Koahsiung, Izmir, Campinas, Columbus, Sibiu, Trnava Challengers: Dirty Denys Molchanov Strikes Again
Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
World #40 Jiri Vesely took a wildcard into the event, instantly making him the big favorite to win the title. He started off a bit shaky, dropping the first set against Nicolas Barrientos in the second round, but had no problems against Hiroki Moriya in the quarterfinal, 6-1 6-4. However, in the semi-final things came to an end for him. Fourth seed Yuki Bhambri won a tight opening set, 7-6(2), after which Vesely seemed to throw in the towel and pretty much gifted the match away, 6-0.
In the bottom half third seed Lukas Rosol got upset in the first round, losing 6-7(7) 6-4 6-4 to Ti Chen. The other seeds didn’t slip up, with second seed Hyeon Chung beating eighth seed Jurgen Zopp 6-2 6-4 and fifth seed Tatsuma Ito beating Tsung-Hua Yang in the quarterfinals. Chung easily advanced to the final, with Ito retiring at 6-0 2-0 citing fatigue. Chung has had a remarkable year at Challenger level and it continued here, with the 19-year-old taking down his fourth title of the year after a 7-5 6-4 victory over Bhambri. Chung rose fifteen spots to a career high ranking of #58, while Bhambri moved very close to the top 100, rising twenty-one spots to #104, also a career high.
Top seed and home player Marsel Ilhan surely had his sights on performing well here, but he couldn’t live up to the expectations. He made it to the quarterfinals, but there seventh seed Mirza Basic was too strong, 6-4 6-7(3) 6-3. Marius Copil took advantage of third seed Andrey Kuznetsov withdrawing prior to the tournament, taking over his section and reaching the semi-final. After two very tight three-set matches he crushed eighth seed Farrukh Dustov in the quarterfinal, 6-2 6-0. He continued his good run by getting rud of Basic as well for a place in the final, 6-3 6-4.
In the bottom half the two top seeds lived up to the expectations. Fourth seed Lukas Lacko didn’t drop a set on his way to the semi-final, while second seed Malek Jaziri only dropped a set in his opening round. There Lacko managed to oust Jaziri in a thrilling encounter, 6-7(3) 6-3 6-3. In the final Lacko struggled with Copil in the second set, but managed to come out on top to claim his first Challenger title of the season and his ninth overall, 6-3 7-6(5). The victory takes him to the very edge of the top 100, rising eleven spots to #101. Copil rose sixteen spots to #160.
In the doubles final a very scandalous thing happened, with Denys Molchanov and Malek Jaziri retiring for no apparent reason while 8-9 down in the deciding supertiebreak. The only explanation for this is betting related, with them having made a bet on themselves to win, which would get voided in case of a retirement. Seeing Molchanov do something like this after pulling off one of the most blatant fixes of all time earlier in the year is a tragic sight. He shouldn’t have been able to play another professional match after that, but it went unpunished. And so will this, I’m afraid. Jaziri isn’t a first time offender either.
Top seed and world #80 Diego Schwartzman was the clear favorite to take home the title, but he knew some struggles. In the second round he dropped a set against Guido Andreozzi and in the semi-final against sixth seed Facundo Bagnis he needed a very long second set tiebreak to secure the victory, 6-3 7-6(11). In the bottom half second seed Guido Pella lost 6-2 7-5 to fifth seed Facundo Arguello in the quarterfinal. Arguello went on to reach the final, beating fourth seed Andre Ghem 7-6(5) 6-3 in the semi-final. There Arguello continued his streak of upsets, beating Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 to claim his second Challenger title of the year. He rose twenty-six spots to #120, while Schwartzman moved up a modest three spots to #77.
A very rare event took place here. Normally it’s mandatory for Challengers to have ball kids, but since the tournament was thrown together at the last minute, the first couple of rounds had none. It was quite strange to see the players pick up their own balls and it made you realize how ball kids speed up the pace of the game. It didn’t throw off top seed Tim Smyczek nor fourth seed Ryan Harrison, as they both lived up to their seeding and faced each other in the semi-final. There Harrison was too strong, although it required a titanic struggle in the first two sets, 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 6-1.
In the bottom half second seed John-Patrick Smith was upset by Chase Buchanan in the second round, 6-4 7-6(2). Buchanan wasn’t able to advance further, however, losing 6-4 6-4 to eighth seed Dennis Novikov in the next round. Novikov faced Alex Kuznetsov in the semi-final, who beat third seed Bjorn Fratangelo a round earlier, and beat him 6-3 3-6 6-3 for a place in the final. This left us with a copy of the Cary final of last week, where Novikov beat Harrison 6-4 7-5 to win his first Challenger title. In Columbus he won his second, a remarkable achievement. It was closer this time around, but Novikov edged it out in three sets, 6-4 3-6 6-3. The win saw him move up nineteen ranking spots to #144, while Harrison moved within inches of the top 100, rising fourteen spots to #102.
This tournament was all about Adrian Ungur from beginning until the end, with the Romanian fully delivering in front of his home crowd. He first took out seventh seed Tristan Lamasine in the second round, 6-4 6-4, after which he pulled off a great win against top seed Dusan Lajovic, 6-4 2-6 6-3. In the semi-final he faced the surprise of the tournament, fellow Romanian Petru-Alexandru Luncanu, a qualifier, whom he showed no mercy during a 6-1 6-1 beatdown. It was a horrendous tournament for the seeds, with only Lajovic reaching the quarterfinal.
In the bottom half Pere Riba took out fourth seed Germain Gigounon in the second round, 6-0 6-7(0) 6-4, after which he handed out another bagel in the quarterfinal against Victor Crivoi, 6-4 6-0. In the semi-final Riba beat Miljan Zekic 6-3 7-5 for a place in the final. There Ungur continued his dominance, however, beating Riba 6-4 3-6 7-5 to claim his ninth Challenger title. He rose fifty-five ranking spots to #171, while Riba rose twenty-three spots to #236.
Top seed Robin Haase was on a mission after crashing out early against world #407 Artem Smirnov in the second round of Szczecin last week, desperately wanting to show that his decision to skip the Davis Cup tie against Switzerland was the right one. It looked to head towards another disaster in the first round, but he survived another qualifier, Riccardo Bellotti, 2-6 6-2 7-6(5). In the quarterfinal against Gerald Melzer he dropped another set, but held on again, 4-6 6-3 6-3. Fourth seed Albert Montanes surely would be another tough hurdle in the semi-final, you would say. But no, Haase easily beat him 6-2 6-2 for a place in the final.
Second seed Marco Cecchinato had withdrawn, leaving a gap to be filled. Sixth seed Horacio Zeballos was the one to do so, beating Stephane Robert 6-1 6-2 for a place in the semi-final. Frank Skugor was no match for him either in the semi-final, getting dispatched with an almost identical 6-2 6-2 scoreline. Haase left no doubt in the final, however, beating Zeballos 6-4 6-1 for his second Challenger title of the year and his eleventh overall. A nice touch was that he received the trophy from former world #12 and renowned giant killer Dominik Hrbaty. Haase moved up ten ranking spots to #59, while Zeballos moved up twelve spots to #148.