#NextGenATP Trio Michelsen, Darderi, & Nardi Claim Challenger Titles

American Michelsen cracks Top 100
November 13, 2023
Alex Michelsen wins his second ATP Challenger Tour title in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Knoxville Challenger
Alex Michelsen wins his second ATP Challenger Tour title in Knoxville, Tennessee. By Grant Thompson

Several young stars are battling for the remaining four spots left in the Next Gen ATP Finals, including Alex Michelsen, Luciano Darderi and Luca Nardi, who all won ATP Challenger Tour titles on Sunday.

Michelsen will forever remember his triumph at Knoxville Challenger, where the 19-year-old overcame countryman Denis Kudla 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in the final to not only win his second ATP Challenger Tour title, but also seal a spot in the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

“I was focussed on [making the Top 100] but I had bad weeks and I honestly didn’t think it would come this quickly,” Michelsen told commentator Mike Cation. “After last week in Charlottesville, I played a bad match and I didn’t think I’d be here. But I fought my ass off the entire week and I made it. I’ve worked for this, so it feels good.”

The #NextGenATP star, who officially turned pro in August, is ninth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race to Jeddah as he aims to earn his maiden qualification into the Next Gen ATP Finals. Michelsen scored his first ATP Challenger Tour title in July in Chicago and the following week, the California native competed in his maiden ATP Tour final in Newport.

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At 19 years, 2 months, the World No. 99 Michelsen is the youngest American to win multiple Challenger titles in a season since the-then 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe in 2018.

Michelsen is the fifth consecutive American champion at the Knoxville Challenger, joining Ben Shelton, Christopher Eubanks, Michael Mmoh and Reilly Opelka.

The Italian Darderi overcame Argentine Mariano Navone 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 at the Directv Open Lima in Peru to win his second ATP Challenger Tour title of the season (Todi). At 11th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, Darderi’s title run strengthens his claim towards qualifying for the 21-and-under event, which runs from 28 November-December 2.

<a href=''>Luciano Darderi</a> in action at the <a href=''>Directv Open Lima</a>, where he won his second ATP Challenger Tour title.
Luciano Darderi in action at the Directv Open Lima, where he won his second ATP Challenger Tour title. Credit: @igmachallengers
Sunday's three-set final in Lima was a battle between two of the most successful players on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2023. Darderi and Navone are two of just three players in the 40-win club this year: Francisco Comesana (45), Darderi (42), Navone (40).

The 21-year-old Darderi held his nerve in a two-hour, 54-minute final to lift the trophy and climb to a career-high No. 124.

Navone, 22, was aiming to add to his season-leading six ATP Challenger Tour titles. Despite falling short in the Lima final, Navone rose to a career-high No. 120 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

Nardi rallied past top seed and home favourite Taro Daniel 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 to win the Unicharm Trophy Ehime in Matsuyama, Japan. The 20-year-old Nardi has won two ATP Challenger Tour titles this season and five overall in his young career.

“I was down a set and break and Taro was playing very good, he wasn’t letting me play my game,” Nardi said. “I thought of doing something else and I tried to be more aggressive and I made the break. Maybe I was lucky but in the end, I played a very good match and I’m happy with that.”

<a href=''>Luca Nardi</a> triumphs at the Matsuyama Challenger, his fifth title at that level.
Luca Nardi triumphs at the Matsuyama Challenger, his fifth title at that level. Credit: Unicharm Trophy Ehime
Nardi is at 13th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, aiming to make a last-second push into the field of eight who will compete in Saudi Arabia. Nardi and Darderi’s countryman Flavio Cobolli has already qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals.

In other ATP Challenger Tour action, Canadian wild card Liam Draxl completed a dream week on home soil as he collected his maiden title at that level, cruising past top seed and defending champion Dominik Koepfer 6-4, 6-3 in the Calgary National Bank Challenger final.

The 21-year-old Draxl turned pro this past summer following a standout career at the University of Kentucky, where he was a three-time ITA-All American. As a result of his collegiate success, Draxl became one of 21 players to benefit from the all-new ATP/ITA Accelerator Programme, which aims to increase the development pathway for top players in the American Collegiate system by giving them up to eight spots in select ATP Challenger Tour events.

<a href=''>Liam Draxl</a> wins his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Calgary, Canada.
Liam Draxl wins his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Calgary, Canada. Credit: Kyle Clapham
"I couldn't be more pumped," Draxl said. "Honestly, starting out my pro career in the summer, I was second guessing myself and doubting a little bit saying, 'Do I really want to pursue this? Am I going to make it?' I was almost scared to fully chase it, which I never thought would ever happen to me.

"Going into the final, I knew I had nothing to lose. I knew I had the crowd on my side, so I was just going to bring it and whatever came was going to come. I trusted everything out there and did the things I could control."

At World No. 430, Draxl is the third-lowest ranked Challenger champion of the year, behind only an unranked Kei Nishikori (Palmas del Mar) and No. 506 Alvaro Guillen Meza (Lima-1). Following his triumph, Draxl skyrocketed 134 spots to a career-high No. 296.

Frenchman Corentin Moutet won his first ATP Challenger Tour title since September 2022 by claiming the HPP Open in Helsinki, Finland, where he defeated Indian Sumit Nagal 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the final.

“It feels good. It was a tough week. I played against great opponents and today was a great fight again,” Moutet said. “I knew it would be a tough, physical final because he doesn’t miss a lot. It’s long rallies all the time so I had to be focussed and stay stable in my game.

“This season has been tough. I had an injury at the beginning of the year and had surgery. I’ve been struggling with my wrist all year.”

<a href=''>Corentin Moutet</a> celebrates winning the Challenger 125 event in Helsinki, Finland.
Corentin Moutet celebrates winning the Challenger 125 event in Helsinki, Finland. Credit: HPP Open
Moutet is the 19th different Frenchman to win an ATP Challenger Tour title this season as he added to his country’s record breaking 27 titles at that level in 2023.

Nagal, 26, started the year ranked outside the Top 500 after suffering numerous injuries, including hip surgery, but has found a high level to earn two Challenger trophies this season and climb back inside the Top 150 for the first time since June 2021.

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