* Orleans, France, €127,000+H (Indoor Hard) : 35-year-old Julien Benneteau had to dig deep to oust Hungarian Marton Fucsovics by 3-6 6-3 7-6 in 2 hours and 33 minutes, reaching his 9th Challenger final and the first since Mouilleron Le Captif in November last year.
Marton led 5-2 in the final set, he had 3 match points in the tie break but it wasn't enough to bring the match home, suffering a heartbreaking loss and missing a chance to fight for the title. It was a very tight match, as the result suggests, and both players lost serve 5 times, although Fucsovics had to play against more break points, 14 in total.
Hungarian broke twice at the start of the match to open a 4-1 lead, and he kept the advantage after saving a break point in games 5 and 7. Benneteau saved all 4 break points in set number 2, including 2 in the last game of the set, and he broke at 15 in game 4 to create a 3-1 advantage that was enough to deliver the set for him and send the match into a decider.
There, they exchanged breaks to be leveled at 2-2 and Marton scored another one in game 6 to build a nice lead, rattling off 5 games in a row. He served for the match at 5-4 but Julien managed to break back and stay in contention.
With the momentum on his side, Frenchman converted his 5th break point in the 11th game to move 6-5 ahead, and he served for the win in the following game. Nonetheless, Marton broke back to set up a tie break, and he wasted 3 match points, at 6-4 6-5 and 7-6.
Benneteau fends them off and he sealed the deal with his 3rd mini-break for 9-7, mighty releaved that he went through in such a close match. The 4th seed Norbert Gombos, who loves to play indoor, defeated Illya Marchenko by 6-4 6-1 in 73 minutes for his 11th Challenger final, the second of the season after Heilbronn. Slovak served at 70% and he was very efficient in his games, losing 13 points in 9 service games, never facing a break point.
On the other hand, he claimed 45% of the return points, creating 9 break points and converting 3, more than enough to bring the win home, not spending too much time on the court. Marchenko stayed in touch until the closing stages of the opening set, saving 4 break points in game 6, but he wasted 2 game points in the 10th game, Gombos won 4 points in a row to grab the set by 6-4.
That gave him the initiative to push even stronger in the second set, breaking Illya in games 2 and 6 and finishing the match with another good hold in game 7 for the place in the final.
* Tiburon, USA, $100,000 (Outdoor Hard) : Collegiate player Cameron Norrie has been in a very good form recently, reaching the second round of the US Open as a qualifier and advancing to the final of the Cury Challenger two weeks ago.
Now, Cameron will have a chance to play in his 4th Challenger final, following a commanding 6-3 6-2 win over Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran in 57 minutes. Norrie kept his second serve safe and he got broken just once, and he won 48% of the return points, breaking Gunneswaran on all 4 opportunities to bring the match home in under an hour.
Norrie started the match in a rather slow fashion, losing his serve in the opening game and saving another break point in game 3, but he broke back immediately which helped him a lot. Prajnesh wasted a game point and he lost serve in the 8th game, which was all Cameron needed to grab the set by 6-3 on own serve in the following game.
They stayed in touch in the opening 4 games of the second set before Norrie shifted into a higher gear to rattle off the last 5 games, breaking his rival in games 5 and 7 for a convincing victory and the place in the final.
The second semi-final was much more competitive, and it was the 2nd seed Tennys Sandgren who earned the spot in the title match, beating Mackenzie McDonald 7-6 7-6 in an hour and 48 minutes. This will be the first final for Sandgren since Savannah in May and the 6th overall, and with these points, he will have a career-high ranking on Monday, returning to the Top 100.
This was the 7th Challenger semi-final for McDonald and he is yet to make that additional step and reach the final, although he was mighty close in this one, having 8 break points. Sandgren saved 7 to keep himself in contention and he won 5 points more in total, thanks to those tie breaks.
Mackenzie fought well and he faced just 3 break points, losing serve once, but he missed a chance to score a win, wasting 4 set points in the opener and serving for the second set at 5-4, only to get broken. It was a good start from both, with 9 easy holds without deuces or break points, and Tennys was the first who experienced problems in his games, saving that 4 break and set points in game 10 to prolong the set.
Mackenzie was 3-1 up in the tie break but he dropped 6 out of the next 7 points to lose the breaker by 7-4. Mighty releaved he stole the set after all, Sandgren had to work hard to avoid break at the start of the second set as well, saving 3 break points, and he missed a chance to break his younger opponent in game 8.
After that, McDonald broke at love in game 9 to serve for the set, but he couldn't hold in the 10th game, bringing Sandgren back to the scoreboard. The tie break was there to decided this set too, and Mackenzie opened it with a 3-0 lead.
Nonetheless, he lost the next 7 points to conclude the match in the worst possible manner, sending Sandgren into the title match. * Rome 2, Italy, €43,000+H (Outdoor Clay) : Filip Krajinovic has been one of the most consistent players on the Challenger Tour in 2017, and he will compete in his 4th final of the season a commanding 6-1 6-1 victory over young Spaniard Carlos Taberner in 66 minutes. This will be the 14th Challenger final for Krajinovic in a career and he deserved it with an amazing performance on the return, winning 65% of the points on Carlos' serve and breaking him 6 times to dominate the scoreboard.
Interestingly, Filip had to save 2 break points in the opening game of the match and they traded breaks at love in the next 2 games. Still, Serb found the right rhythm after that, taking the last 4 games of the set to clinch the opener by 6-1, and he never looked back.
Spaniard made too many errors and he couldn't endure the baseline rallies with Filip, who broke him 3 times in set number 2 as well and who will seek the similar performance in the final as well. 32-year-old Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who has more than 600 professional matches on clay in his legs, reached his 25th Challenger final and the first since Cordenons last year after a solid 6-2 6-4 win over the 5th seed Roberto Carballes Baena in 74 minutes. Gimeno-Traver lost 45% of the points in his games, dropping serve 4 times from 8 opportunities he gave to a younger Spaniard, but Carbaelles Baena was even worse on his serve, winning just one-third of the points and having to play against 9 break points.
Daniel converted 7 and that gave him the edge, leading from start to finish to join Krajinovic in the final. More experienced player won 12 out of the first 14 points to race into a 3-0 lead, and he broke Carballes Baena in all return games for a 6-2, despite losing his serve twice as well.
They traded 4 breaks in the middle of the second set and Gimeno-Traver got the pivotal break in game 10 to seal the deal, winning 8 out of the last 9 points.