Ten Challenger Storylines (So Far) In 2019
Gombos The Great
No player owns more match wins this year than Slovakia's Norbert Gombos, who is in the midst of a rapid resurgence. Behind a 36-16 record, the 28-year-old is enjoying an impressive campaign following a disappointing 2018 season. Gombos is pushing towards a Top 100 return at No. 118 in the ATP Rankings, scoring a pair of titles in Bratislava and Winnipeg and reaching his first ATP Tour quarter-final in Washington, D.C. last week.
Kwon, Majchrzak On The Rise
Among players aged 23 & younger, Soon-woo Kwon and Kamil Majchrzak have been arguably the most consistent performers this year. With Hyeon Chung recovering from a back injury, Kwon has flown the flag for Korea in 2019, becoming just the third player from his country to crack the Top 100. Behind a 31-12 Challenger record and titles in Yokohama and Seoul, the 21-year-old is already making the transition to the next level. Last month he reached his first ATP Tour quarter-final in Los Cabos.
And Majchrzak is right there with him, becoming the latest Pole to make his Top 100 debut after posting a 29-12 record and lifting his first trophies in St. Brieuc and Ostrava. The 23-year-old would go on to claim his first match win on the ATP Tour on the grass of Newport.
Challenger Wins Leaders
|Norbert Gombos (SVK)
|Gianluca Mager (ITA)
|Andrej Martin (SVK)
|Soonwoo Kwon (KOR)
|Dudi Sela (ISR)
|Kamil Majchrzak (POL)
|Stefano Travaglia (ITA)
It often takes players many years to gradually make the climb up the ATP Rankings, while competing on the ATP Challenger Tour. In 2019, Jannik Sinner has established his own express lane to stardom. In just his fourth Challenger appearance, the 17-year-old blasted to the title on home soil in Bergamo, becoming the youngest Italian champion ever.
And last week, Sinner would add to his growing trophy haul, notching the title in Lexington, Kentucky. He etched his name in the history books in the process, becoming the 11th player to win multiple titles before turning 18 and joining the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz. Up to a career-high No. 135 in the ATP Rankings, he is also in 12th position in the ATP Race To Milan.
Sinner isn't the only player from Italy to make noise on the ATP Challenger Tour this year. In fact, the country boasts six different champions, also including Matteo Berrettini, Stefano Travaglia and Gianluca Mager. Since lifting the trophy in Phoenix in April, Berrettini has gone on to claim a pair of ATP Tour titles, while Travaglia is the latest Italian to break into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings. And Mager owns the second-most match wins this year, boasting a 32-16 record.
In addition, the upset of the year (thus far) has gone to Salvatore Caruso, who stunned World No. 21 David Goffin at the Arizona Tennis Classic. The Italian was sitting at No. 168 in the ATP Rankings and has since carried the momentum to reach his first ATP Tour semi-final in Umag and rise to a career-high No. 103.
March Towards Milan
Only two players reside in the Top 10 of both the ATP Race To Milan standings and the Challenger win percentage leaderboard in 2019. They are Corentin Moutet and Mikael Ymer. The Frenchman and the Swede, both aged 20, are hoping to make their Next Gen ATP Finals debuts this year following breakout first halves of the season.
Moutet, who is in ninth place in the Race, owns a 25-9 record (.735) on the Challenger circuit and advanced to the third round of Roland Garros as an unseeded wild card. The Frenchman is the first teenager to win a title in three straight seasons since Evgeny Korolev from 2005-07. Ymer, meanwhile, has staked claim to a 25-8 mark, with four final appearances and titles on the hard courts of Noumea and clay of Tampere. He is in 10th in the Race.
Andujar, Robredo Turning Back The Clock
In 2019, no player has a higher Challenger win percentage than Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar. Last year, the 33-year-old provided one of the most captivating storylines, as the former World No. 32 battled back from three elbow surgeries to make a 1,619-spot jump to the Top 100. But he wasn't done there. Andujar has since boasted a 19-2 record (.905) this year, with trophy lifts in Marbella, Alicante and Prostejov, rising to No. 68 in the ATP Rankings.
He is joined by fellow Spanish stalwart Tommy Robredo as 30-somethings on the rise once again. Robredo became the first player aged 37 & older to claim multiple Challenger titles after prevailing in Poznan, Poland and Parma, Italy. Andujar and Robredo have provided five of a tour-leading 11 titles for Spain this year - most among any nation.
You Always Remember Your First
A total of 23 players have celebrated their maiden moments this year. At 17, Sinner is the youngest, while countryman Lorenzo Giustino, 27, is the oldest. In fact, many players are enjoying breakthroughs in their latter 20s, including six 27-year-olds.
Dominik Koepfer secured a Wimbledon main draw wild card with his maiden title in Ilkley, saving a match point in the final. And big-hitting Maxime Cressy turned aside two match points to triumph for the first time in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Federico Coria, brother of former World No. 3 Guillermo Coria, had his maiden moment in Savannah. That came a week after Emilio Gomez, son of former World No. 4 Andres Gomez achieved the feat in Tallahassee. He is the first player from Ecuador to lift a trophy since 2011.
A Historic Week
The week of April 1 marked the arrival of two fresh faces on the ATP Challenger Tour. In back-to-back days, Lorenzo Musetti and Carlos Alcaraz would become the first players born in 2002 and 2003, respectively, to win Challenger matches. Italy's Musetti achieved the feat in Sophia Antipolis, while Spain's Alcaraz did so on home soil in Alicante. The 17-year-old Musetti, who claimed the Australian Open boys' title to kick off the year, would later reach his first semi-final in Milan in June. The 15-year-old Alcaraz, is the youngest player in the Top 600 of the ATP Rankings.
A handful of tournaments have hit significant milestones this year, with Poznan, Poland and Lexington, U.S.A. celebrating 25 years on the ATP Challenger Tour. Meanwhile, Tallahassee, Fergana and Bratislava were all honoured for 20 years of service on the circuit.
In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the Puerto Vallarta Open put on a show as they raised the trophy for 2018 Tournament of the Year. And just weeks later, Roland Garros doubles champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies helped the NECKARCUP in Heilbronn, Germany, accept their award in front of a packed crowd. The Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver, Canada, will round out the three recipients next week.
Chardy Kicks Off New Era In Pau
At the Mutua Madrid Open, an ATP Masters 1000 event, Feliciano Lopez was welcomed as tournament director this year. The Spanish veteran isn't the only active player to serve as boss of a professional tournament. At the Open Terega Pau Pyrénées, World No. 74 Jeremy Chardy leads the charge in his hometown of Pau, France, on the ATP Challenger Tour. It was a glittering first edition in February, with Alexander Bublik claiming his second of three titles this year.