Jozef Kovalik grabs the last Challenger title of the season in Maia


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Jozef Kovalik grabs the last Challenger title of the season in Maia

After 158 tournaments, the Challenger season came to its end in Maia, with Jozef Kovalik who lifted the last title of the year on an indoor clay court in Portugal. Struggling with a right wrist injury, Jozef had to skip all the action between the US Open last year and Indian Wells in March, slowly making his comeback after dropping out from the top-350 in August to wrap up the season in the top-150.

On the ATP level, Jozef couldn't find the form after such a long break, winning one out of ten matches and improving his ranking with three Challenger finals since September, winning Szczecin and Maia with another title match in Barcelona.

Kovalik was the player to beat in Portugal, kicking off the event with a dominant 6-0, 6-1 triumph over the young Russian Pavel Kotov in just over an hour before ousting Attila Balazs and Challenger legend Paolo Lorenzi in more challenging encounters.

In the semi-final, Kovalik took down the fellow Slovak Andrej Martin 6-1, 6-4 to set the final clash against Constant Lestienne in the final match of the Challenger season. The Slovak needed an hour and 20 minutes to beat the Frenchman 6-0, 6-4, earning the fifth Challenger title in a career and putting himself in a strong position to attack the top-100 spot in 2020.

Serving at only 50%, Jozef did his best to defend serve and limit the damage in his games, fending off eight out of nine break chances and delivering five breaks from 12 opportunities to march over the finish line. The opening set lasted some 22 minutes and it was all about Kovalik who produced a bagel for a perfect start.

He broke at 15 in the first game after a loose drop shot from Lestienne, holding at love with a service winner in the next game and breaking at love in game three when the Frenchman's backhand landed long, taking 12 of the first 13 points to forge a comfortable advantage.

In the fourth game, Jozef repelled three break chances and closed the game with another great serve, breaking Lestienne at love in the next game and bringing the set home with an ace in game six. They both repelled break chances at the beginning of the second set before Kovalik grabbed a break at 1-1 thanks to a poor forehand from Lestienne, delivering an excellent hold and moving 4-1 ahead when Constant hit a double fault.

The Frenchman pulled one break back to reduce the deficit to 4-2, fending off three break chances in the next game to stay within one break deficit. Still, he had to find another break to remain in contention and that didn't happen, with Jozef firing four winners at 5-4 to seal the deal and lift the trophy, putting a curtain over the Challenger season with a smash winner.