Thanasi Kokkinakis wins Aptos. Popyrin, Sousa and Lestienne lift titles

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Thanasi Kokkinakis wins Aptos. Popyrin, Sousa and Lestienne lift titles

* Jinan, China, $150,000 (Outdoor Hard) : The 19-year-old Aussie Alexei Popyrin has claimed the first Challenger title, playing the 15th tournament at this level. A former Roland Garros junior champion has qualified for the main draw and he ousted the more experienced James Ward 3-6 6-1 7-5 in an hour and 51 minutes to embrace his biggest crown in a career so far. The youngster fired 10 aces and he saved three out of five break points to keep the pressure on the Briton.

Ward played well in the opening set but he couldn't keep that level in set number two, losing the match with a late break in the deciding set. Popyrin broke him four times and it was enough to emerge as a winner and win the title that pushes him close to the Top 200.

James saved both break points he faced in the opening set and he grabbed it with a break at love in game two. Alexei saved two set points on serve in game eight and this gave him the momentum before the second set where he lost just six points on serve, rattling off five straight games including breaks in games four and six for a commanding 6-1, becoming the favorite to score the win in the decider.

After four easy holds on both sides in set number three, they traded breaks in games five and six to continue with good serving before game 11 when Alexei finally found the way to score another break, sealing the deal on his third match point in the following game to cross the finish line.

* Pullach, Germany, €127,000+H (Outdoor Clay) : The 30-year-old Pedro Sousa was the player to beat at ISAR Open in Pullach, dismantling the top seed Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1 6-3 in 55 minutes to win the second title of the season and the fifth overall. A week ago, Sousa was beaten in the final of Liberec but he made sure to change that on Sunday, saving seven out of eight break points he gave to Struff and taking 52% of the return points to notch five breaks from nine opportunities to wrap up the match in under an hour.

The Portuguese broke the German in games four and six to take the opener in just over 20 minutes and he saved five break points in the second game of the second set to keep his serve intact. Struff played well beyond his best and he suffered two breaks in a row in games three and five to fall 4-1 behind.

He pulled one break back in game six but Pedro stayed focused, earning another break in game nine to celebrate the title. * Aptos, USA, $100,000 (Outdoor Hard) : Playing in only his ninth main draw of the season, Thanasi Kokkinakis has won his second Challenger crown and the first since Bordeaux 2015 after a dominant 6-2 6-3 win over an in-form Lloyd Harris in 67 minutes, playing one of his best matches of the season. The Aussie fired 12 aces and he lost just seven points on serve, never facing a break point to keep all the pressure on Harris.

The South African is one of the best servers among the new generation but we saw only a shadow of that in this match, dropping almost 50% of the points in his games and facing no less than 11 break points, giving his serve away four times to finish runner-up.

Kokkinakis found his rhythm on serve right from the start and he broke Lloyd in games one and five to claim the opener 6-2 in 30 minutes. Nothing could separate them in the first six games of the second set and Thanasi saved the best for the last, winning the last four games to win the set 6-3 with breaks in games seven and nine, returning to the Top 200 after one week out from that group.

* Portoroz, Slovenia, €64,000 (Outdoor Hard) : Constant Lestienne is on a verge of a career-high ranking after winning his second Challenger title and the first since Ostrava 2016, producing a dominant performance in Portoroz and losing only one set.

In the title match, Lestienne toppled Andrea Arnaboldi 6-2 6-1 in an hour and 11 minutes, losing seven points in his games and never facing a break point. Arnaboldi played in his first Challenger final after numerous semi-final losses but he stood no chance against Constant, taking less than 50% of the points in his games and suffering five breaks from 11 chances he gave to Lestienne and missing a chance of winning the first Challenger crown.

Constant sailed through his service games in the opening set and he earned breaks in games one and five for a 6-2, keeping the pressure on the Italian in the second set as well, breaking him three times in a row to cross the finish line in just over 70 minutes and return into the Top 200 for the first time since April last year. Final results:


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