© Fernando Correia/Lisboa Belém Open

The stands have been full throughout the week at the Lisboa Belem Open.

Challenger Tennis Returns To Portugal

Lisbon hosts high-quality red clay event this week

After a four-year absence, the ATP Challenger Tour is back in Portugal this week with the Lisboa Belem Open, a $50,000 event on the red clay of this historic city.

The tournament is named after the Belém Tower, an iconic structure in Portugal that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enthusiastic fans have already lined up to check out the tennis at the Club Internacional de Foot-ball, a world-class venue with 19 courts (17 with floodlights) that also hosted a Davis Cup tie in April. 

Portugal last saw Challenger tennis in the city of Guimares in 2013, marking the only other time a Challenger event has come to Portugal in the past 15 years. However, 11 cities throughout the country have hosted tournaments at this level and tennis fans in Portugal are passionate about the sport, sparking optimism that the tournament in Lisbon will become a staple on the ATP Challenger Tour.

“Organising a Challenger Tour event is long time goal for me. It’s a tournament category that was missing in our calendar and is complementary of the Millennium Estoril Open, from the ATP World Tour, and dozens of Futures events here,” said Manuel de Sousa, tournament director and father of Challenger Tour player Pedro Sousa. “We have all the best Portuguese players, with the exception of João. I expect a very tough draw, as usual in Challengers, and I hope we will have a Portuguese champion on Sunday.”

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Portugal is enjoying a recent surge of success in tennis. Pedro and Joao Domingues won their maiden titles this year in Francavilla and Mestre, respectively, leading to career-highs in the Emirates ATP Rankings this season. On the ATP World Tour, Portuguese World No. 1 Joao Sousa reached the final in Auckland this January and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 28 in May 2016.

“We are taking advantage of the present popularity of Portugal as a tourist destination, especially, at this time of the year," added the first-time tournament director. "We have to offer beautiful weather and warm hospitality in a safe environment. Also, if you look to the recent results of Portuguese players and the quality of the other players here, this first Lisbon Belém Open has all it takes to create a sports event of a high quality, with a presence of lots of fans and a final result (this is my wish) with a Portuguese flavor.”

Several emerging players in the country also received main draw wild cards this week, including Franco Ferreiro Silva, Andre Gaspar Murta, Goncalo Oliveira and Joao Monteiro. For these players looking to boost their rankings and test themselves against the world’s best, regular exposure to Challengers at home will be essential.

"Not only for me but for all the Portuguese players, a tournament of this level is extremely important for tennis in Portugal, which is evolving,” said Domingues. “Having a Challenger-level tournament is key to the development of tennis here."

Pedro, seeded seventh this week, is through to the quarter-finals and plays Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy on Friday. In doubles, Oliveira and Fred Gil have advanced to the semi-finals and play Hungarians Attila Balazs and Gabor Borsos for a spot in the final.

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