Three guys combined to win 20 singles titles on the Challenger tour in 2021. One player won eight while the other two won six each. Two years later, in 2023, all three of them began their season at the Pune Open in Maharashtra.
On the pro-tennis circuit, two years can mean a lot and for each of the trio, coming through the Challenger system and trying to make it count on the ATP Tour led to several upheavals along the way.
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Of the three, Tallon Griekspoor, the player who finished with the most number of titles that year, not only entered the top-50 singles but also made it to a quarter-final of an ATP event for the first time in his career in 2022.
The Dutch’s career-high peaked at no. 44 in August that year while he started off the season strongly by reaching the quarters in Melbourne 1 in January. These positives were also joined by equally-significant dips one of which was him losing five consecutive matches, beginning in Tel Aviv in September and culminating in Vienna, in October.
The 26-year-old’s season ended with one last loss, to Australia’s Jordan Thompson in the Davis Cup Finals, in Spain. In Pune, after his second-round win over Marco Cecchinato, Griekspoor talked about climbing up from one rung of professional tennis to the other and the struggles that came with it.
He said, “It (winning the Challengers) helped a lot. Obviously, it helped with the ranking a lot; helped to get me into the bigger tournaments. (But) last year was not too great. (I) didn't have too many wins, some injuries, some Covid.
So, it was not easy”. Now, ranked no. 96, right on the fringes of the top-100, Griekspoor’s feels that he’s got the momentum with him despite not being placed advantageously vis-à-vis the rankings. “But (I’m) feeling good now feeling strong.
I think playing better than my ranking is at the moment. So, I'm confident for the season and I'm happy with the way I started,” he shared. And given that this year, too, like the previous year, he’s managed to clinch a new milestone for himself – in advancing to his maiden ATP semi-finals – Griekspoor’s self-assessment hasn’t been off.
Griekspoor’s fellow 26-year-old, Benjamin Bonzi, who was one of the two players who won a sextet of Challenger events in 2021, had his own perspective to build from his experiences in the past two years. Bonzi’s near-immaculate run in the Challengers saw him debut in the top-100 of the singles rankings that year.
The following year in June, the Frenchman backed this momentum with another – he made his debut in the singles top-50. “You’ve to get through those tournaments to perform on the ATP (Tour) and come into the top-100,” Bonzi said, in Pune, after his first-round victory against Chun-Hsin Tseng.
The whole of 2022 Bonzi played a hefty number of tournaments across all categories on the Main Tour pocketing a couple of semi-final finishes along the way – in Marseille and Mallorca – as his best results, so far.
In India, he added one more semi-final to this kitty of his, with his performances this week reiterating his self-belief in his growth as a player. “When you go into the ATP (events), it’s a bit different. You’ve to get used to it to learn how to experience everything.
There’s no easy match. You’ve to be ready from the first match of the tournament. Last season for me was a big learning season. It was very good. I played good matches even if (there were) losses sometimes. I feel more ready and more confident now for this season,” Bonzi had added in his press conference after winning against Tseng.
Two days later, after his quarter-final win over Filip Krajinovic, Bonzi circled back to the conversation. “When you get used to playing those tournaments, you feel more confident. And I think it was one of the keys at the end of the match.
I was two break up and you came back the first time,” Bonzi said, referring to Krajinovic breaking him back after he’d secured a second break on the Serbian’s serve. “Again, I was a break up, he came back.
And it was not an easy game at the end. So, for sure you have to be consistent. You have to go for it. And that's what I learned last year”. As they keep at it on the tour, the lessons these players imbibe will continue to evolve as well.
But there’s one lesson that will remain a constant, albeit in different ways for each of them. That, in the words of Sebastian Baez, the last of the triad mentioned here, is the lesson on improvement. The Argentine lost in the opening round at the Pune Open to Pedro Martinez.
He also suffered a couple of falls on the court during the match. But when asked whether these had impacted his game, the 22-year-old sagely imparted, “I believe that it’s something that doesn’t affect the game at all.
One has to continue forward beyond suffering falls on the court. I believe that there’s a lot more to improve in my game”. Photo Credit: Tata Open Maharashtra