Wednesday, February 7, 2018

NorCal's Novikov ousts top seed in $100K S.F. Open

Dennis Novikov serves in doubles during the 2016
U.S. Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SAN FRANCISCO — Patience paid off for Dennis Novikov in a wild first-set tiebreaker on Tuesday night.
   Top-seeded Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan double-faulted on the 24-year-old San Jose product's eighth set point, and Novikov went on to win 7-6 (10), 3-6, 6-2 in the first round of the $100,000 Kunal Patel San Francisco Open indoors at the Bay Club SF Tennis Center. Novikov won the last four games.
   Bublik, 20, had a set point serving at 7-6 in the tiebreaker, but his backhand slice down the line sailed wide.
   Novikov admitted it was difficult to keep his composure in the tiebreaker.
   "Definitely," he said. "He let me off the hook a little bit as well when he was serving for it and didn't convert. Tennis can go either way based on a couple of points. I just tried to stick with it."
   Bublik, who according to at least one pro has top-10 potential, double-faulted three times in the tiebreaker and twice at 2-3, 30-30 in the third set. He finished with 18 aces and 11 double faults.
   "That's the way he plays," Novikov said of Bublik going for big second serves. "He also had some games where he hit big second serves, and he came back with them in games where I should have broken. When you play like that, it kind of comes and goes. You take it as it is."
   It's the third consecutive week in which Novikov played the top seed in the opening round. He ousted former world No. 4 Kei Nishikori, who had been out since August with a right wrist injury, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 two weeks ago in Newport Beach and lost to Nishikori 6-3, 6-3 in Dallas. Nishikori went on to win the Dallas title, beating San Francisco Bay Area product Mackenzie McDonald in the final.
   "It's unlucky, I guess," Novikov said. "But I know if I come out and play to my level, it doesn't matter what seed it is. At the end of the day, you have to go through all of them to win the tournament. Obviously, it would be nice to play them in the final and get a little easier draw, but either way, you've got to beat them, so I was ready."
   Novikov lives in downtown Los Angeles, but his parents reside in Milpitas in the Bay Area.
   "I'm up here visiting pretty often," he said. "I still consider myself from the Bay Area."
   Bublik, who was not available for comment, lost in the first round of a Challenger for the second consecutive week and fell to 2-5 this year after reaching a career-high No. 95 last September.
   Russia natives Bublik, 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters) and only 167 pounds (76 kilograms), and Novikov, 6-foot-4 (1.93) and 200 pounds (91), met for the second time. Bublik won 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals at Aptos, 82 miles (132 kilometers) south of San Francisco, en route to the title last August. Novikov had sprained an ankle playing in Cabo San Lucas the previous week.
   After the Aptos final, runner-up Liam Broady of Great Britain said of the hard-hitting Bublik, "I don't see why he can't be top 10."
   Unlike in Aptos, the right-handed Bublik wore a sleeve on his right arm on Tuesday night. However, the arm did not appear to trouble him.
   Bublik qualified for the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year, upsetting then-No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France in the first round in Melbourne and falling in straight sets to then-No. 1 and defending champion Andy Murray at the All-England Club.
   Bublik also reached the quarterfinals indoors in Moscow on the ATP World Tour in 2016 and 2017, ousting then-No. 23 Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the second round last year.
  Novikov advanced to the second round at the U.S. Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2016. He gained his first ATP quarterfinal last July on grass in Newport, R.I.
   Bublik, who lost in the second round of qualifying in the Australian Open this year, has dropped to No. 132. Novikov is No. 215, down from his career high of No. 119 in August 2016.
   In Tuesday night's last match, the second-seeded McDonald beat wild card Florian Lakat of France 6-4, 6-4 in a matchup of 22-year-olds. McDonald was born and raised in Piedmont, across the bay from San Francisco, and Lakat starred at Cal, a 15-minute drive north of Piedmont.
   All four seeds in action during the day session, including three Americans, won in straight sets.
   No. 3 Michael Mmoh, a semifinalist last year at 19, dispatched wild card Christian Garin of Chile 6-2, 6-3 in their first career meeting.
   Mmoh, the American son of former Nigerian pro Tony Mmoh, reached his first quarterfinal on the ATP World Tour in Brisbane, Australia, last month as a qualifier. He took out then-No. 33 Mischa Zverev of Germany in the second round.
   Garin qualified for Wimbledon last year and fell to Jack Sock, ranked eighth at the time, in the opening round. Garin also won the French Open boys singles title five years ago, beating Alexander Zverev (Mischa's younger brother) in the final. In the current rankings, 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Alexander Zverev is No. 5 at 20 years old, and the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Garin is No. 298 at age 21.
   No. 5 Bradley Klahn, who graduated from Stanford in 2012, topped Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador 7-6 (1), 6-3 in a battle of 27-year-olds to even their head-to-head series at 1-1. Arevalo, a former Tulsa star, won 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of qualifying at a $50,000 Challenger on outdoor clay in Vicenza, Italy, last May.
   Arevalo reached the doubles final in the $100,000 Tiburon Challenger last fall with Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico. The lost to Lakat and his former Cal teammate Andre Goransson of Sweden. Affluent Tiburon is situated across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
   Two former Wimbledon boys champions, Noah Rubin (2014) and Canada's Filip Peliwo (2012), also advanced.
   Rubin, seeded sixth, beat Jose Hernandez-Fernandez of the Dominican Republic 6-1, 3-0, retired (right thigh). Peliwo, seeded seventh, eliminated 34-year-old qualifier Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina 6-4, 6-2.
   Here are the San Francisco Open singles and doubles draws and today's schedule.

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