Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Two Maiden Winners; Monteiro on a Roll

As usual in the second week of a Grand Slam, the ATP Challenger Tour got very action-packed. We’ve had the whole variety of surfaces and continents as the European indoor season continued in Quimper and the first clay-court Challenger of the year was played in Punta Del Este. On top of that, a star-studded field came to one of the biggest events on the circuit in Newport Beach. Australia also had its representation with a Challenger 80 event in Burnie. What were the most important stories of the week?

Newport Beach

The draw blew up on Thursday with the top three seeds all sent packing on the same day. World no. 34 Taylor Fritz lost to Mitchell Krueger, no.50 Frances Tiafoe got defeated by Denis Istomin and no. 54 Miomir Kecmanovic went out to Daniel Elahi Galan. Fritz was looking for a three-peat, having won this event in the past two editions. Another top 100 player, Andreas Seppi, couldn’t even win a match as he lost to JC Aragone in the second round. The last “star” in the field, Steve Johnson, came all the way to the semifinals before running out of steam in the third set against Thai-Son Kwiatkowski.

The 24-year-old former college tennis star chose a rather difficult Challenger event for his maiden title. Having to go through Brayden Schnur, Denis Istomin and Steve Johnson in a row is not what you usually expect at this level. But the American did it the hard way and survived a very tight battle against Johnson to reach his first Challenger Tour final (he lost all five semifinals before). Kwiatkowski didn’t disappoint in the championship match, playing very aggressively to take down Daniel Elahi Galan and his very solid counterpunching. This flawless performance will bring him to a career-high ranking of no. 181.

Burnie

The top-seeded Taro DanielΒ won his first ATP Challenger Tour crown in almost three years. That win will have him on the verge of coming back to the ATP Top 100, having fallen out of it when his Istanbul title points dropped last April. As of January, Daniel began working with the legendary coach Sven Groeneveld (Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Monica Seles, Tommy Haas, and many, many others). The pair seems to have hit it off really well and the principal example for that is this title in their third event together.

Daniel kicked off with a rather slow performance to beat Yuta Shimizu (Shimizu served for the second set). But the Japanese got better as the tournament went on, eventually losing just 13 games in his last three matches. In the final, he gave no chance to Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann, blowing him out 6-2 6-2. Daniel is next signed up to the main draw of the ATP 250 event in Pune, where he’ll open against Indian wildcard Sasikumar Mukund.

Punta del Este

Thiago Monteiro took three ATP Challenger Tour clay-court titles last season and the Brazilian shows no signs of slowing down. As the defending champion, Monteiro lost only a single set on the way to repeating his 2019 success. The 25-year-old opened with straightforward wins over Mariano Kestelboim and Francisco Cerundolo before having to defeat two of his compatriots, Guilherme Clezar and Felipe Meligeni Alves, on the way to the championship match.

The blockbuster final between the top two seeds definitely didn’t disappoint. Monteiro was two points away from getting it done in two but as he let Cecchinato into the match, he seemed gradually more tired. The crisis came while serving at 4-5 in the third, but the Brazilian saved three match points blasting gutsy inside-out forehands. That proved to be the turning point of the match as Monteiro broke the next game to take the match 7-6 6-7 7-5. Cecchinato didn’t showcase similar mental strength and basically gifted the last game. The whole affair lasted almost three hours.

The upcoming Golden Swing will be a very important part of the season for both finalists. In two weeks’ time, Cecchinato will have to defend his Argentina Open crown and failing to do so might throw him out of the ATP Top 100. Monteiro will see it as a great opportunity to improve his ranking as the Brazilian’s defending just 45 points in the upcoming month. Both players will now face tricky openers at an ATP 250 event in Cordoba – Monteiro takes on Corentin Moutet and Marco Cecchinato will face the defending champion, Juan Ignacio Londero.

Quimper

It was a breakthrough week for Turkish player Cem Ilkel. The 24-year-old lost both his previous challenger finals (Izmir 2016, Karshi 2017) in straight sets, but managed to upset the French crowd in Quimper, defeating Maxime Janvier 7-6 7-5. Ilkel will now break the ATP Top 200 for the very first time, reaching a career-high ranking of world no.199.

Janvier missed a set point on his serve in the tie-break and failed to convert a couple of crucial break point opportunities in the second set. Ilkel was also a set and 3-5 down earlier in the week to Constant Lestienne and lost four sets overall on the certainly not easy path to the final. The Turk will now continue playing the European indoor Challenger circuit, appearing at Cherbourg and Bergamo soon.

It was also another step on Jerzy Janowicz’s comeback path. After missing almost two and a half years of play due to recurrent knee injuries, the Pole played his second event this year. Janowicz faced off against 21-year-old Evan Furness in the first round and looked much better than at Rennes the previous week. The Pole proved to have too much power for the little bit too passive Frenchman, but if it wasn’t for a brilliant break point save in the second set, the match could have gone to the decider.

Sadly, Janowicz had to withdraw before the next match against Quentin Halys due to personal reasons. He’ll also miss qualifying at Montpellier next week. The Pole will be back with a wildcard for the Bergamo Challenger (17-23 February), which he won three years ago.

Challenger Tour Magic:

A swing and a miss from Tiafoe:

Competing for the furthest racket throw with last week’s effort from Durasovic was Thiago Seyboth Wild this time around:

Some great defending that helped Daniel Elahi Galan beat Miomir Kecmanovic:

And a great dive from Thomas Fancutt:

Events held next week:

  • RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas (Challenger 100)
  • Launceston International (Challenger 80)

A slightly less busy week on the ATP Challenger Tour as there isn’t a single event in Europe and clay-court Challenger circuit takes a break until the middle of March. Many of the Punta Open competitors will now try to look for success on the ATP World Tour Golden Swing.

Top 100 players in action:

  • Frances Tiafoe, Dominik Koepfer, Andreas Seppi (Dallas)

And to finish it off, the very unfortunate announcement that because of the coronavirus outbreak, four ATP Challenger Tour events in China will have to be canceled. It’s a shame but the safety of the players has to come first.

  • Qujing (Challenger 50) (2nd-8th of March)
  • Zhuhai (Challenger 80) (9th-15th of March)
  • Shenzhen (Challenger 90) (16th-22th of March)
  • Zhangjiagang (Challenger 80) (23rd-29th of March)

There is a possibility of rescheduling them later in the year. Further Chinese Challenger Tour events in April are in danger.

Main Photo:

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