* Columbus, USA, $75,000 (Indoor Hard) : Ante Pavic, 28-year-old from Croatia, became the second oldest first-time Challenger winner in 2017, defeating Alexander Ward 6-7 6-4 6-3 in 2 hours and 12 minutes.
This was the 49th Challenger event for the Croat and he finally went all the way, 3 and a half years after reaching his first final in Rimouski. With these 80 points, Pavic will return to the Top 300, making 135 places progress through the rankings.
Alexander Ward also played for the first Challenger trophy and this was a very important match for both of them, so it was their battle on the court. Pavic hit 19 aces and he was more efficient in his service games, saving 4 out of 6 break points.
Ward was set and a break up before Ante raised his level to dismiss his deficit in the second set and bring the match home with a strong performance in the third, wrapping up a win with a volley winner at the net. Briton broke in game 6 to create a 5-2 gap in the opener but Pavic broke back at 15 in game 9 to prolong the set.
The tie break was a wild one and Alexander finally clinched it on his 7th set point by 13-11, saving 2 set points at 7-8 and 9-10. Both players had 5 break points in the second set and it was Ward who moved closer to the finish line when he converted his 5th break opportunity in the 3rd game.
That was the only loose service game for Pavic, who served great in the remaining games, and Ward couldn't stand in front for too long, getting broken in game 6. Serving to stay in the set, Alexander lost his serve again in game 10, and the momentum was now on the side of the Croat.
Ante experienced no troubles on serve what so ever in set number 3 as well, and he scored a crucial break in game 6 to open a 4-2 lead, winning 13 out of the last 15 points to crush the resistance of his rival. Pavic lost just 2 points in his last 4 service games and he brought the match home with a hold at love in game 9, celebrating his biggest success in a career so far.
* Izmir, Turkey, €64,000 (Outdoor Hard) : Illya Marchenko enjoyed a great 2016 season, entering the Top 50, and he almost fell out from the Top 300 after not being able to defend his points during the last 9 months.
That all changed in Izmir, where Illya won his 6th Challenger crown, the first since Recanati last year, beating French veteran Stephane Robert 7-6 6-0 in an hour and 13 minutes. Marchenko served well, losing 15 points in 9 service games and he saved 2 out of 3 break points to limit the damage in his games.
On the other hand, 37-year-old served at only 48%, hitting 7 double faults and dropping almost 50% of the points to be broken 4 times from 9 opportunities he gave to Ukrainian. The first set was very competitive, 6 games reached deuce and they both had chances to clinch it before the tie break.
Robert saved 5 out of 6 break points, staying in touch until the 11th game when Illya found the way to break him, but Stephane broke back at 15 in the 12th game to set up a tie break. Ukrainian won all 4 points on his serve and he scored 3 mini-breaks to grab the breaker by 7-2.
After more than 50 minutes of intense battle, Robert had nothing more left in the tank, winning just 9 points in set number 2 and losing it 6-0 in just over 20 minutes. He served at miserable 19% and Marchenko broke him 3 times with ease to lift the trophy and continue his return to the Top 200.
* Gwangju, South Korea, $50,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : 30-year-old Matthias Bachinger reached his 11th Challenger final in Gwangju and he claimed his 3rd title, the first since Athens in 2011, losing 5 finals between this period.
Bachinger underwent a knee surgery and this was the perfect way to boost his ranking, almost coming back to Top 200. German played well the whole week, never losing a set, and he beat qualifier Tsung-Hua Yang in the final by 6-3 6-4 in 66 minutes. It was a fast and fluid match, with only one deuce in 17 games, and both players dominated with their first serve.
On the other hand, Bachinger kept his second serve better and that made the whole difference, having to play against only 1 break point. Yang managed to convert it and break but that didn't bring him much, as he won just 9 out of 25 points on his second serve, facing 5 break points and losing serve 3 times to end on the losing side.
Matthias was off to a flying start, rattling off 20 out of the first 25 points to race into a 5-0 lead. Tsung-Hua managed to pull one break back, coming closer to 3-5 before German closed the set with a hold at love. Bachinger broke at the start of the second set and this will be the pivotal moment of the match, as they both served well in the remaining 9 games, with no deuces or break points, and this lone break was enough to secure the victory for him.
* Sibiu, Romania, €43,000+H (Outdoor Clay) : 5 and a half years ago, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe had a career-best ranking, and he struggled with numerous injuries in the following years, missing two and a half years between September 2013 and March 2016 (played 2 Futures in between).
With no ranking points, Stebe started from the rock bottom, recovering his form and strength to be competitive again, and he was ready to charge again in 2017. After 9 months, he made a stellar progress on the ATP rankings list, gaining almost 400 positions and looking good to end the season with his best ranking ever, which would be a perfect ending to what has been a classic story of a talented tennis player sidelined with injuries.
Cedrik-Marcel is one of the best players on the Challenger Tour this season, with 29 wins and 3 titles, conquering the latest one in Sibiu after a 6-3 6-3 triumph over Carlos Taberner in an hour and 31 minutes. It was a very entertaining match, with 28 break points in total, and Stebe did well to fend off 8 out of 10 break points, which was enough to close the match in straight sets.
20-year-old Spaniard couldn't make an impact with his serve, losing 53% of the points in his games and facing a huge number of break opportunities, 18 in total. He gave his best to fend off 13 of those but 5 breaks of serve were all that German needed to secure a triumph.
Cedrik-Marcel saved 4 break points in his initial service game and he broke at love in the following game to gain an early lead. Carlos stayed in touch after repelling 4 break chances in game 4 and he was rewarded in the very next game, breaking back to reduce the deficit to 3-2.
German recovered instantly and broke again in game 6 to create another gap. Both players served well in the next 3 games (which was a nice change after so many break points that we saw earlier in the set) and Stebe clinched the opener with a hold at love in game 9.
They traded breaks in games 5 and 6 of the second set before Stebe scored another one to move 4-3 in front. The biggest drama was reserved for the last game of the match, with Taberner serving to stay in the match at 3-5. He faced no less than 7 match points, finally laying down his weapons on the last one to hand the victory to his opponent.