It’s been some time since we’ve seen Jurij Rodionov playing up to his talent. The Austrian did next to nothing last year but he’s back to the winners’ circle with a title in Dallas. On the other side of the globe, Mohamed Safwat took his first ATP Challenger Tour title. Failing three times at the final hurdle before, fourth time was the charm for the Egyptian. Two home crowd favorites went down in the championship matches. Read back on the most important storylines of the week.
The top seed who grabbed a late wildcard to the event, Frances Tiafoe, struggled immensely throughout the week. The American saved match points to beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening round, before breaking back Brandon Nakashima when the youngster was serving for the match. Tiafoe ultimately fell in the quarterfinals to Denis Kudla, who managed to build his run upon that victory and found his way to the title match on Sunday.
But awaiting him there was Austria’s Jurij Rodionov. The 20-year-old established himself as an up-and-coming talent two years ago, when he clinched his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Almaty. But after a very disappointing 2019 campaign, he was once again under the radar at the RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas.
Rodionov made a huge upset in the second round, taking out second seed Andreas Seppi. Extremely solid baseline game was the key to the Austrian’s success all week, coupled with good spot serving that only allowed his opponents four breaks. None of them happened in the final against Kudla, as Rodionov was the superior player throughout the contest. His tricky game, based on very varied baseline rhythm, gave the American a lot of trouble. The second set tie-break was full of brilliant rallies as Kudla showed patience he wasn’t able to channel before in that match and Rodionov had some issues getting over the finish line. The 20-year-old finally took care of his fourth match point and took the title with a 7-5 7-6(10) win. He will now jump about 130 spots in the ATP Rankings.
The lefty Austrian will continue touring the USTA Pro Circuit, appearing this week at the Cleveland Challenger. Kudla was supposed to play qualifying at the New York Open, but had to withdraw as he just couldn’t be there on Sunday, playing the championship match in Dallas at about the same time. He will play in Cleveland as a special exempt instead.
Mackenzie McDonald grabbed his first singles win since last April. The American was sidelined for over half a year with a torn hamstring but he seemed to be back on the right track (he has since lost to Noah Rubin in the New York Open qualifying). McDonald was able to nick wins over Donald Young and Sebastian Ofner, before going out in the quarterfinals to Dominik Koepfer.
It’s Egypt’s first Challenger Tour title in 24 years (Tamer El-Sawy, 1996). Mohamed Safwat had come close three times before, losing finals at Kenitra, Anning, and Helsinki. Throughout the week, Safwat’s matches had a bit of a trend of him starting slow and then pulling away from his opponent. Nevertheless, the Egyptian lost only one set on the way to the championship match, coming back from a set down against Kimmer Coppejans.
The decisive point of the final came when Safwat was 3-5 down in the first set tie-break. Alex Bolt gifted the Egyptian the opening set with a couple of straightforward errors. The 29-year-old did a great job to never let him back into the match, taking it 7-6(5) 6-1. After participating in 133 Challenger Tour events before, the Launceston Challenger was Safwat’s time to shine.
This win takes Safwat to a career-high ranking of world no. 130 (27 spots higher than his previous one). The Egyptian will be going straight to Bengaluru, where he’ll kick off against either Matthew Ebden or Tsun-Hua Yang.
"I think this will give me a boost and confidence to play the bigger tournaments against tougher opponents."
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 9, 2020
Challenger Tour magic:
The defending champion Mitchell Krueger saved six match points against Thomaz Bellucci in Dallas, at one point surviving with an unbelievable lob (the first point in the video):
About last night…
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 6, 2020
Liam Broady with one of the most creative around the net post shots:
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 4, 2020
At this point mostly recognized for his racket breaking, Akira Santillan decided he wants to take part in the longest racket throw contest as well:
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) February 5, 2020
Sometimes, your second serve just goes a bit too long:
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) February 6, 2020
Events held next week:
- Bengaluru Open (Challenger 125)
- Cleveland Challenger (Challenger 80)
- Challenger La Manche (Challenger 80)
Top 100 players in action:
- Stefano Travaglia, Yuichi Sugita, James Duckworth, Jiri Vesely (Bengaluru)
Ricardas Berankis was supposed to be the top seed in Bengaluru, but the Lithuanian withdrew following a semifinal run in Pune.