Kukushkin wins Irving. Ilya Ivashka and Denis Kudla are champions as well

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Kukushkin wins Irving. Ilya Ivashka and Denis Kudla are champions as well

* Irving, USA, $150,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : Challenger in Irving is the perfect place for the players ranked outside the Top 50 to make some ground after an early Indian Wells exit and to fight for 125 points, and this time it was Mikhail Kukushkin who went all the way, defeating Matteo Berrettini 6-2 3-6 6-1 in an hour and 42 minutes for his 14th title at this level and the first since Moscow in 2016. Mikhail lost in the final here 12 months ago and he managed to avoid the same scenario, recovering from the second set loss to restore the order in the decider and claim the trophy.

He had to play against three break points, all in set number two when Berrettini broke him twice, but the more experienced player had the edge in set one and three, winning five consecutive games in each of those to cross the finish line first.

Matteo struggled behind his second serve and he had to play against eight break points, suffering five breaks and having to settle for the runner-up spot. Kukushkin served well in the opening set and he stole Italian's serve in games five and seven to grab the opener in just over 30 minutes.

Matteo raised his level in the second set and he earned breaks in games six and eight to send the match into a decider, hoping for more of the same in set number three. Instead of that Mikhail restored his shots and he claimed the last five games of the set to seal the deal in style and celebrate the title.

* Shenzhen, China, $75,000+H (Outdoor Hard) : 24-year-old Belarusian Ilya Ivashka made a great progress so far in 2018, advancing to the semis in Marseille and claiming the Challenger title in Shenzhen, his second in a career after Fergana last year.

Ilya needed an hour and 15 minutes to dismiss the home player with a wild card Ze Zhang, beating the Chinese 6-4 6-2. Ivashka made the biggest difference with his first serve and he also saved six out of seven break points to keep the pressure on the other side of the net.

Zhang could have gained a lead right from the start, wasting four break points in the first game of the match and he wasted some four game points in the following game to find himself 2-0 down. They served well in the next five games and Ze had to save a set point on serve in game eight, breaking back in the following game to prolong the set.

Nonetheless, Ilya broke him again in game 10 to close the set and gain the momentum before the rest of the match. He fends off two break points in the third game of set number two and rattled off the last four games to cross the finish line and continue his strong run in 2018.

* Drummondville, Canada, $75,000 (Indoor Hard) : Denis Kudla was the last man standing in Drummondville, beating Benjamin Bonzi 6-0 7-5 for his sixth Challenger crown, the first since Ilkley in 2015! The American needed an hour and 4 minutes to dismiss the Frenchman who played in his first Challenger final, coming back from a 5-2 down in set number two to grab the win in straight sets.

Kudla was off to a perfect start, wrapping up the opening set in some 20 minutes but he found himself 5-2 down after getting broken in game six of the second set. Out of sudden, Kudla raised his level to win the remaining five games and avoid the decider.

He broke Benjamin in games nine and 11 and brought the encounter home with a hold at 30 in game 12 for his biggest success in recent years. Final results:


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