Best Of: From Challengers To Grand Slam Breakthroughs In 2023
ATPTour.com highlights five players who tasted success on the ATP Challenger Tour this season before shining at one of the four majors.
Coming into the season, the American was ranked outside the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings with just one major main-draw win. Closing 2022 by winning 11 of his final 14 Challenger-level matches was a sign of things to come for Eubanks. A quarter-final appearance at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Miami led Eubanks to his Top 100 debut.
During a South Korean Challenger swing across April and May, Eubanks reached two quarter-finals and a semi-final. The former Georgia Tech University standout started his grass season at the Surbiton Challenger, suffering a second-round exit. Then his life changed.
The 27-year-old collected his maiden ATP Tour level title in Mallorca and completed a dream run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. En route to the last eight at the All England Club, Eubanks ousted 15th seed Cameron Norrie and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“My grass-court season got off to a bit of a rough start at the Surbiton Challenger. I began to question whether or not I could be good on the surface. I didn’t think that I could,” Eubanks said in July. “But my coach, Ruan Roelofse, and I, we put in a lot of work on the grass to try and understand the footing and the shots and everything that I would need to have in order to be successful.”
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Making Swiss tennis history isn’t easy. After all, 20-time major champion Roger Federer and former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka have etched their names into almost every record book for their home country. But the lefty Stricker managed to carve out a niche place in the record books by winning the Prague Challenger in May and become the only Swiss player to win five Challenger titles before his 21st birthday.
Stricker, who also won the Rovereto Challenger in February, enjoyed a breakthrough at the US Open, where he advanced through qualifying en route to a fourth-round appearance. In the second round, Stricker stunned Tsitsipas after firing 78 winners in a five-set thriller that lasted four hours, 10 minutes.
“I was down 3-5 and then I came back in the fourth set. I don’t know how, but I did it somehow and then I kept playing very high level tennis. I am a bit speechless,” Stricker said at the time.
His deep run at Flushing Meadows propelled him into the Top 100 for the first time on 11 September. The 21-year-old became the youngest Swiss to reach the milestone since 20-year-old Wawrinka did so in 2005.
Dominic Stricker triumphs at the Challenger 75 event in Rovereto, Italy.” />
Dominic Stricker celebrates winning the Rovereto Challenger. Credit: Felice Calabro
The 22-year-old Australian partnered countryman Jason Kubler for the first time at their home Slam. The result? A fairytale run to their first Grand Slam title.
“I could never have imagined this, it is just unreal,” Hijikata said.
The dream start to the year continued for Hijikata, who did not drop a set en route to winning the Burnie Challenger, just eight days after winning the Australian Open doubles crown.
A wild card into the US Open, Hijikata reached the fourth round (l. Tiafoe), to earn his Top 100 debut. After the season’s final major, the former University of North Carolina star reached the Cary Challenger final and advanced to the last four at the Playford and Sydney Challengers.
“The Challenger Tour has been great for me. There’s so many quality players on the Challenger Tour and I honestly feel like the level isn’t too different between Challengers and ATP Tour events,” Hijikata said. “To make that transition is very important, to play Challengers and put yourself week in and week out against some quality players, just being able to back up good weeks week after week is hard to do and important.”
Not many players were more successful on the ATP Challenger Tour in the first half of the year than Ofner. The 27-year-old Austrian reached four Challenger finals before his career-best moment at Roland Garros.
Ofner qualified for the clay-court major and showed no signs of slowing down. After racing past Maxime Cressy and Sebastian Korda, Ofner survived his second career five-setter, against Fabio Fognini, before falling to fifth seed Tsitsipas in the fourth round.
Following his deep run in Paris, Ofner jumped 37 spots in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to mark his Top 100 debut. He then reached the Ilkley Challenger final in June and won his fourth Challenger title in July in Salzburg. Ofner finished the season at a career-high No. 43.
The 22-year-old was the only Italian to win a trio of ATP Challenger Tour titles in 2023, with triumphs in Tenerife, Murcia and Heilbronn. Arnaldi earned his first Top 10 victory by defeating World No. 4 Casper Ruud in Madrid, where he also secured his Top 100 breakthrough.
In New York, Arnaldi’s career hit new heights. The Sanremo native advanced to the fourth round, having defeated 16th seed Norrie along the way to an Arthur Ashe Stadium match against top seed Carlos Alcaraz, who defeated Arnaldi in straight sets.
After starting the season at No. 134, Arnaldi boasted a 16-5 Challenger-match record and hit a career-high No. 41 in October.