Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Johnson Getting Some Much-Needed Confidence

Steve Johnson Challenger Tour

Attila Balazs and Steve Johnson were crowned champions in the second week of the 2020 ATP Challenger Tour. The American will now go straight to the Australian Open, where he faces a tough first-round assignment. Balazs, meanwhile, will stay in Bangkok for another Challenger, whilst Challenger Tour action will also take place in Rennes, France.

Challenger Tour Recap

Bendigo

In a final worthy of a bigger stage, Johnson got the better of Stefano Travaglia 7-6 7-6. The American, who’ll play world #3 and six-time former champion Roger Federer in the first round at the Australian, had to battle hard to get the better of Markos Kalovelonis 6-3 6-7 6-3 in his opener in Bendigo, but he improved considerably as the week wore on and did not drop a set in beating Calum Puttergill, Harold Mayot and Andrea Vavassori to book his place in the final.

There he looked to be hard up against it in the early stages, with the Italian Travaglia the better player. Johnson faced seven break points in his first four service games, but he was able to save all of them and eventually forced a tiebreak. There, he served ruthlessly to take the first set and when the second also went to a tiebreak, it was a similar story, as the American won it comfortably to claim the sixth ATP Challenger Tour title of his career and secure the perfect preparation for the Australian Open.

Stefano Travaglia, meanwhile, will climb to a career-high 74th in the world when the ATP Rankings are updated on Monday. Ironically enough, that will place him one spot above Johnson, who has improved on his own ranking by six places thanks to his efforts in Victoria.

Making his debut in Bendigo was Nicholas David Ionel, who achieved a degree of notoriety last year by capturing four ITF 15k titles on the bounce. However, he found the step up in level a Challenging one, with the 17-year-old’s inexperience proving costly in a three-set defeat at the hands of the Greek Kalovelonis. Ionel, currently ranked at a career-high world #549, will surely hope for better on his next outing.

Bangkok

Balazs captured his second ATP Challenger Tour trophy in Bangkok when he beat Aslan Karatsev in the final. His first came nearly ten years ago in Palermo. The Hungarian made a surprise run to the Croatia Open final on the clay in Umag last season, losing there to Dusan Lajovic, but he had struggled to back that standout success up in the following months. In fact, he has not played a tour-level match since and elected not to play in the Australian Open qualifying, despite having a high enough ranking.

At times, it looked as though that decision might not have paid off. In the third round up against JC Aragone, Balazs faced eight break points in the decider, twice digging himself out of a 0-40 hole, claiming a 6-3 3-6 6-4 having broken the Aragone serve once himself. He was then taken to a deciding-set tiebreak in the semifinals by Roman Safiullin, but held his nerve to win it seven points to five and book his place in the final.

His opponent there, Karatsev, had arrived in Bangkok on a nine-match losing streak at Challenger-level. But he looked in fine touch in Bangkok, opening his campaign with a 6-0 6-0 victory over home hope Congsup Congcar, before upsetting the top seed Jiri Vesely, once-ranked as high as 35th in the world, in the second round. In the semifinals, he demolished ninth seed Gian Marco Maroni, for the loss of just four games.

But it was Balazs who took a tight opening set, winning it in a tiebreak, seven points to five. However, when he was broken by Karatsev early in the second, a rout looked to be on the cards. Balazs was clearly disinterested at times, with Karatsev racing through the set without losing a game to level the match. But Balazs reasserted himself in the third, forcing a tiebreaker, having twice come close to breaking the Karatsev serve.

There, he looked to be in charge having stormed to a 6-4 lead. But the Russian Karatsev played some excellent tennis to save both match points and keep his challenge alive. But when Balazs forced a third match point up 7-6, he made no mistake, sealing a hard-fought 7-6 0-6 7-6 win to claim the title. Clearly, his decision not to play in the qualifying at Melbourne Park was the right one and he will hope to make it two wins out of two in Bangkok next week, where he will play at a career-high ranking of world #112. Karatsev, meanwhile, remains just outside the cut off for the main draw.

Because smashing it would be too easy:

Events held next week:

  • Open de Rennes (Challenger 80)
  • Bangkok Challenger II (Challenger 80)

Top 100 players in action:

With the Australian Open starting on Monday, the world’s best 100 players will be in Melbourne, trying to claim glory at the first Major of the year. The highest ranked player involved in a Challenger is Jiri Vesely, ranked 109th, who will be the top seed in Bangkok, whilst world #153 Sergiy Stakhovsky, four times a champion at tour-level, will lead the field in Rennes. It will also be worth keeping an eye on the fortunes of Jerzy Janowicz, who will play his first match in two-and-a-half years in Rennes, where the former-Wimbledon semifinalist was awarded a wildcard.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.