* Indian Wells, USA, $150,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : Just a week before hosting the first Masters 1000 tournament of the season, Indian Wells Tennis Garden serves as the battleground for one of the strongest Challengers of the season, gathering a powerful field of players that fight for 125 ATP points.
There will be no seeded players in the title match, though, with Darian King and Martin Klizan scoring semi-final triumphs to set the final encounter. King came from a set down to take out an in-form Taylor Fritz 3-6 7-6 6-2 in 2 hours and 8 minutes for his fifth Challenger final and the first since Stockton in October, also here in California. Taylor's serve let him down, hitting just four aces and losing 43% of the points in his games, having to play against no less than 16 break points.
He did the best he can to fend off 13 of those but three breaks of serve were enough for King to score a win and propel himself into the final, saving five out of seven break points in his games. The young American saved all six break points he faced in the closing stages of the opening set and he broke Darian in game six to take a 4-2 lead.
He brought the set home in game nine for a 6-3 but only after saving three more break points in that last game, looking to create more room in his games in set number two. It turned into a real battle on the court and after more than hour King grabbed it in the tie break after four mini-breaks, taking the breaker 7-1 and sending the match into a decider.
A player from Barbados saved his best tennis for the closing stages of the match, losing just six points on serve in set number three and breaking Taylor in games five and seven to rattle off the last five games and seal the deal in style.
The third seed Vasek Pospisil also failed to reach the final, losing to Martin Klizan 6-1 3-6 6-1 in 2 hours and 7 minutes. This will be the first final for a former number 24 since Hamburg 2016 and the first on Challengers since Barranquilla four years ago, looking to win his seventh title.
Both players had their chances on the return but the Slovakian prevailed in the most important points, saving seven out of eight break points to keep the pressure on Vasek. The Canadian struggled to make an impact with his second serve and he lost 44% of the points in his games, getting broken four times from 10 opportunities he offered to Martin.
Klizan saved all seven break points he faced in the first set to seize it 6-1, breaking Pospisil in games four and six for a commanding lead. The tables have turned in set number two and Vasel was the one who had the edge in the pivotal moments, fending off all three break points and stealing rival's serve in game four to gain a 3-1 lead that he carried throughout the set for a 6-3 and to send the match into a decider.
Nonetheless, the Slovak saved his best tennis for the last set, losing three points on serve and holding all the pressure on the other side of the net, which Vasek failed to repel. He landed only 44% of the first serve in and had to give his serve away in games two and four, with no chance to pull them back against the rival who served well and controlled the pace with his forehands to book the place in the final.
* Yokohama, Japan, $75,000 (Outdoor Hard) : 29-year-old Tatsuma Ito didn't even have to enter the court to reach his 18th Challenger final since Cem Ilkel had to withdraw a day before the match, after his quarter-final win.
Tatsuma will face Yasutaka Uchiyama in an all-Japanese final after a 6-4 7-5 win over the top seed Jordan Thompson in an hour and 41 minutes. This is the third final for Uchiyama and the first since Kyoto a year ago when he won his first title.
The Japanese was more effective on his first serve and he saved three out of six break points while scoring five breaks on the other side from 10 chances he earned. Uchiyama drew first blood in game three when he broke Jordan and he saved two break points in the following game to cement his lead and move 3-1 ahead.
He sailed through the remaining service games and he completed the set with a hold at love in game nine, creating a 6-3 advantage before the second set. The second set offered 10 break points and they broke each other three times to stayed locked up at 5-5 (Uchiyama served for the match in that 10th game).
Thompson came back from a 5-3 down but couldn't reach the tie break, dropping serve once again in game 11 and that was all Yasutaka needed to seal the deal in the following game and advance into the final. * Punta del Este, Uruguay, $50,000+H (Outdoor Clay) : Guido Andreozzi and Simone Bolelli will play in the final of the inaugural Punta del Este event in Uruguay after both scored solid semi-final wins.
In an all-Italian battle, the 6th seed Simone Bolelli defeated the 5th seed Alessandro Giannessi 6-2 7-5 in an hour and 34 minutes for his 21st Challenger final and the first since Oberstaufen in July 2014. Simone had the better serve percentages but he had to play against eight break points, fending off seven of those to limit the damage in his games.
Giannessi struggled to make an impact with his second serve and he got broken four times from six break chances he gave to Simone, unable to send the match into a decider. Bolelli controlled the scoreboard in the opening set, saving one break point and playing well on the return to score breaks in games two and eight for a 6-2.
Giannessi grabbed the lead in set number two when he broke in game five and he confirmed his advantage after saving two break points in game six. Bolelli stayed in touch when he saved two break points in game seven and he was rewarded in the next game when he pulled the break back in the next game for a 4-4.
The older Italian made another big push towards the win when he saved three break points in game 11 and he crossed the finish line with a late break in game 12 that drove him into the final. Semi-final results: