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Mensik, Nishikori Among Five Challenger Player Storylines From 2023
Throughout 196 ATP Challenger Tour events held worldwide in 2023, fans had the opportunity to discover young superstars, witness the comeback of experienced tour veterans and see historic runs before their eyes. ATPTour.com highlights five player storylines from the ATP Challenger Tour season.
Teenager Mensik Makes History
At 17 years, eight months, Jakub Mensik won the Prague Challenger to become the youngest Czech Challenger champion in history. In just his sixth Challenger outing, the teen completed a dream week, saving two match points in the quarter-finals two days before lifting the trophy.
The 2022 Australian Open boys’ singles finalist joined elite company, becoming one of five 17-year-old Challenger titlists in the past five years, alongside Jannik Sinner (2019), Carlos Alcaraz (2020), Shang Juncheng (2022). The only previous 17-year-old Czech champion was former World No. 4 Tomas Berdych, who captured two Challenger titles in 2003.
“I knew I could play with those guys, but I didn't have the experience. After a few tournaments, I really started to trust myself and play my best game,” Mensik told ATPTour.com in June. “In Prague, that tournament I felt very special on court. From the start, I beat the top seed [Radu Albot] and after that match, I was like, 'Let's continue'. Match by match, I felt more comfortable on the court. Then in a few days I became a champion. I felt very special and it was a very good experience for me. After losing in first rounds and qualifying rounds, I think it was faster than I expected.”
Despite a 20-month absence from the tour, Kei Nishikori did not miss a beat. The 33-year-old was crowned champion at the ATP Challenger Tour 75 event in Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico, his first tournament since the BNP Paribas Open in October 2021.
The former World No. 4, who underwent arthroscopic left hip surgery last year, dropped just one set en route to the title and became the first unranked Challenger champion. Nishikori was in vintage form throughout the hard-court event, displaying all-court coverage and clean ball-striking to earn his first trophy at any level since 2018.
“That was surprising a lot. I was just expecting to just play one match and just kind of get a rhythm for it,” Nishikori said. “Somehow I played good in the first match and started getting more confident every match. In the final, I think I played pretty good tennis.”
Jordan’s First Challenger Champion
Abdullah Shelbayh became the first player from Jordan to win an ATP Challenger Tour title in October when he won the LTP Challenger in Charleston, South Carolina. The-then 18-year-old is the youngest player from an Arab country to win a title at that level.
The lefty, who graduated from the Rafa Nadal Academy in 2021, was a wild card into the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM.
“It’s something special for me to represent Jordan at such tournaments at a high level. Being able to win such a great event is such a big title for me, the biggest of my career so far,” Shelbayh said after winning in Charleston.
Purcell’s Indian Hat-trick
Australian Max Purcell went on a three-week trip to India in February with two things in mind: winning ATP Challenger Tour matches and spending less time on his cell phone.
The 24-year-old then went on a 15-match winning streak, triumphing at the Chennai, Bengaluru, and Pune Challengers. While he was enjoying a hot streak that helped him make his Top 100 debut, his phone was left cold in the hotel room.
“I made the choice to stop with distractions off court,” Purcell said. “Especially through India, I wanted to be off my phone as much as I could. I wanted to make sure I was getting as much quiet time as I could and just make sure going into my matches that I didn’t bring anything else on the court.”
The Sydney native is the only Australian to claim three consecutive Challenger titles.
De Loore Rebuilds Body, Wins Maiden Challenger Title
Belgian Joris De Loore has battled through a plethora of injuries, which forced him to hang up his racquets for two years (2019-2020). Throughout a seven-year span, the 30-year-old underwent seven surgeries on six different body parts. But De Loore never threw in the towel.
In his first tournament of 2023, De Loore advanced through qualifying at the Oeiras-1 Challenger and went on to capture the trophy. He finished the year with three additional final appearances.
“I want to prove that I’m able to reach the Top 100,” said De Loore, who is at No. 145 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. “I still feel capable of it, doesn’t mean I’m going to make it for sure, but I still have the game to do it.”
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