Lithuania's Debut Challenger Making Strong Impressions

The Challenger 80 event is held at the largest indoor tennis complex in central Europe
October 21, 2022
The SEB arena, host venue of the Vilnius Challenger.
SEB Arena
The SEB arena, host venue of the Vilnius Challenger. By Grant Thompson

In the 45-year history of the ATP Challenger Tour, Lithuania had never hosted a Challenger tournament. That all changed this week, as the Challenger circuit turned its eyes to the country’s capital city, Vilnius.

Lithuania, located in the Baltic states, is the 91st country to host a Challenger tournament. Tournament director Ramūnas Grušas, who is the Lithuanian Tennis Federation president, spoke with about the process it took to build the Vilnius Open by kevin.

“We started to think about having a Challenger in 2013,” Grušas said. “We made a trip to some Challengers in Europe and talked to the organisers there and finally, we are doing it. We are really happy and excited.”

The host venue, the SEB Arena, provides world-class facilities to the Challenger 80 event. Boasting 28 indoor tennis courts, the SEB Arena is the largest indoor tennis complex in central Europe. Squash and badminton courts can also be found at the state-of-the-art facility. A recent expansion project included the construction of a stadium court for the debut tournament.

ATP Challenger Tour 

“During the Covid time, we built a new facility, including a centre court with 1,500 capacity,” Grušas said. “We built an extra six practice courts. Throughout the past year, we’ve made the venue really good for the players and spectators.

“It’s really important to show people that we are here. We have high-quality facilities, I think it’s showing that we are going in a good direction. This week, a lot of kids are coming to see the tennis and are enjoying it.

“We are not looking at this tournament for a really commercial side. We are looking to have good quality.”

The Vilnius Challenger marks the first time that Ricardas Berankis, who turned pro in 2007, has competed on home soil.

“I think it’s one of the best Challengers in the world,” The former World No. 50 said. “Not because I’m from here but overall I didn’t see or hear any unhappy players. I hope it will bring more attention from higher-ranked players in the future.”

Home favourite <a href=''>Ricardas Berankis</a> in action at the 2022 Vilnius Challenger.
Home favourite Ricardas Berankis in action at the 2022 Vilnius Challenger. Credit: Saulius Čirba

After initially submitting a tournament application in 2018 and patiently waiting through the Covid break, Grušas said that working closely with the ATP turned the dream of staging a tournament into reality.

“We have good relations with the ATP office,” Grušas said. “They helped us a lot with all of our questions because it was the first time for us.

“They [The ATP Challenger Tour] put the players first. You can feel it from the first step when you are talking with the ATP office and referees. You need to do all the best for the players.”

Frenchman Antoine Escoffier, seeded eighth, has strong impressions of the Vilnius Challenger.

“The event is really well organised,” Escoffier said. “The hotel and food are on site. The physio and practice courts are also on site. I think it’s one of the best conditions to have a tournament. It’s really impressive here.”

With a population approaching 600,000, Vilnius is the largest city in Lithuania. The city is known for its architecture in ‘Old Town’, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Vilnius was named the EU's European Capital of Culture in 2009 and is one of the fastest growing and developing cities in Europe.

Not only is Vilnius establishing deep roots as a cultural centre in Europe, it’s proving to be a great location for the ATP Challenger Tour.

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