1 to qualifier Karen Khachanov. #4 seed Kimmer Coppejans survived a tough opening round draw against Elias Ymer, 3-6 6-0 6-3, after which he needed three more three set matches to reach the final, barely winning his semi-final against Adrian Ungur 6-3 2-6 7-6(5). Perhaps all these long matches took their toll, as Marco Cecchinato easily dismissed him in the final, 6-3 6-2, to claim his second Challenger title. It also saw him creep a bit closer to the top 100, rising twenty-six spots to #124. Coppejans is getting even closer, adding another good result after his tournament win in Mersin two weeks ago, rising eleven spots to #112.