Former College Standouts Gojo, Hijikata Win Maiden Challenger Titles

Barrere, Sandgren win titles on home soil
October 31, 2022
Rinky Hijikata wins the Playford Challenger.
Tennis Australia
Rinky Hijikata wins the Playford Challenger. By Grant Thompson

Australian Rinky Hijikata and Croatia’s Borna Gojo cruised to victory to claim their maiden ATP Challenger Tour titles this week. Hijikata dropped just one set all week to win on home soil in Playford, Australia, while Gojo was unbroken at the Ortisei Challenger. Gojo and Hijikata are among five Challenger champions this week.

#NextGenATP Hijikata took down Japan’s Rio Noguchi 6-1 6-1 in Sunday’s final to win the City of Playford International.

“I’m stoked [to win the title], I’m over the moon,” Hijikata said. “It’s a little bit of a relief, it’s always nice to win the first title, it’s not easy to get over that hump. To be able to do that this week at home, I’m pretty proud of the way I played this week.

“I came out firing. I thought I stuck to my game plan well. I played to the [windy] conditions as well as I could.”

ATP Challenger Tour 

Hijikata, 21, made his Challenger Tour main-draw debut at the 2018 Playford Challenger and this week, the fifth seed collected the title to become the youngest Australian to win a Challenger title since 2018, when the-then 19-year-old Alexei Popyrin won in Jinan, China. The title in Australia lifts Hijikata to a career-high No. 159 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

Hijikata, who played college tennis at University of North Carolina from 2020-21, earned All-American honours as a sophomore before turning pro.

In August, the Sydney native claimed his first Tour-level win at the ATP 250 event in Los Cabos, Mexico, where he advanced through qualifying and defeated wild card Pacheco Mendez before falling to then-World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. At the US Open, Hijikata made his Grand Slam main-draw debut and pushed Rafael Nadal to four sets in the opening round.

Gojo, 24, went on a run ousting four of the top-seven seeds at the indoor hard court event in Ortisei, Italy, including defeating seventh seed Lukas Klein in the final 7-6(4), 6-3 to win the Sparkasse Challenger Val Gardena.

<a href=''>Borna Gojo</a> in action at the 2022 Ortisei Challenger.
Borna Gojo in action at the 2022 Ortisei Challenger. Credit: P.Codeluppi/ChallengerOrtisei

“This is big for me,” Gojo said. “I’m happy I was able to put together a nice tournament here and win my first Challenger.”

“It’s [The surface] a bit faster than usual, which is great for my serve, it helps me get some free points.”

The Split native, a former college standout, finished runner-up at 2018 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships (l. Chrysochos) and was named a three-time All-American at Wake Forest University. In 2018, Gojo helped Wake Forest earn the NCAA team title. Following his victory in Ortisei, Gojo climbs to a career-high 148.

At the Lima Challenger, Daniel Altmaier was crowned champion to win his second Challenger title this season. The German escaped Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-4 in the final.

<a href=''>Daniel Altmaier</a> celebrates winning a point at the <a href=''>Lima Challenger</a>.
Daniel Altmaier celebrates winning a point at the Lima Challenger. Credit: @igmachallengers

Altmaier, 24, needed deciding sets in four out of his five matches in Lima to triumph and ousted top seed Federico Coria in the semi-finals. After claiming the Heilbronn Challenger in May, Altmaier climbed to a career-high 53. The title in Peru is Altmaier’s fifth Challenger title.

Gregoire Barrere won the all-French final in Brest, defeating 18-year-old Luca Van Assche 6-3, 6-3 to win the Open Brest-Credit Agricole.

“It was a great week for me,” Barrere said. “I had a level of play that increased as the week went on. Once I won my first round match here, it was all or nothing.”

<a href=''>Gregoire Barrere</a> in action at the 2022 Brest Challenger.
Gregoire Barrere in action at the 2022 Brest Challenger. Credit: Un Oeil Averty

Barrere, seeded third, dropped just one set en route to claiming his fifth Challenger title. The 28-year-old is a five-time Challenger finalist this season, including in Orleans, where he won his first Challenger title (d. Halys) of 2022. The Frenchman rises to No. 93, marking a return to the Top 100 for the first time since August 2020.

Van Assche, who rises to a career-high No. 208, also reached the final at the Lisbon Challenger in September and qualified for the ATP 250 event in Antwerp, Belgium (l. Nishioka).

Tennys Sandgren advanced through qualifying en route to winning the Las Vegas Tennis Open, where he defeated countryman Stefan Kozlov 7-5, 6-3 in the final.

“This win means a lot to me as it's been a tough couple of years,” Sandgren said. “This is the first time I've done a trophy speech in quite some time. I got lucky. We could be in the third set by now, roles reversed.”

<a href=''>Tennys Sandgren</a> is crowned champion at the 2022 Las Vegas Challenger.
Tennys Sandgren is crowned champion at the 2022 Las Vegas Challenger. Credit: Steve Krahn

The title on home soil is Sandgren’s first Challenger title since May 2017 (Savannah). In January 2019, Sandgren won his maiden Tour-level title in Auckland (d. Norrie) and climbed to a career-high 41.

Kozlov, who had defeated Sandgren in five of their previous six meetings across all levels, held five set points in the opening set, but was unable to convert them. The 24-year-old was competing in his first Challenger final this season.

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