The last weeks of the Challenger Tour season are generally associated with a slightly lower quality of play and names on the lists, but that actually wasn’t the case this year. Zizou Bergs, Nuno Borges, Aleksandar Kovacevic, and Pedro Martinez had all won a title (at least) at this level already in 2023, adding to their trophy cabinets. Read back on the last week of the 2023 ATP Challenger Tour:
Nuno Borges has been trying to win his hometown event for a while now, losing in the semifinal of the last two editions to Geoffrey Blancaneaux and Benoit Paire. Playing in Portugal often brings the best out of him, but being desperate to win this event also clearly makes him a little tight. It mostly presented itself against Andrea Vavassori when Borges went 2-6 3-5 down, feeding off the energy from the crowd to pull off a spectacular comeback in the quarterfinals.
Benoit Paire lost his opportunity to return to the top 100 this year with just one win in the Calgary/Drummondville double, but the veteran still wanted to end the season on a high note. More determined than we’ve seen him since the pandemic, Paire actually put together a very decent campaign in 2022 and added another final to it in Maia. On the way to the championship match, he fought back from a set down against Jaime Faria and Elias Ymer.
Paire simply didn’t allow Borges to feel the nerves though and was outplayed way too quickly for any hesitation to come in. Down 1-6 1-5, the Frenchman pulled off a mini-comeback but it was too little too late with this performance really standing against the more focused version of him that we had been following. Borges took his 5th Challenger Tour title (3rd this year) 6-1 6-4 and ends the season at a ranking of World No. 66. Paire will have to qualify for the Australian Open (even winning the trophy likely wouldn’t be enough).
Michael Mmoh went to Yokohama and Yokkaichi to try to chase down an Australian Open main draw spot, following a couple of very disappointing weeks at home in Charlottesville and Knoxville. The American was already in good shape in the first event, only losing to the eventual champion Yosuke Watanuki in three sets. His Yokkaichi campaign was absolutely stellar though and he didn’t drop a set on the way to the final, only needing one tie-break against Hiroki Moriya.
After recently picking up the trophy in Drummondville, Zizou Bergs flew to Japan and lost in the opening round at Yokohama to Kalin Ivanovski. We can easily consider it a bit of a fatigue/jet lag thing though as the Belgian was on fire again in Yokkaichi. The opening-round win over Altug Celikbilek actually didn’t come that easy, but that was the last set the 24-year-old dropped on the way to the final with this November campaign once again setting him up really well for next season (if he can stay healthy).
It was an impressive start from Bergs, who chose his spots to attack wisely and didn’t fall into the usual traps in the Mmoh matchup. He also recovered from 0-3 down in the 2nd set, storming back to serve for the match at 6-5. That didn’t go as planned but the Belgian kept his composure and finished off the match 6-2 7-6, grabbing his 7th Challenger title (3rd in 2023). Mmoh finds himself at World No. 105 in the ATP Rankings and will have to wait to see if he makes the main draw in Australia after the withdrawals, while Bergs will be in the qualifying (great springboard for 2024 though with the two November titles).
Since surprising everyone by winning an indoor hard-court Challenger in Brest at the end of October, Pedro Martinez had only played one match in Valencia, beating Elias Ymer and withdrawing ahead of his clash against Denis Yevseyev. That put him on a win streak of 10 by the time he made the final in Maspalomas. In the semifinals, he won a high-profile encounter with Filip Misolic, despite briefly falling a set and a break down.
Kilian Feldbausch, who peaked at World No. 5 in the ITF Junior Rankings, clinched his maiden professional title at a 15K in Boca Raton just before coming to Maspalomas. The 18-year-old had never been past the second round in ten previous appearances at the Challenger level, but he qualified for the main draw here and ended up dropping just one set on the way to the final (to Oleksii Krutykh), giving himself a great springboard into the 2024 campaign.
Martinez had that heavy forehand to help him stand up to Feldbausch’s aggression in a way that his other opponents couldn’t, but the youngster still made it a huge battle. Down a set and a break, he kept pushing until he found some cracks in the Spaniard’s mental toughness and took it to a deciding set. It wasn’t all that easy again but Martinez won his 5th Challenger title 6-4 4-6 6-3, getting his win streak to 11 and breaking Feldbausch’s streak of 11 wins as well. He ends the year at World No. 106 on the verge of automatic Australian Open entry, while the 18-year-old will break the top 500.
Gilbert Klier Junior was a top 10 junior a few years back and then didn’t really follow up on that promise, also losing a year due to a doping ban (contaminated supplement). This season had been pretty solid for the Brazilian with dominant performances on the ITF Tour (2 titles), but he was still seeking his first Challenger quarterfinal. Once he found it even made it to the final, not dropping a set and denying Tomas Barrios Vera a top 100 debut in the final four.
Aleksandar Kovacevic was supposed to benefit from his smart scheduling of Brasilia and Temuco, but a loss to the prodigy Joao Fonseca in the first event left him with lots of pressure to perform in Chile. The American almost went out in the opening round, Federico Agustin Gomez missing a pass into the open court to set up match point. Kovacevic was able to pick himself up and take care of the rest of his draw to the final without these sort of fireworks.
Klier Junior began the match by rushing the Kovacevic backhand and in the altitude hard conditions of Temuco, was getting some really good results out of that tactic. The American was slowly finding his rhythm on return though and resetting with the slice to lure out some errors, while also becoming more dominant on serve. Eventually, Kovacevic claimed his 4th Challenger Tour title 4-6 6-3 6-3 and ends the season at World No. 110, which likely won’t be enough for the Australian Open main draw. Klier Junior returns to the top 400.
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