This week, the ATP Challenger Tour returned to grass for the first time in two years, as the lawns of Nottingham welcomed players back to the prestigious Viking Open.
Frances Tiafoe wasted little time in finding his form on the surface, streaking to his first grass-court title in dominant fashion. The Maryland native ousted close friend Denis Kudla 6-1, 6-3 in just 70 minutes on Sunday, marking the culmination of a week that saw him lose just one set and save 21 of 25 break points faced.
The title match marked the first time that two Americans faced off for a grass-court crown on the Challenger circuit. Kudla, who had defeated Tiafoe in their two previous encounters, battled a determined countryman in Sunday’s championship.
“I was waiting for this for a very long time,” said Tiafoe during the trophy ceremony. “Denis battled hard all week. I know grass is one of his favourite surfaces, so I hope he wins next week but I’m happy to get this one. I needed it bad. And it’s my first title with [coach Wayne Ferreira], so hopefully we’ll get some ATPs next.
“Lastly, I have to say to Denis that I wouldn’t be the guy I am without you bro. I’ve been trying to chase you since I was a kid. It feels good to beat you today but I’ve always looked up to you and I’m happy for our practices together and our friendship. In all my success in the future, I want to say thank you.”
Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Tiafoe is no stranger to success on grass, having advanced to the quarter-finals at the 2018 cinch Championships at Queen’s Club. He would go on to reach the third round at Wimbledon just weeks later.
The 23-year-old’s victory was also his sixth on the ATP Challenger Tour and first since he prevailed on the clay of Parma in 2020. Tiafoe is making a habit of lifting trophies in recent years, having won seven of his last eight finals on the ATP Tour and Challenger circuit combined. He is projected to rise to No. 65 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday.
Kudla, meanwhile, was bidding for his second grass-court crown (Ilkley 2015). The American enjoyed an impressive week himself, stopping #NextGenATP star Tomas Machac in the first round, before defeating home hopes Liam Broady and Daniel Evans and saving a match point against Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak in the semi-finals. Evans was the top seed and defending champion at the Challenger 125 event.
Both finalists will look to continue their strong form on the turf next week, with Tiafoe traveling to London to compete at Queen’s Club and Kudla staying in Nottingham for the second of back-to-back Challengers there. Tiafoe opens against Aljaz Bedene, while Kudla is set to face fourth seed Kevin Anderson.