Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Jozef Kovalik Ends the Season in Maia

Jozef Kovalik
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Just one tournament was played in the very last week of the 2019 ATP Challenger Tour season. As Bari Challenger was canceled due to “irreparable damage” to the stadium, Portuguese city Maia was the only center of the action. Jozef Kovalik was crowned as the champion for the second time this year. The Slovak smashed Constant Lestienne in the final 6-0 6-4. He didn’t lose a single set on the way to the title, defeating the top seed Andrej Martin and the third seed Paolo Lorenzi.

Kovalik had a quite random fantastic month last year when he won the Poprad-Tatry Challenger, finished runner-up at Braunschweig and went on to reach the semifinals at an ATP 500 event at Hamburg. At the best moment of his tennis career, he was forced to undergo wrist surgery and was out of the game for six months.

When these points dropped in July, Kovalik fell down to the fourth hundred of the ATP Rankings. But taking down the Pekao Szczecin Open title and finishing runner-up in Barcelona has allowed him to start his journey back to the top. With the title in Maia, Kovalik will jump further 32 ranking places, up to world no. 139.

Fighting for Australian Open main draw berths

At the start of the week, four players had an off-chance of making the Australian Open main draw. A title would secure it for Andrej Martin, 3-time ATP Challenger Tour champion in 2019. The Slovak went as far as to reach the semifinals but was knocked out by eventual champion Jozef Kovalik.

The remaining three were a trio of Italians. Gianluca Mager lost a tight battle to his compatriot Roberto Marcora and Thomas Fabbiano went out at the hands of Daniel Masur. This marked Fabbiano’s third loss in all three ATP Challenger Tour events he played this season.

Paolo Lorenzi’s will to fight was just as amazing as ever. After a marathon 3 hours and 8 minutes match against Jurij Rodionov (3-6 7-6 7-6), on the next day, the 37-year-old came back from 1-6 2-4 against Filippo Baldi. The 1-6 7-6 6-3 (saved 1 MP) win lasted another two and a half hours. His loss to Jozef Kovalik might have been a straight setter, but it certainly wasn’t easy. Lorenzi pulled off comebacks from 1-5 in the first and 2-5 in the second, but lost each set five games to seven.

An unusual clay competitor

Maxime Cressy, one of the not many players to still base their game on serve-and-volley, competed in his first clay-court event since 2016. Three years ago, Cressy played a series of ITF events in Belgium/France and in all probability hasn’t even trained on clay that much.

For someone playing this style, indoor clay is the place to go though. The American defeated the Prince of Uganda, Ivan Nedelko, in straight sets to win his first main draw match ever on this surface. But his clay-court success was rather short-lived as Cressy’s tactics were heavily exposed by Constant Lestienne.

Should we feel sorry for Aslan Karatsev?

The 26-year-old Russian was one of the most surprising performers of the summer on the ATP Challenger Tour. Peaking at the Sopot Open, Karatsev took down Lorenzo Giustino, Christopher O’Connell and Paolo Lorenzi before losing a marathon three-setter to Filip Horansky in the semifinals.

But the Russian was unable to keep up this form and is currently riding an 11-match losing streak. Maia was his last chance to set this behind him this year and leading Pavel Kotov 7-6 3-0 with a double break, Karatsev looked good to go.

But in an unbelievable twist, the Russian started grabbing his lower back and in a couple of points, he couldn’t move anymore. A visit from the physio didn’t help and Karatsev was forced to retire. The circumstances are suspicious and no one can be quite sure whether to feel sorry for Aslan or to file a complaint to the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Just one event but there was a lot of magic anyway:

Breaking a racket might not be the best manners, but at least he put it in the bin:

With that, we say goodbye to the 2019 ATP Challenger Tour. The calendar for January and February is out and it looks like on the week starting January 6th, we’ll get three exciting events. A Challenger 125 event in Canberra (won by Hubert Hurkacz last year) and two smaller ones in Noumea and Ann Arbor.

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