Novikov Edges Tiafoe In Calabasas Futures Final; Stewart Wins Palm Harbor $25K; International Spring Championships Draws
©Colette Lewis 2015--
Which was better, the serving in the finals of the $15,000 Futures tournament at the Calabasas Tennis and Swim Center, or the weather it was played in?
After a brutal winter in Michigan, the cloudless skies with temperatures in the low 80s, with a refreshing breeze was just about perfect to me, but a 7-6(4), 7-6(6) win for No. 2 seed Dennis Novikov over unseeded Francis Tiafoe that featured 22 aces, 3 doubles faults and no breaks of serve didn't have much room for improvement either.
The 17-year-old Tiafoe, who won last week's $15,000 Futures in Bakersfield, spent the fall working on his serve and other facets of his game, and although there was no radar gun on the stadium court Sunday, he appeared to have added more pace and his placement was excellent.
The only two break points Tiafoe faced in the match were in the same game: serving at 3-4 in the first set, he netted a backhand to go down 15-40. Tiafoe saved the first with a good serve and got lucky on the second, when Novikov lined up a forehand, but saw it clip the tape and drop back on his side to bring it to deuce. Tiafoe won the next two points and lost only one point on serve in his next two service games, leading to the first tiebreaker.
Novikov missed his first serve in the first point of the tiebreaker, but that was the only first serve missed by either player in the 11 points played. Tiafoe hit consecutive aces to lead 2-1, and the good serves and forehand winners continued, with no breaks of serve. After Novikov hit an ace for 5-4, he got the first mini-break, hitting a forehand winner, and followed that by rifling a forehand return winner to secure the first set.
In Tiafoe's nine-match winning streak the past two weeks, he had lost the first set four times, so he was hardly out of it, but Novikov gave him few opportunities. It wasn't until Novikov served at 3-4 in the second set that he faced his first break point, and he saved that by controlling the point and eventually putting away a defensive short ball by Tiafoe. It was a forehand in the previous point that Tiafoe voiced more regret about however.
"At 15-30 3-4, I had a good look at a forehand and got a little too excited and missed it," said Tiafoe.
In the second set tiebreaker, Tiafoe got a mini-break to go up 2-0, with Novikov missing a backhand volley wide. But with Tiafoe serving at 3-1, an extended backhand exchange, probably the longest point of the match, saw Tiafoe eventually miss wide and the server returned to dominating the point. At 5-6, Tiafoe saved a match point with a sizzling forehand winner, but Novikov got another with a forehand winner after a let cord gave him time to set it up. On match point No. 2, Novikov missed his first serve, but the second was excellent, and he crushed a backhand winner to claim his sixth Futures title.
"I struggled a couple of times this week, but I just figured out a way to get through the match," said the 21-year-old, who turned pro in 2013 after his sophomore year at UCLA. "I wasn't playing my best tennis, but I played to win. I didn't play my best tennis today, but I definitely served well, as good as I probably could," said Novikov, who had 13 aces and 1 double fault. "My returns could have been a little bit better, but I have to be happy that I got through today and won. I did enough."
Getting into qualifying in the remaining slams this year is now assured for Novikov, who also qualified for the BNP Paribas Open earlier this month.
"I missed Aussie, I was like 250, a couple out, so I set a goal to get into the qualies of the slams for the rest of the year. Right now I'll be top 200, so I'll easily be in for the rest of the year."
Novikov is planning on competing the next two weeks in the Mexico Challengers, before returning to the US for the Har-Tru Challengers.
"There's two Challengers in Mexico and we'll see how the first one goes," said Novikov, who is scheduled to play No. 2 seed Paolo Lorenzi of Italy in the first round of the $50,000 San Luis Potosi Challenger next week."If I do well, I might skip the second, just to get ready for the clay court swing in Florida, because we're playing for the [French Open] main draw wild card in Florida. I think I have a good chance of actually getting that, it I keep serving well."
Novikov said that his recent surge (he was ranked 290 in January) is the result of getting to play better players.
"One of the things is experience, just playing matches on the tour against older guys," Novikov said. "Just seeing how everyone structures points, how to play to my strengths and my opponents' weaknesses. I definitely think I can compete, it's just getting the points to get there."
Tiafoe is also targeting the US Challengers next month, and will play Kalamazoo this year, but he's unsure about the junior slams.
"That's still up in the air, it's not for sure," Tiafoe said when I asked him about the French Open Juniors. "I really just want to play pros. I've been there, and I've seen it, got to the semis of a slam. Winning a slam is great, but at the end of the day, I want to be a good pro. I've had some good success in the juniors, and I think I want to move on, but we'll see."
At the $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Palm Harbor, Florida, qualifier Katerina Stewart claimed her first title at that level, defeating top seed and WTA 136 Maryna Zanevska of Ukraine 1-6, 6-3, 2-0 ret. It was the second straight match Stewart won by retirement, after advancing to the final when Allie Kiick retired on Saturday. Stewart won eight matches in eight days to win her fifth Pro Circuit title, all of them on clay.
I'll begin my coverage of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson on Monday, with the qualifying completed today at the Stub Hub Center.
William Blumberg is the top boys seed, followed by Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, Ulises Blanch, Alejandro Tabilo of Canada and Nathan Ponwith. The two finalists at the Claremont ITF, Connor Hance and Alexandre Rotsaert, were given wild cards into the main draw.
Usue Arconada is the top girls seed, followed by Sonya Kenin, Michaela Gordon, Fanni Stollar of Hungary and Francesca Di Lorenzo.
In the 16s, Emma Decoste is the top girls seed, and Jack Pulliam is the top boys seed.
All draws and the order of play are available at the tournament website.
Live scoring is available at tennis-ticker.com