Italy’s Francesco Passaro takes top honors on the ATP Challenger Tour | ATP circuit

Italian Francesco Passaro has an interesting take on the ATP Challenger Tour.

“Sometimes I think it’s harder to play the Challengers than the ATP (Tour), because we’re more hungry to go up. I think it’s like college for us and then the ATP Tour is the We’re trying to study to be ready for the ATP Tour,” said the world No. 128, who is now 27-12 at Challenger level this year.

Passaro is one of six young Italian #NextGenATPs to win a Challenger title in 2022. Luca Nardi, Flavio Cobolli, Matteo Arnaldi, Francesco Maestrelli and Lorenzo Musetti have also triumphed this season. The new generation of Italian stars often go to tournaments as a group.

With 20 Italians in the Top 200 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Passaro believes his compatriots feed off each other’s success and benefit from the attention given to top-ranked Italian stars on the ATP Tour, which has kept the pressure on talent emerging in the country.

“I think Jannik [Sinner]Matteo [Berrettini]and Lorenzo [Musetti] are going well for us. They take all the pressure from the media and we can race more easily without too much attention,” Passaro said.

“Me, Arnaldi, Nardi, [Giulio] Zeppieri, Cobolli, we like to stay together. We sometimes practice together, we have a lot of synergy. We went to US Open qualifying together.

“We are lucky because we have a lot of tournaments in Italy. We have the ATP Finals, the Next Gen Finals, the Masters 1000 in Rome, 25 Challengers I think and a lot of Futures. We have the opportunity to play every week in Italy. We push everyone because maybe if I win a tournament, another guy says ‘Yeah, Francesco won the tournament, I can win too!’

Passaro won his first ATP Challenger Tour main draw match at Challenger Sanremo in April, before advancing to the final (l. Rune) and marking his rise to the Challenger Tour this season.

The 21-year-old has appeared in five ATP Challenger Tour finals this season, including in Trieste, where he won his first title. Passaro, who played mostly ITF Futures tournaments in 2021, improved his ranking by nearly 500 spots over the past 12 months.

Francesco Passaro won his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Trieste, Italy. Credit: Citta di Trieste Challenger

The #NextGenATP star admitted he changed his mind at the start of the year, when he started “taking his job more seriously”. The new commitment led him to exceed his goals this year.

“My goal at the start of the season was to be in the Top 300,” Passaro said. “I did more than I expected, so I’m very proud of the work I did with my coach and my team. Now I want to push harder because I think I can do good things.

In June, Passaro advanced to the Forli-6 Challenger final, where he lost to fellow countryman Lorenzo Musetti 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. In the semi-finals, Passaro defeated Spaniard Jaume Munar 6-3, 7-5, earning his first win against a Top 100 player on the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Munar was then world No. 87 and seeded second in the event.

“The match against Munar lasted almost two hours for two sets. He is a great player, who never gives up and always tries to fight. I felt a lot of tension,” Passaro said.

“I won the first set of the final against Lorenzo, 6-2, I played amazing. In the second set, he served at 1-1, 15/40 and I didn’t break in this game. I feel like it was my chance but after that he started to play better now he plays a lot of matches on the ATP Tour so he is a more experienced player and he won in Hamburg .

Three weeks later, Passaro didn’t drop a set en route to the Milan Challenger final, where he was ousted by Argentinian Federico Coria.

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Passaro won his first Challenger title in Trieste, Italy in July when he rallied from a set down in the championship game to defeat China’s Zhang Zhizhen, who has made four Challenger finals this season, 4- 6, 6-3, 6-3. A hard-earned win came after Passaro lost the finals trio to the top 100 players.

“It was amazing because I lost my three previous finals against Holger [Rune]Lorenzo [Musetti], and Federico Coria, so for me it was very important. I tried to do my best; the first set, I was so nervous and Zhang was playing so well. It wasn’t easy, I was just very happy.

The Perugia native is now aiming to qualify for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. The season finale, which takes place in Milan, Italy, features the world’s top 8 players aged 21 and under. Passaro, ninth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan, agreed it would be a memorable experience if he made it to Milan.

“It’s a big goal for me because at the start of the season it wasn’t in my head to be there. [Milan]. I will do my best to be there. It won’t be easy because everyone wants to go, it’s a great experience for us. Also, for me to play in Italy, with the local crowd, I think it might be the best week of my life.

Passaro reached his fifth Challenger final of the season last week in Como, Italy, where he was beaten by Germany’s Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. Passaro will next compete in the ATP Challenger 125 event in Genoa, Italy from September 19-25.

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