The ATP announced a series of significant enhancements to its Challenger tour in 2023 and many Aussies are taking full advantage so far, with five titles – the outright most of any nation.
The total prize money pool rose from $13.2 million in 2022 to $21.1 million this season – an increase of 60%. Meanwhile, the number of events available to players rose from 183 to an all-time record 195.
This increase was majorly weighted towards Challenger 100 and 125 events with a 170% jump in this area, aiming to “enhance player flow and mobility, giving players more opportunities to ascend the ATP rankings.”
And a group of Aussies have already capitalised on these chances, to catapult themselves toward or inside the ATP top 100.
Despite often drawing little interest among broader tennis fans, these events offer extremely valuable points to those who are successful.
For context, Australia’s Alex de Minaur – who competes at the highest level in men’s tennis each week – has earned 100+ points just twice in his past 19 tour events.
Meanwhile, Max Purcell – the greatest beneficiary of ATP Challenger events this year – has now earned 100+ points twice in his past 2 events.
After leaving Tasmania earlier in February, 24-year-old Purcell has gone on a ten-match winning streak in India, lifting consecutive titles in Chennai and Bengaluru.
The 2022 Wimbledon doubles champion, alongside Matt Ebden, vowed at the Australian Open that this season – and the next few after – would be for the individual format.
“I’m trying to take a step away from doubles this year, to focus on my singles,” Purcell said.
“My goal this year [is] to try and get inside the top 100 at some point.”
And after being outside the top 200 a fortnight ago, Purcell has now skyrocketed to a career-high number 116.
Defending just 27 combined points over the next three months, the 24-year-old is primed to achieve his goal of a top-100 debut.
Thanasi Kokkinakis is another Aussie who has set up his year significantly with a 125 Challenger title in Manama, Bahrain.
The 26-year-old soared back into the top 100 from world number 141, after claiming his fifth title at the level.
Many Aussie fans will remember the local’s brilliant run in Adelaide during the 2022 summer, where he claimed an emotional first career ATP title.
And while a whole lot less would have caught Kokkinakis’ matches in Bahrain this month, the 125-point earning is the third largest from any week in his career (behind only Adelaide 2022 and Los Cabos 2017).
Not only has the boost allowed a swift return to ATP level, but it also helped earn Kokkinakis a main draw wildcard into this week’s Dubai 500 event – where he is already into the second round.
After a heroic fortnight in Melbourne – becoming a Grand Slam doubles champion with Jason Kubler – Rinky Hijikata headed straight to Burnie for the Challenger grind and was rewarded with his second title at the level.
The 22-year-old also closed in on a top-100 debut with the triumph and provided himself with an instant opportunity at ATP level.
The final Aussie Challenger titlist for 2023, Jordan Thompson, gained a slightly different benefit from his victory – being the only winner already inside the ATP top 100.
However, the 28-year-old consolidated his place in a group which he has been an absolute stalwart – having now remarkably spent 280 of the past 300 weeks within the top 100.
Without winning titles, more Aussies have shown promising signs at Challenger level, particularly in India.
James Duckworth has only lost to the eventual champion in his last three events, being Hijikata in Burnie and Purcell in both Chennai and Bengaluru.
The 31-year-old’s ATP ranking has consequently risen over 50 places during February from 163 to world number 112.
A younger Aussie who has displayed his potential at recent Challenger tournaments in India has been James McCabe.
The 19-year-old came through qualifying in consecutive events before reaching his first semi-final at the level last week.
While McCabe’s ATP ranking sits at a career-high 306, he is seventh highest performing teenager on tour in 2023.
Ultimately, the Challenger tour acts as a platform to boost players up to ATP and Grand Slam level – but more so than ever in 2023 – and many Aussies are, and hopefully will continue to take full advantage.