Kokkinakis Collects Manama Challenger Crown; Finalist Shelbayh Makes History

Zeppieri, Purcell also win titles
February 21, 2023
Thanasi Kokkinakis in action at the 2023 Manama Challenger.
Bahrain Ministry of Interior Tennis Challenger.
Thanasi Kokkinakis in action at the 2023 Manama Challenger. By Grant Thompson

A memorable week on the ATP Challenger Tour week saw Thanasi Kokkinakis win his first Challenger title since May 2021 and fellow-Aussie Max Purcell rally to win the Chennai Challenger. Italian Giulio Zeppieri also triumphed at the Challenger 75 event in Cherbourg.

In the Manama Challenger 125 final, Kokkinakis ended the dream run of 19-year-old Abedallah Shelbayh, who was playing in just his third Challenger event. The Australian, who is a five-time Challenger champion, downed Shelbayh 6-1, 6-4 to capture the Bahrain Ministry of Interior Tennis Challenger. However, the teen still left Bahrain with a piece of history.

The Manama crown marks Kokkinakis’ first Challenger triumph since his title in Biella, Italy almost two years ago. The 26-year-old, who is featured in the Netflix series Break Point, returns to the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, which he briefly fell out of this past month when he was unable to defend his Adelaide International 2 crown.

ATP Challenger Tour 

Despite the final loss, Shelbayh became the first player from Jordan and the youngest Arab to reach a Challenger final. In the quarter-final, the Amman native upset top seed Jason Kubler. Shelbayh graduated from the Rafa Nadal Academy in 2021 before playing college tennis at the University of Florida. Following his freshman year, Shelbayh turned pro. The Manama finalist climbs to a career-high 276 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

At the Challenger Cherbourg La Manche, which was celebrating its 30th anniversary, Giulio Zeppieri earned his second Challenger title. The 21-year-old Italian, who is building upon his momentum from his career-best season, defeated Titouan Droguet 7-5, 7-6(4) in the championship match.

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In 2022, Zeppieri earned his maiden tour-level victory in the opening round of Umag, where he rallied from a set down to defeat Argentine Pedro Cachin. The Rome native also made his Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at Roland Garros, where he defeated Andreas Seppi in qualifying to snap his countryman’s streak of 66 consecutive Grand Slam main-draw appearances.

<a href=''>Giulio Zeppieri</a> at the 2023 Cherbourg Challenger.
Giulio Zeppieri at the 2023 Cherbourg Challenger. Credit: Challenger Cherbourg La Manche

Droguet, 21, advanced through qualifying and was playing in his first Challenger final. The Frenchman rises to a career-high 247 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

At the Chennai Open, Max Purcell saved two championship points to defeat Nicolas Moreno De Alboran 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4. After three hours, seven minutes, the Australian became the second Challenger titlist to save a championship point this year (Raul Brancaccio, Noumea).

<a href=''>Max Purcell</a> is crowned champion in Chennai, India.
Max Purcell is crowned champion in Chennai, India. Credit: Suman Chattopadhyay

Following the title in India, the Sydney native climbs to a career-high 155. In 2022, the 24-year-old teamed with countryman Matthew Ebden to win two tour-level doubles titles, including at Wimbledon. A three-time Challenger titlist, Purcell paired with Luke Saville in 2019 to win seven Challenger doubles titles.

Moreno de Alboran, who served for the title at 5-4 in the second set, is following up his career-best season. The American triumphed at the 2022 Braga Challenger, where he advanced through qualifying en route to his maiden Challenger title.

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