* Szczecin, Poland, €127,000+H (Outdoor Clay) : A string of very poor results in the recent months has forced Richard Gasquet to step down to the Challenger level, for the first time since Bordeaux 2010, entering only his 3rd Challenger in the last 11 years! 15 years after reaching his first final at this level in Montauban (at the age of 16), Richard will fight in his 10th Challenger final, following a 6-4 6-4 triumph over Taro Daniel in an hour and 50 minutes.
It was a grueling and tight match, and the Frenchman prevailed thanks to a better performance in the crucial moments, saving all 7 break points he faced, and breaking Daniel once in each set, from just 3 break points he has earned! Both players struggled to find the first serve and they stayed neck and neck throughout the match, that should have gone into a decider if Japanese was more focused on break points in the second set.
Richard made a strong start, breaking in the opening game of the match, and he saved a break point in the 8th game, closing a set after a deuce two games later for a 6-4. Taro had 4 break points in the 4th game of the second set, that could have given him a 3-1 lead, but Gasquet saved them all to stay in touch.
Then, he scored the crucial break in game 7, wrapping up the win on own serve in game 10 after 2 deuces. The second seed Florian Mayer booked the place in his first final since Meerbusch last year and the 22nd overall after he ousted Jurgen Zopp 5-7 6-3 6-4 in an hour and 57 minutes. Overall, Mayer was more effective behind his first serve and he saved 7 out of 9 break points to limit the damage in his games, especially after the first set.
Zopp fought well but he just fell short in the deciding moments of the second and third sets, failing to reach back-to-back finals after winning Alphen last weekend. Estonian was the better player earlier in the first set, he served well and kept the pressure on Mayer, breaking him in game 9 on his 5th break point overall.
Serving for the set, he got broken in the following game, but he gained a new advantage when he stole Mayer's serve in game 11. Florian had a chance to prolong the set yet again and set up the tie break, but Jurgen saved 3 break points in the 12th game to wrap up the opener and gain an early lead.
Florian stepped in to break his rival in the second game of the second set, and he fends off 3 break points in game 5 to stay in front. German held at love in games 7 and 9 to bring the set home by 6-3, sending the match into a decider.
There, he clinched a break in the first game and that will prove to be the crucial moment, as he served well until the end of the encounter to defend his lead and move to the final. * Istanbul, Turkey, $75,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : Tunisian veteran Malek Jaziri battled past Karim-Mohamed Maamoun by 6-2 4-6 6-1 in an hour and 51 minutes, for his 13th Challenger final and the first since Istanbul 12 months ago. Malek served at only 51% but he managed to control his initial shot well, keeping the second serve safe and losing serve 3 times.
Egyptian struggled on his serve more, especially after missing the first, and he had to play against 12 break chances, dropping serve 6 times to end on the losing side. Jaziri was solid in the opening set, dictating the pace in the rallies and breaking Maamoun in games 2 and 8 for a 6-2.
They traded breaks at the start of the second set and Karim-Mohamed was the better player in the rest of the set, breaking in game 7 and holding in game 10 for a 6-4. He couldn't stay on that level in the final set, losing serve on 3 occasions, as Jaziri closed the set by 6-1 to reach the title match.
In the battle of the young guns, Matteo Berrettini defeated Alexander Bublik 7-5 6-3 in 78 minutes, for his 5th Challenger final, the 4th in 2017. It was a very close match, Italian won only 4 points more than his rival, but even that was enough to celebrate in 2 sets, saving 4 out of 6 break points and converting 3 out of 9 opportunities to seal the deal.
Bublik 12 out of the first 13 points to forge an initial lead, but Italian fought back, taking 4 games in a row for a 4-3 lead. Alexander was on a roll again after that, breaking back at love in game 8 and earning a set point in the 10th game, only to be denied by Matteo.
Bublik got broken in the 11th game, despite having 3 game points, and Berrettini closed the set on own serve in the following game for a 7-5. Both players served well in the first 5 games of the second set and Bublik had 3 break points in game 6 for a 4-2 lead.
He failed to convert any of those and he paid the price in the following game when he dropped serve after having a game point. Mateo closed the match in style, winning 11 out of the last 12 points, breaking again in game 9 to secure the place in the final.
* Shanghai, China, $75,000 (Outdoor Hard) : * Cary, USA, $50,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : * Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina, €43,000+H (Outdoor Clay) :