Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Novak Demolishes Dzumhur

Dennis Novak
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Tell me you didn’t fall for that again. Dennis Novak clinched his second Challenger title at the Peugeot Slovak Open, absolutely destroying Damir Dzumhur in the final, 6-1 6-1. The 50-minute championship might have been easy but Novak’s route to the final certainly wasn’t.

The Austrian, who was ranked no. 126 at the start of the week, was unseeded in the tournament. This doesn’t happen often on the ATP Challenger Tour but such was the quality of the star-studded field in Bratislava. His campaign started with wins over compatriot Sebastian Ofner and sixth seed Alexei Popyrin. Novak then faced Slovakian Norbert Gombos for a spot in the quarterfinals.

The Austrian came out of the 0-40 hole twice in that match, breaking the home crowd favorite three times to seal the 7-5, 6-2 victory.

Novak On the verge of defeat

But things got real in the quarterfinals against third seed Stefano Travaglia. Novak came out with all guns firing, blasting forehand winner after forehand winner to take the first set six games to four. A couple of minutes later though, his intensity drastically dropped. For a good while out there, it seemed like two break points saved by the Italian at 4-6 0-0 were the key moment of the match. Novak lost the second set 2-6 and proceded to go down 1-4 15-40 on his serve in the decider.

Great serving got him out of this problem but the biggest one still stood – Travaglia had the advantage of a break. The game at 5-3 was all topsy-turvy but the Italian finally got an opportunity to close it. Yet match point up, he double-faulted.

The rest was history. The two went on serve until the tie-break where another massive heartbreak awaited for Travaglia. A dead net cord winner from Novak at 5-5 gave the Austrian first chance to close the match. He didn’t hesitate, blasting a couple of forehands before he finally found an angle that Travaglia couldn’t get to.

50-minute blowout

A good win over former champion Egor Gerasimov ensued and the Austrian was on his way to the final. Waiting there was fifth seed Damir Dzumhur, who has been progressing through the tournament in stunning fashion. Not many expected what was about to happen.

There was little the Bosnian could do as Novak just absolutely obliterated him from start to finish, breaking five times to clinch the 6-1 6-1 victory. The Austrian didn’t allow Dzumhur to play his game and completely dominated the rallies. The whole affair lasted just 50 minutes.

Dennis Novak’s victory takes him to world no. 108 in the Monday ATP Rankings. The Austrian has never been in the elite hundred, but he’s not defending much until April and a couple of good results in early 2020 should suffice. Novak will travel to Ortisei now, where he will be looking at a very comfortable draw full of Italians. If the Austrian keeps up the level he’s shown at the Peugeot Slovak Open, everyone in the field will be in great danger.

Other Challenger Tour winners of the week:

Kobe Challenger

Last year’s runner-up Yosuke Watanuki improved on that performance and clinched his maiden Challenger Tour final in Kobe. Despite failing to reach a single quarterfinal this year, the Japanese ripped through the draw winning every match in straights. He dropped his serve just three times, not losing more than four games a set.

He was well underway to throwing in another clinic against Yuichi Sugita in the final, generating breakpoints in six out of nine return games. Up 5-4, 40-0 Watanuki crumbled mentally, throwing away eight match-points, including double-faulting on one of them. But he still found a way to prevail after a titanic 15-minute last game, pushing Sugita wide to the forehand and forcing an error. Watanuki will jump 76 ranking spots on Monday but due to a change in the ATP Challenger Tour schedule, he is still yet to drop his last year’s Kobe runner-up points. This means he will drop around 50 places in a couple of weeks.

One more thing about Kobe Challenger – is it the most beautiful tennis venue in the world?

Knoxville Challenger

Christopher O’Connell has made his fourteenth final of the year. But for the ninth time, he was forced to capitulate at the final stage. Michael Mmoh took his fifth Challenger Title, just a week after this incident happened – the American threw his racket at a line judge and was obviously defaulted in his match against Darian King (a little sidenote – five years ago King was disqualified for a very similar action – it happened at the very same tournament).

It was so devastating for Mmoh that he even addressed it in his winner speech in Knoxville:

But back to the tennis, Mmoh lost just one set in the whole tournament. To Darian King in the second round. Anyway, the American took advantage of the draw opening up and beat wildcard Aleksandar Kovacevic in the quarterfinals and unseeded Liam Broady in the semifinals. The final against Christopher O’Connell was, among other things, a good showcase of his mental strength as Mmoh saved all eight break points faced in the second set. This Knoxville win also gives the 21-year-old the lead in the American Wildcard Challenge standings (the winner gets direct entry to the Australian Open main draw).

Uruguay Open

Spaniard Jaume MunarΒ clinched his fourth Challenger title (first this year) in Montevideo. Far from perfect the whole tournament, the final was the only match in which the 22-year-old didn’t lose a set. Starting from a second-round encounter against Rafael Matos, Munar was threatened in every single match. Matos led him 2-0 in the decider, Jozef Kovalik didn’t convert three break points while being up 6-4, 5-5 and Andrea Collarini and Thiago Seyboth Wild both led by a set and an early break in the second. In the championship match, Munar straight-setted top-seeded Federico Delbonis, coming back from 3-5 deficit in the opener. This victory sees the Spaniard rise thirteen ranking spots to world no.87.

This tournament was also notable for a great run from a 17-year-old Argentinian Juan Manuel Cerundolo. In the junior’s second Challenger Tour event, he reached the semifinals upsetting Joao Menezes, Facundo Bagnis and the top seed Pablo Cuevas.

ATP Challenger Tour Hot Shots:

A brilliant display of situational shots from Renzo Olivo and Tomas Martin Etcheverry:

Sekou Bangoura defending a couple of smashes:

That high serve toss proving to be a nightmare for Federico Delbonis again:

Pablo Cuevas might have gone out earlier than expected but he still found the time for the annual Montevideo hotshot:

Perfectly executed tweener lob from Andrea Vavassori:

And our main hero of this article, disappearing from the camera view to retrieve a smash:

 

Events held next week:

  • Oracle Challenger Series – Houston (Challenger 125)
  • JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana (Challenger 80)
  • Tali Open (Challenger 80)
  • Sparkassen ATP Challenger (Challenger 80)
  • KPIT MSLTA Challenger (Challenger 80)

This week we’ve had one of the best Challenger fields all year in Bratislava. It seems fitting that something’s gotta make up for it. The KPIT MSLTA Challenger in Pune exhausted its alternates list and the last direct main draw acceptance is now world no. 1779 Siddarth Vishwakarma. Fifteenth seed Brydan Klein and sixteenth seed Rio Noguchi are just behind the top 400 of the ATP Rankings. For comparison, the main draw cut-off for the Peugeot Slovak Open last week was no.224. The sixteenth seed was Elias Ymer, no.123 at the time of acceptance.

Top 100 players in action:

  • Tennys Sandgren (Houston)
  • Stefano Travaglia, Jannik Sinner, Salvatore Caruso (Sparkassen ATP Challenger in Ortisei)
  • Prajnesh Gunneswaran (Pune)

Yes, the freshly-crowned ATP NextGen Finals champion will end his season at the Ortisei Challenger. He made his Challenger Tour debut in Ortisei last year and was raised in close proximity to these courts. As the second seed, he will open against Lucas Miedler or Gian Marco Moroni.

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