March 26, 2023

When American Ben Shelton fell short in the Tiburon Challenger final this past month, the teenager left California frustrated that he had lost in all three ATP Challenger Tour finals in which he had competed this year. But a new mindset aided Shelton this week as he grabbed his maiden Challenger crown.

Shelton, who is one of five Challenger champions this week, defeated close friend Christopher Eubanks 7-6(4), 7-5 in the final at the Jonathan Fried Pro Challenger in Charlottesville, Virginia to capture his long-awaited title.

“I started to realise that when I looked back on the film, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was,” Shelton said. “I really tried to focus on the things I can control, stop worrying about the little things such as how well I’m hitting my forehand and instead just compete really hard.”

ATP Challenger Tour 

After runner-up finishes in Rome (Georgia), Chicago, and Tiburon, the 20-year-old dropped just one set all week in Charlottesville en route to the title. The former University of Florida standout is the fifth player to win the NCAA singles title and a Challenger title in the same season and the first since Steve Johnson in 2012.

“I went in [to this week] with a mindset that I was going to out compete everybody,” Shelton said. “I was going to bring more energy than everyone I played. I think that was a really big part of my success this week.”

<a href=Ben Shelton celebrates winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title” />
Ben Shelton celebrates winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title. Credit: Allen Hoover

Shelton is the third #NextGenATP American to claim a Challenger title this year (Zachary Svajda, Emilio Nava). The lefty rises to a career-high No. 128 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

In Charlottesville doubles action, Britain’s Julian Cash and Henry Patten triumphed to win a season-leading seventh Challenger title, the first time a duo has captured more than six Challenger titles in a season since Max Purcell and Luke Saville (7) in 2019.

In Bergamo, Italy, Finland’s Otto Virtanen advanced through qualifying en route to claiming his maiden Challenger title, defeating Jan-Lennard Struff 6-2, 7-5 in the final at the Trofeo Perrel – Faip.

The 21-year-old is the first Finnish Challenger champion since Emil Ruusuvuori in 2019. Virtanen is just the second player from Finland to win a Challenger title in the past 10 years.

“I had a chance of not even coming here,” Virtanen said. “I played the doubles final Saturday in Brest and I had to fly here to play my first match Sunday. Day-by-day, I kept playing better.”

<a href=Otto Virtanen wins his maiden Challenger title in Bergamo, Italy.” />
Otto Virtanen is crowned champion in Bergamo, Italy. Credit: Antonio Milesi

Virtanen, who was competing in his first Challenger final, was a semi-finalist at the Surbiton and Liberec Challengers earlier this season. Virtanen joins a strong list of former champions in Bergamo including the previous three titlists: Holger Rune, Jannik Sinner, and Matteo Berrettini.

The title at the indoor hard court event lifts the #NextGenATP youngster to a career-high 195.

German Daniel Altmaier completed his run of capturing back-to-back titles at the Challenger Ciudad de Guayaquil. The 24-year-old, who won the Lima Challenger a week prior to Sunday, took down Federico Coria 6-2, 6-4 to extend his match-winning streak to 10.

<a href=Daniel Altmaier triumphs at the Guayaquil Challenger.” />Daniel Altmaier triumphs at the Guayaquil Challenger. Credit: Jose Alvarado

“This week was very positive for me,” Altmaier said. “I finished today with the title and that makes me very happy. I played against Coria last week and I felt quite comfortable. I had a good plan to play until the last point so I was always fighting, playing well until I won.”

Altmaier, who also won the Heilbronn Challenger in May, is one of five men to claim a trio of Challenger titles this season: Quentin Halys, Constant Lestienne, Luca Nardi, and Wu Yibing. Pedro Cachin and Jack Draper have claimed a season-leading four Challenger titles.

At the NSW Open in Sydney, Australia, Yu Hsiou Hsu earned his maiden Challenger title. The 23-year-old from Chinese Taipei defeated home favourite Marc Polmans 6-4, 7-6(5) in the final.

Hsu, who is a three-time Grand Slam boys’ doubles champion (2017 Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open), was competing in just his sixth Challenger event of the season. Hsu didn’t drop a set all week en route to the title and climbs to a career-high 226.

Australian Christopher O’Connell took down home hope Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3 to win the Yokohama Keio Challenger.

Chris O'Connell in action at the 2022 Yokohama Challenger.
Chris O’Connell in action at the 2022 Yokohama Challenger. Credit: Yokohama Keio Challenger

“Obviously I’m pretty happy,” O’Connell said during the trophy presentation. “This is my fourth Challenger win, it’s always good to get the win, especially in Japan, I love playing here.”

O’Connell, who has won eight of his past nine matches, is a three-time Challenger finalist this season, including in Split, Croatia, where the Aussie won his first of two titles this year. At his home Slam in January, the Sydney native upset 13th seed Diego Schwartzman before falling to Maxime Cressy in the third round. The title in Japan lifts the 28-year-old to a career-high 84.

Did You Know?
Holger Rune won the Rolex Paris Masters to become the second player this season to win a Challenger and a Masters 1000 title, joining Borna Coric. Coric’s title in Cincinnati marked the first time the feat has been done since 1993, and now the Danish teen and the Croat have combined to make history.

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