Thursday, August 10, 2017

NorCal's Novikov upsets seed, gains Aptos quarters

   Dennis Novikov, playing near home, upset fifth-seeded Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3 in 2 hours, 40 minutes today to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif.
   Novikov, a 23-year-old wild card from Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area, converted only 42 percent of his first serves but saved 12 of 13 break points against him at the Seascape Sports Club.
   Milpitas is a one-hour drive north of Aptos.
   Novikov, who reached his first ATP World Tour quarterfinal last month on grass in Newport, R.I., will play another Kazakh, Alexander Bublik, on Friday at 11 a.m. It will be the first match between Bublik, ranked No. 125, and Novikov, ranked No. 216.
   Bublik, 20, routed third-seeded Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-1, 6-1 in 45 minutes.
   Both Bublik and Kukushkin were born in Russia.
   Bublik, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and only 165 pounds (75 kilograms), qualified for the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. He stunned France's Lucas Pouille, then ranked 16th, in the first round in Melbourne before losing to Malek Jaziri of Tunisia. Bublik fell to top-ranked Andy Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round at Wimbledon.
   Only one seed reached the Aptos quarterfinals. No. 6 Tennys Sandgren will face wild card Taylor Fritz for the first time in an all-American showdown not before 6 p.m.
   Sandgren, 26, played in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in May. He lost to Kukushkin in the first round of the French Open.
   Fritz, 19, shocked Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, at Indian Wells in March. Cilic was ranked seventh at the time.
   In Friday's other quarterfinals, Raymond Sarmiento of Los Angeles will play qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain not before 1:30 p.m., and Sam Groth will take on fellow Australian Akira Santillan not before 4 p.m.
   Sarmiento, a 25-year-old former USC All-American and a quarterfinalist in Aptos last year, will try to reach a Challenger semifinal for the second consecutive week. He lost to eventual champion Michael Mmoh, a 19-year-old American, in three sets in Lexington, Ky., last week.
   Groth, 29, set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger and climbed to a career-high No. 53 in 2015. Santillan, a 20-year-old Tokyo native, won his first Challenger title last month in Winnetka, Ill.
    The Aptos tournament, the oldest men's Challenger in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famer Andy Murray, Tommy Haas, James Blake, John Isner, Milos Raonic, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Jack Sock, Bob and Mike Bryan, Mardy Fish, Marcos Baghdatis and Radek Stepanek.
   Here are the Nordic Naturals Challenger singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

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