A LOOK BACK
Arizona Tennis Classic (Phoenix, Arizona, USA): If the first edition of the Arizona Tennis Classic is any indication of what’s to come, the tournament will be a staple on the ATP Challenger Tour for many years.
Matteo Berrettini and Mikhail Kukushkin produced arguably the most dramatic match of the Challenger season thus far, battling for two hours and 50 minutes in Sunday’s final. It was the Italian prevailing in the end, ousting his Kazakh opponent 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(2) after saving one match point in the second set.
What a way to finish!
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) March 18, 2019
One year after Kukushkin ousted Berrettini in the final edition of the event in Irving, Texas, the Italian got his revenge at the inaugural Challenger 125 in Phoenix. Same week, same final match-up, but a different result under the Arizona sun.
Less than a year after lifting his maiden ATP Tour trophy in Gstaad, Berrettini celebrated his third Challenger title. The 22-year-old Rome native is off to a strong start to 2019, having also reached the semi-finals at the Sofia Open.
With Berrettini entering the week at No. 57 in the ATP Rankings and Kukushkin at No. 43, it was the highest-ranked Challenger final in two years. As a whole, the tournament featured a world-class field, with all 16 seeds inside the Top 100. David Goffin led the pack, but was upset in the quarter-finals by Salvatore Caruso.
Pingshan Open (Shenzhen, China): This was a long time coming for Marcos Baghdatis. After five years, the former World No. 8 returned to the winners’ circle, claiming the title in Shenzhen. The second seed defeated Stefano Napolitano 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in Sunday’s final, capping a strong week in the Chinese city.
Baghdatis had dropped four straight finals – three on the ATP Tour and one on the Challenger circuit – since he last lifted a trophy at the 2014 Geneva Challenger. But this was the Cypriot’s week to shine. He is pushing towards a Top 100 return after struggling with a knee injury in 2018. Having also secured a signature Top 20 win over Lucas Pouille last month in Montpellier, the 33-year-old is making his move in the early stages of the year.
Challenger Banque Nationale de Drummondville (Drummondville, Canada): Top seed Ricardas Berankis is a force on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2019. The 28-year-old did not drop a set in clinching a pair of titles, following his convincing performance in Rennes, France, with an equally dominant showing in Drummondville.
Berankis capped his campaign in Canada with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Yannick Maden on Sunday, claiming his 11th Challenger title in impressive fashion. He joins Alexander Bublik as the only players with multiple titles thus far this year. Up 13 spots to No. 82 in the ATP Rankings, the Lithuanian is targeting a Top 50 return in the near future. He also recently registered a quarter-final result as a qualifier at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
A LOOK AHEAD
The three-week China swing concludes in Zhangjiagang, with top seed and New York Open finalist Brayden Schnur leading the pack. James Duckworth is seeded second, with Chinese teen Wu Yibing also in the field.
And at the Play In Challenger in Lille, France, home hope Gregoire Barrere looks to go back-to-back after clinching the title in last year’s inaugural edition. He is seeded third, while Spanish veteran Guillermo Garcia Lopez is first and Drummondville finalist Maden is second.