Bendigo International [Bendigo, Australia | Challenger 80]: It had been three long years since Ernesto Escobedo last tasted victory on the ATP Challenger Tour. But that would change on Sunday in Bendigo. The 25-year-old American stormed back to defeat Enzo Couacaud 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in two hours and 36 minutes, opening the 2022 season with a return to titletown.
After dropping the opening set and having taken a medical timeout early in the second, it appeared that Escobedo would come up short on a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon in Bendigo. But the California native dug deep to find his way to the winners’ circle for the first time since 2019. It marked the fourth Challenger crown of his career.
— Ernesto Escobedo (@netoescobedo) January 9, 2022
“The whole week I felt good and I had a great offseason with my coach,” said Escobedo after the final. “I came into the tournament prepared and happy and it all fell into place for me. I think the last champion here was Steve Johnson and he told me it’s a great town and a great tournament, so I was happy to come here and play. It’s been tough conditions in Australia for the past couple years [with the pandemic], so I’m just fortunate to be here competing.”
Escobedo, who rose to a career-high No. 67 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2017, has struggled to find his groove on the court over the years. Now, under the tutelage of Javier Nalbandian (brother of former World No. 3 David Nalbandian), he is slowly working his way back towards the Top 100. Escobedo will rise to No. 141 on Monday.
Having reached the quarter-finals at the ATP 250 in Los Cabos last year, followed by a second-round finish at both the US Open and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Escobedo has been building towards this moment for many months. He will next seek to qualify for the Australian Open for the first time since 2017, as he kicks off his qualifying campaign on Tuesday.
Traralgon International [Traralgon, Australia | Challenger 80]: If you haven’t already taken notice of Tomas Machac, it’s time to jump aboard the Czech train. The 21-year-old continued his push towards the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings with yet another Challenger title, emerging victorious on Sunday in Traralgon.
Machac lifted the third trophy of his young career, marking the third straight year in which he has triumphed on the Challenger circuit. He capped a dominant week on the hard courts of the Traralgon International with a 7-6(2), 6-3 win over Bjorn Fratangelo. The Beroun native also rallied from a set down to defeat eighth seed Mikhail Kukukshin in the quarter-finals and notched a straight-set victory over fellow 21-year-old Jesper de Jong in the semis.
The second-highest ranked player from the Czech Republic, behind only Jiri Vesely, Machac rises to a career-high No. 130 on Monday. A succssful qualifying campaign at next week’s Australian Open will go a long way in his Top 100 quest. Seeded 20th in Melbourne Park, he opens against Argentina’s Camilo Ugo Carabelli.
Citta di Forli 1 [Forli, Italy | Challenger 50]: Luca Nardi became the first teenage champion of the 2022 ATP Challenger season, as the 18-year-old prevailed on home soil in Forli on Sunday. Nardi won the Challenger 50 title with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Mukund Sasikumar. The Italian was made to work this week, having rallied from a set down in three straight matches. He overcame Lucas Catarina, Evan Furness and third seed Christian Harrison, before downing Sasikumar for the trophy.
Nardi’s victory marks the fourth straight year in which an Italian teen has won a Challenger title. In 2019 it was Jannik Sinner, followed by Lorenzo Musetti in 2020 and Giulio Zeppieri last year.
Recent Italian Teen Titles
|Jannik Sinner||2019||Bergamo, Lexington, Ortisei|
Dove Men+Care Legion Sudamericana Challenger de Tigre [Buenos Aires, Argentina | Challenger 50]: Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna claimed his maiden Challenger title on Sunday, prevailing on home soil in Buenos Aires. He won the Challenger 50 event with a 6-4, 6-2 win over countryman Facundo Diaz Acosta, marking his fourth consecutive straight-set victory of the week.
The 22-year-old continues the run of success for Argentine players on the ATP Challenger Tour, with the South American nation coming off a record-tying 20-title haul in 2021.