* Hua Hin, Thailand, $150,000 (Outdoor Hard) : The 8th seed John Millman won his 9th career Challenger title and the first since Kobe in 2015 after a commanding 6-2 6-2 triumph over the compatriot Andrew Whittington in an hour and 23 minutes. Millman was much more efficient behind his serve, winning 23 out of 31 points after landing the first serve in, and he faced 1 break point in the entire match.
The pressure was on Whittington and he failed to endure it, losing more than 50% of the points on his serve and getting broken 5 times from 9 chances he gave to John. The scoreboard is a little bit misleading when we talk about the opening set, with 10 deuces in total, and the result could have been different in Whittington managed to win the important points.
He kicked off the match in a strong fashion, rattling off 9 out of the first 10 points before Millman pulled himself together to take the next 6 games and the set by 6-2, breaking his rival 3 times in a row to seize the control over the scoreboard.
The second set was more fluid and Millman clinched breaks in games 3 and 7 to close the match in style and celebrate his first title in more than 2 years. * Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, $50,000+H (Outdoor Clay) : 34-year-old Carlos Berlocq has won his 18th Challenger crown in Rio de Janeiro, which puts him in the tied 4th place of the all-time list, together with Go Soeda, only behind Yen-Hsun Lu, Dudi Sela, and Paolo Lorenzi.
In the final, Berlocq defeated young Spaniard Jaume Munar by 6-4 2-6 3-0 in 2 hours, with Munar being forced to retire after that third game of the final set. We saw 4 breaks on each side but Munar was unable to fight until the end, despite his great efforts in set number 2 when it looked that he would clinch his second Challenger crown.
Carlos claimed an early lead with a break in game 4 but Munar fought back to level the score at 4-4 after stealing rival's serve in game 7. Still, a more experienced player found the way to grab the opener with a break in game 10, and he certainly needed that, since Jaume raised his level in set number 2.
Spaniard broke Berlocq 3 times to take the set by 6-2 and force a decider, where he had another break point in the lengthy first game. Berlocq saved it to end his drought and he went on to break Munar in game 2 to create a gap.
He served at love in game 3 and Jaume decided to retire, having nothing else left in the tank.
* Andria, Italy, €43,000+H (Indoor Hard) : In by far the most interesting final of the week, Uladzimir Ignatik claimed his 5th Challenger crown after a hard-fought 6-7 6-4 7-6 triumph over Belgian qualifier Christopher Heyman, who played his first Challenger in a career. The match lasted just 2 hours and 7 minutes and it was a fast and floating one, with short points and also quick service games (there were 4 deuces in the entire encounter).
The fast indoor court offered a chance for aggressive tennis and a lot of free points directly from the serve, with just 4 break points in total. Ignatik defended his second serve better and he faced just 1 break point, fending it off to hold in every service game, and Heyman was also very solid, dropping serve just once.
It was all about the servers in the first set, with no break chances, and it was Heyman who grabbed the tie break by 7-3, scoring 2 mini-breaks to move a set away from the title. Nothing could separate the rivals in the first 9 games of the second set, but this time they couldn't reach the tie break, as Ignatik scored a precious break in game 10 to clinch the set by 6-4.
The final set saw commanding service games from both before the crucial last few games when they showed sign of nerves. Uladzimir saved a break point in game 11 to keep himself in contention, and he had 2 match points on the return in the following game.
Christopher saved them both to set up a tie break, but he failed to go all the way, handing 4 points on his serve to Ignatik, who won the breaker by 7-3 to finish the match and lift the trophy.