Thai's Time: Kwiatkowski Captures Maiden Title In Newport Beach
A LOOK BACK
Oracle Challenger Series Newport Beach (Newport Beach, California, USA): To say that Thai-Son Kwiatkowski earned his first ATP Challenger Tour title would be an understatement. The American reeled off six wins in six days in Newport Beach, lifting his maiden trophy in emphatic fashion. Not only did Kwiatkowski topple four seeds in a row, but he rallied from a set down to overcome Brayden Schnur and Steve Johnson along the way.
The former University of Virginia standout dominated Sunday's final, beating Daniel Elahi Galan 6-4, 6-1 in just 58 minutes. Appearing in his first final, Kwiatkowski exhibited nerves of steel in taking the title. He soared 89 spots to a career-high No. 181 in the FedEx ATP Rankings with the victory.
“I almost didn’t come to this tournament,” said Kwiatkowski during the trophy ceremony. “I had a really bad week of training last week and my girlfriend dumped me two weeks ago so to win this is amazing.
“He qualified for the Australian Open last week so I knew he’s super match tough and playing well. I was incredibly nervous, it was my first ATP Challenger final. I just tried to not think about what was on the line and play every point. It was super difficult, it was a little bit cooler than yesterday. But I hung in there really well.”
The NCAA singles champion in 2017, Kwiatkowski was also an integral part of three national championship runs for the University of Virginia. Now, three years after turning pro, he is putting it all together on the professional scene alongside longtime coach Carlos Benatzky. He is coming off a 23-win season that also saw him claim his first Top 100 victory.
Kwiatkowski, who was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, is three-quarters Vietnamese and one-quarter Polish. Last year, he visited Vietnam to hold a series of kids' clinics in Ho Chi Minh City. The 24-year-old has stressed the importance of growing the game in his mother's native country.
Meanwhile, in doubles, Ariel Behar and Gonzalo Escobar continued their impressive run together, earning a seventh Challenger title as a team. All seven titles have come within the past year, as the Uruguayan-Ecuadorian pair move closer to the Top 50 of the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings.
Caterpillar Burnie International (Burnie, Australia): Top seed Taro Daniel was a class above the rest in Burnie. The World No. 110 dominated from start to finish, not dropping a set en route to lifting the trophy. He conceded just five games in the quarter-finals, four games in the semis and routed Yannick Hanfmann 6-2, 6-2 in Sunday's championship.
It was a long-awaited return to the winners' circle for the Japanese star, who celebrated his first title since 2017. It was his sixth overall on the ATP Challenger Tour and first alongside new coach Sven Groeneveld. Closing in on a Top 100 return, he rises eight spots to No. 102 in the latest FedEx ATP Rankings.
Punta Open (Punta del Este, Uruguay): The first clay-court champion of 2020 is Brazil's Thiago Monteiro. The 25-year-old successfully defended his Punta del Este crown in dramatic fashion, saving three match points against Marco Cecchinato in Sunday's final.
Monteiro, who fought off those three championship points at 5-4 in the third set, prevailed 7-6(3), 6-7(6), 7-5 after two hours and 51 minutes. He turned in a clutch serving performance as well, denying eight of nine break points faced.
In 2019, Monteiro broke through with three Challenger titles and soared inside the Top 100 to become the No. 1-ranked Brazilian. This week, he picked up right where he left off, adding a sixth title overall after opening the year with a run to the second round at the ASB Classic in Auckland as a qualifier.
Open Quimper Bretagne Occidentale (Quimper, France): Kwiatkowski wasn't the only player to lift his first trophy on Sunday. In Quimper, Cem Ilkel reigned for the first time, defeating home hope Maxime Janvier 7-6(6), 7-5 for the title.
The 24-year-old Ilkel is the first player from Turkey to win a Challenger title since Marsel Ilhan in 2016. He earned every bit of the victory, with four of his wins coming in three sets. He rises 65 spots to a career-high No. 200 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
A LOOK AHEAD
Two tournaments highlight this week's slate, with Frances Tiafoe headlining the RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas. He is joined by Andreas Seppi, Dominik Koepfer, Brayden Schnur, defending champion Mitchell Krueger and two-time runner-up Mackenzie McDonald.