Photo: Susan MullaneJozef Kovalik (SVK)
This month we are featuring a 19-year old player from Slovakia whose performances over the course of the month in Italy and Serbia would be enough to elevate him to a new career high ATP singles ranking bringing him closer to breaking into the Top 300. His name is Jozef Kovalik.
The northeastern Italian city of Trieste staged the first of Kovalik’s tournaments for the month. Seeded second, which was also to be his highest seeding of the month, Kovalik was looking for another Italian title following his success in Italy during June.
Two straight sets victories carried the young Slovak into the quarterfinals where he was to face the fifth seeded Alessandro Bega from Italy. Bega took the opening set 63 but then only won three games in the next two sets as Kovalik came from behind to win 36 61 62.
Eighth seed Daniele Giorgini was the fourth successive Italian Kovalik had faced during the week and a 63 64 win saw Kovalik move into the final against the top seeded Swiss player Sandro Ehrat.
In a close final it was Kovalik who emerged victorious, winning the title in two sets 76(2) 64. This was his second singles title of the year on the ITF Pro Circuit and his first on a clay court since August 2011.
Next up was a series of three Serbian tournaments which kicked off in the north of the country in the city of Subotica where Kovalik found himself seeded fourth in singles and also in doubles with first time partner Otakar Lucak from the Czech Republic.
A first round Bye followed by a double bagel 60 60 second round win took the pair into the semifinal of the doubles event. Over in the singles event, a semifinal place was earned with a run of three straight sets wins, the toughest of which came in an opening round 76(2) 75 win.
The doubles semifinal saw Kovalik and partner Lucak record a 62 63 win over the number one seeded Tomislav Jotovski and Miljan Zekic from Macedonia and Serbia respectively. Kovalik made it through to a second consecutive singles final when his opponent, Austrian second seed Marc Rath, retired from their match whilst trailing 4-0.
The day before the singles final saw Kovalik in action playing for the doubles title. Coming into the match Kovalik had a 100% success rate in ITF Pro Circuit doubles finals and this record was to be maintained as he made it five career titles from five finals with a narrow 76(1) 64 win over second seeded Austrians Marc Rath and Nicolas Reissig.
Kovalik, aiming for back-to-back singles titles for the first time, took on Serbian wild card entrant Laslo Djere in the final and for only the second time in two weeks found himself going a set down. He wasn’t behind for too long though as he reeled off the next six games in a row to level the match.
In the deciding set Kovalik conceded three games to take the title with a 36 60 63 win. Winning both the singles and doubles titles here replicated his feat in Slovakia during August 2011, the only other time he was a double champion.
The double title win in Subotica would have made the near 425km trip south to the city of Nis for his next tournament an enjoyable one. Seeded fifth he lost one game from nine played in a 61 20 RET win to get the tournament underway.
This was followed by a 64 64 second round win to set up a quarterfinal with Aldin Setkic, the number two seed from Bosnia & Herzegovina. Three sets were required to progress into another semifinal but it was here that his tournament came to an end.
Faced across the net by fourth seeded Serbian Miljan Zekic he dropped the first set 63 but despite hitting back to level the match it was Zekic who pushed on for a 63 57 64 win. Some comfort could be taken that Zekic would go on to win the title.
A journey across Serbia followed for a final tournament of the month being held in Sokobanja. Kovalik’s semifinal exit in Nis gave him more time to prepare for this tournament and he duly despatched a qualifier in the opening round with the loss of just five games.
More rest, or practice time, followed as Kovalik moved into the quarterfinal without hitting a ball when awarded a walkover victory. The extra rest time would have come in handy as two three setters followed against opposition from Bosnia & Herzegovina.
First was a 63 16 61 defeat of Ismar Gorcic and then in the semifinal he met his quarterfinal opponent from Nis, Aldin Setkic, and recovered from a set down to reach his third singles final in four tournaments.
The final saw Kovalik up against French number seven seed Lucas Pouille. The Slovakian took the first set 63, the same score he had achieved in the opening round in all played matches but one this week, but Pouille drew level with a 75 second set win.
This meant we were into a deciding third set for the third round running. A closely fought set finished 64 in Kovalik’s favour to give him his sixth career title, all on clay courts.
As already mentioned, this very successful month helped Kovalik up to a new career high in the ATP singles rankings with a ranking of 337, leaving him very close to breaking into the Top 300.