* Irving, USA, $150,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : The super strong Challenger in Irving has gathered one of the strongest fields of players we will see on the Challenger Tour in 2018 but it will be a final between the unseeded players, as Matteo Berrettini and Mikhail Kukushkin both reached the title match.
21-year-old Italian will play in his seventh Challenger final and the second of the season after a 6-3 6-4 win over the 4th seed Marton Fucsovics in an hour and 24 minutes. Berrettini saved eight out of nine break points he faced to keep the pressure on the Hungarian and he prevailed in the most important points on the return, breaking Fucsovic four times from six chances to earn the place in the final.
Matteo drew first blood in game five and he saved five break points at 5-3 to remain in front, breaking Marton once again in game nine for a 6-3. They traded breaks in games three and four of set number two and the Italian fends off a break point at 4-4 to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard.
He converted his third match point in the following game to wrap up a win and book the place in the title match. Mikhail Kukushkin defeated the 3rd seed Steve Johnson 6-4 7-6 in an hour and 52 minutes for his 21st Challenger final and the first since Astana in July last year. These two have played four ATP matches in the United States before, with two wins for each, and this time it was Kukushkin who prevailed, winning six points more than the American.
Mikhail played well in the crucial moments, repelling seven out of eight break points and he earned two breaks in Johnson's games to close the match in straight sets. Steve wasted a break point in the second game to lose serve right in the following one, falling 4-2 behind when Kukushkin fends off two more break chances in game six.
Johnson got broken again in game seven but he got it back a few minutes later when Kukushkin served for the opener at 5-3. Steve saved two break points on serve in the next game but that was all he could do, as Mikhail closed the opener with a hold at love in game 10.
The American had everything under control in set number two, dropping just four points in six service games and the set should have gone to his side, wasting four set points on the return in games 10 and 12. Kukushkin somehow reached the tie break and the momentum was on his side now, racing into a 5-2 lead.
Steve climbed back to 6-6 after saving a match point but he lost the next two points to end the match on the losing side. * Shenzhen, China, $75,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : Ze Zhang received a wild card to compete at Shenzhen Challenger and it was a smart move from the organizers since he made the final, his sixth at this level and the first since Zhangjiagang last year.
Zhang needed 2 hours and 4 minutes to beat Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 2-6 6-2, saving nine out of 12 break points and raising his level in the decider when it mattered the most. Hurkacz was off to a better start, breaking his rival in game six to open a 5-2 lead and to serve for the opener in game nine.
He squandered a set point in that game and three more on the return in game 10 and they were off to a tie break that proved to be the most exciting part of the match. There were eight mini-breaks in the first 14 points, staying locked up at 7-7, and the Pole wasted two more set points at 9-8 and 11-10.
Zhang finally clinched the breaker 13-11, converting his sixth set point to move a set away from the place in the final. Hubert recovered his game and he was the dominant figure in set number two, sailing through his service games and breaking Ze in the first and seventh games for a 6-2, seizing the momentum before the deciding set.
Nonetheless, the Chinese was the one who saved the best tennis for the end, stealing rival's serve in games four and eight to cross the finish line first and book the place in the final. 24-year-old Belarusian Ilya Ivashka took down Tatsuma Ito 6-3 6-2 in 68 minutes, advancing to his third Challenger final and the first since Fergana in June last year. Ivashka dropped just 15 points in nine service games, saving four out of five break points he faced and he had the upper hand on the return as well, winning half of the points in Ito's games to break him four times and notch a commanding win.
The first break came in game six when Ilya moved 4-2 ahead, only to get broken in the very next game and lose his advantage. Tatsuma gained nothing from that and he gave is serve away again in game eight before the Belarusian closed the set with a hold at love a few minutes later.
He carried this momentum into set number two as well, losing four points on serve and breaking his rival in games three and seven to march towards the title match. Semi-final results: