* Jinan, China, $150,000 (Outdoor Hard) :
Challenger legend Yen-Hsun Lu stayed on a course of winning his 29th title at this level of competition after a hard-fought 4-6 7-6 6-4 triumph over Go Soeda in 2 hours and 26 minutes, reaching his 45th Challenger final! Starting from 2005 and Kyoto, these two have played many Challenger matches and this was the 5th straight win for Lu, who didn't lose against Soeda since the final of New Delhi 2 in 2008. Nevertheless, he had to work really hard for this one, saving a match point in the second set tie break, but he was the better player on the court overall, playing against a fewer number of break points and winning more points on both serve and return. Soeda saved 5 out of 7 break points to stay in touch and he had that one chance to bring the match home, but it wasn't to be for him after all.
Japanese broke in the very first game to open up a 4-2 gap, but he lost his serve in game 8, as Lu leveled the score at 4-4. The momentum didn't stay for too much on his side, Soeda broke again in game 9 and closed the set on own serve in game 10, converting 4th set point. The second set was very close, with good serving from both, and there was only 1 break point, Go saved it in game 10 to keep the positive result, and the winner had to be decided in the tie break. Yen-Hsun missed another set point at 6-5 and he had to defend a match point at 6-7, only to make 2 mini-breaks in a row and seal the set with a good serve, winning the breaker 9-7 and sending the match into a decider.
It was all about Lu in the final set, he lost just 2 points on serve and waited for his chance on the return patiently. It came in game 9, he broke for a 5-4 lead and crossed the finish line a few minutes later with another good hold. Unlike last week in Chengdu, his rival in the final will not be Evgeny Donskoy, as the Russian had to withdraw against Ricardas Berankis, sending the Lithuanian to his 15th Challenger final.
* Aptos, USA, $100,000 (Outdoor Hard) :
Liam Broady, currently ranked 336th, struggled to find the form on Challengers this season, losing 8 out of 15 matches, but he found good form in Aptos, advancing to his second final (Charlottesville 2014) after a 7-6 6-3 triumph over Taylor Fritz in an hour and 32 minutes. Taylor served at only 51% but he did his best to stay in touch, saving 4 out of 5 break points, only to be denied by solid Briton who didn't lose his serve at all, fending off all 6 break points for a very important win. There were no breaks of serve in the first set, Fritz saved 3 break points while Liam came back from 0-40 in game 6, winning the next 5 points to avoid losing his serve.
Briton served better in the tie break and he scored 2 mini-breaks for a 7-3, moving just a set away from the final. Liam saved a break point at the start of the second set and he broke Fritz in game 4 to take a big lead. American had another break opportunity in game 7 but he couldn't convert that one either, and Broady clinched the win with a good hold in game 9, finishing the match with a service winner.
20-year-old Alexander Bublik won the maiden title in Morelos in February, and he will now play in his second final after a 7-6 6-3 win over SAam Groth in an hour and 27 minutes. Both players struggled with double faults but that affected Groth more, as Bublik had the advantage with his groundstrokes, which is not that hard against the Aussie. Bublik saved 4 out of 6 break points to limit the damage on his serve and he grabbed 44% of the return points, stealing Sam's serve 3 times from 9 chances. Groth saved a break point in the first game but he got broken in game 5, as Bublik opened a 4-2 gap.
They exchanged 3 breaks in a row to be leveled at 5-5, Sam managed to take rival's serve twice and to erase his deficit, but he was in trouble again in game 11, saving 2 break points to survive until the tie break. There, Alexander got 3 points on the return to take it by 7-2, which meant a lot for him for the rest of the match. Youngster saved 2 break points in the third game of the second set and he broke Groth in game 6 to move 4-2 ahead, which was enough for the win. Sam did save a match point on his serve in game 8 but that was all he could do, as Bublik held at love in game 9 to emerge as a winner.
* Floridablanca, Colombia, $50,000+H (Outdoor Clay) :
In the last couple of years, Guido Pella and Gastao Elias developed a nice rivalry on the Challenger Tour, and they met for the 5th time here. The top seed Pella prevailed by 6-3 6-3 in 74 minutes, earning the place in his 14th Challenger final, and the second of the season. Also, he scored his 150th Challenger win here in Floridablanca, which is a nice milestone for a 27-year-old. Guido served at 74% and he kept his second serve safe, facing just 2 break points and losing serve once. Nothing could separate these two fine clay-courters in the first 7 games, as they both served well, and it was Pella who drew first blood in game 8, breaking for a 5-3 lead.
Serving for the set in the next game, he saved a break point and brought the set home by 6-3. The Argentine used this drive to create an early lead in set number 2 as well, rattling off 5 games in a row to open up a 6-3 2-0 gap, and he pretty much sealed the deal with another break in game 5. Elias did make his final push in game 8, breaking at love when Pella served for the win, but his efforts were in vain, as he lost serve again in game 9 to end on the losing side.
Facundo Arguello was on a brink of entering the Top 100 in 2014 but he is currently ranked 445th, gaining a lot of places after winning Colombia F2 Futures in Manizales. He carried that form to Floridablanca as well, reaching his first Challenger final since Campinas in 2015, and 12th overall after a 6-0 7-6 win against qualifier Gonzalo Lama. Arguello was more efficient on his serve and he also outplayed his rival from the baseline, playing against 4 break points and losing serve twice. On the other hand, he pushed Lama to the limits on the return, winning 50% of the return points and creating 15 break points, converting 5 of those. Gonzalo couldn't find any kind of rhythm or range of his shots in the first set, facing 7 break points and losing serve on 3 occasions, dropping the opener 6-0.
He saved 2 break points at the start of the second set to end his collapse, and from that moment he looked much better, giving Arguello a hard time in the second set. They traded breaks in games 5 and 6, and again in games 9 and 10, while Lama had to save another pair of break points in game 11 to stay in contention. He had a 3-1 lead in the tie break but Facundo won 6 out of the last 7 points to grab the win in straight sets and advance to a much-needed final.
* Portoroz, Slovenia, €43,000+H (Outdoor Hard) :
In the beautiful Adriatic resort of Portoroz, young Italian Matteo Berrettini earned the place in his 4th Challenger final with a convincing 6-2 6-4 victory over Aldin Setkic in an hour and 21 minutes. Berrettini controlled the pace with his good serve and strong groundstrokes and he had to play against just 1 break point, keeping his serve intact. Setkic was nowhere near that, losing 45% of the points on his serve and getting broken 3 times from 7 chances that Matteo created. Berrettini was off to a flying start, scoring breaks in the 1st and 7th games to win the opener 6-2 in 30 minutes. He broke again at the start of the second set to move into a driving seat completely, and that was enough to bring the match home by 6-4. Setkic did well to save 3 break points in the rest of the set, including a match point in game 9, but he had only 1 break point and couldn't pull the break back.
In a much tighter encounter, Sergiy Stakhovsky took down young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas by 4-6 6-4 7-5 in just under 2 hours for his 13th Challenger final, the first since Seoul in May 2016. As the result suggests, it was a very close match, with Sergiy winning just 3 points more than his rival, scoring one extra break that pushed him over the finish line. Both had 6 break points and Stefanos couldn't defend set and a break advantage, losing ground in the closing stages of the last two sets. Tsitsipas opened the match with a break and he found a nice rhythm in his games, keeping the lead throughout the set for a 6-4.
The similar thing occurred at the start of the second set as well, Greek won 8 out of the first 9 points and he was in a good position to reach the title match. With no time for waste, Sergiy raised his level to grab 12 of the next 14 points, pulling the break back and moving 3-2 in front. He saved 2 break points in game 9, which will prove to be crucial, and he broke Stefanos in game 10 to steal the set by 6-4 and force a decider. They stayed neck and neck during the final set before Stakhovsky made a crucial break in game 12 to notch a win and avoid the thriller named the tie break.