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Home favourite David Goffin competes at the Challenger 125 event in Belgium.

Goffin Leads Belgium’s Star-Studded Challenger

ATPTour.com speaks with tournament director Stavaux about the event's first edition

After a six-year absence from Belgium, the ATP Challenger Tour shifts its attention this week to the indoor hard court event, the BW Open. David Goffin’s misfortune at the Australian Open that led to his participation has been a massive boon to the tournament, which has been close to a sell-out in its debut year.

Tournament director Vincent Stavaux, who has worked as an agent for players such as Justine Henin, Marin Cilic, Pablo Andujar, and Kristof Vliegen, is at the forefront of Belgium’s return to the Challenger calendar. Stavaux explained that his aim is to provide a warm experience for players and fans. And the Challenger 125 event is making a strong impression.

“For me the most important thing is that we have a good hotel, good food, and a nice facility,” Stavaux said. “We try to welcome players in the best conditions. For the first edition, we have players that are saying that they’ve never seen so many people attending the first-round matches at a Challenger. We have just a few tickets left for Saturday, the rest of the days are sold out. Fans are close to the court, even in the highest places you are still very close, it makes it a really special atmosphere.”

ATP Challenger Tour 

The Mons, Belgium Challenger, which ended in 2016, earned back-to-back selections as one of the ATP Challengers of the Year (2015, 2016), a player-voted system that recognises the season’s top events. Now the only Belgian Challenger event lies some 60 kilometers from Mons, in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve (population 31,000), where fans have flocked to the Centre Sportif de Blocry to watch world-class tennis.

Locals already holding red-hot tickets received a last-minute surprise just one week before the tournament: Home favourite Goffin suffered an illness in Melbourne which forced him to miss the season’s first Slam. The World No. 50 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings was given a wild card to come home and play the Belgian Challenger.

“Unfortunately, David got food poisoning in Australia. For us, it has been an incredible use to have him here,” Stavaux said. “That’s what we say in life, ‘The bad news for some is good news for others.’ We were really sorry for David, but for us, ever since he said, ‘I’m coming!’ the website and tickets exploded.”

Practice sessions ahead of the 2023 <a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/scores/archive/ottignies-louvain-la-neuve/2837/2023/results'>BW Open</a>.
The calm before the storm: practice session ahead of the 2023 BW Open. Credit: Wild Shot Production

Saturday’s semi-final tickets may not be available much longer. Goffin, seeded first, is set to compete in the final four against countryman Gauthier Onclin. Goffin’s last Challenger title before rising to a career-high No. 7 in 2017 came three years prior on home soil (Mons 2014). The seven-time Challenger champion hopes to repeat the same result this weekend.

The star-studded field didn’t end at Goffin’s presence. Fresh off a third round appearance at the Australian Open, Frenchman Ugo Humbert flew directly to Belgium and kept his commitment to play the BW Open. World No. 69 Mikael Ymer advanced through qualifying and is set to play in Saturday’s semi-final against Turkey’s Altug Celikbilek.

Belgian fans can also get a glimpse of the sport’s brightest future stars who are using the Challenger Tour as a springboard before competing for the most prestigious titles in tennis. Perhaps no example is better than the previous time Belgium held a Challenger.

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“Someone who doesn’t know the Tour well doesn’t know that the Challengers have a nice combination and balance of Next Gen players and guys with a lot of experience who have been in the Top 100,” Stavaux said. “In 2016, Andrey Rublev made the quarter-finals in Mons and Daniil Medvedev was a semi-finalist. That’s the proof that at Challengers you can see the next generation of the top ATP players.”

So which Challenger Tour youngster will next rise to a standout professional career? Only time will tell.