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Championship Week
Novikov Earns First Gold Balls, Wild Cards in 18s
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Dennis Novikov has been a top junior since the 14s age group, but a USTA gold ball had proved elusive until last weekend's USTA Boys 18 National Championship in Kalamazoo, when he collected two. Those two had added luster, courtesy of the main draw US Open wild cards he received for claiming the singles title over Alexios Halebian 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, as well the doubles title, a day earlier, at Kalamazoo College's Stowe Stadium.

Boys' 18s Champion Dennis Novikov
© Colette Lewis, Zootennis.com
Seeded third, Novikov came into the tournament as one of the favorites, not only for his Top 1000 ATP ranking, but for his Top 100 ITA ranking, earned in just one quarter of competition at No. 3 singles for third-ranked UCLA. Novikov, who will be 19 in November, was challenged during the week, needing three sets to advance over No. 18 seed Kristofer Yee in the fourth round, and dropping the first set to No. 6 seed and 2011 16s champion Ronnie Schneider in their quarterfinal contest, which was played indoors due to an all-day rain.

In Saturday's semifinal against No. 5 seed Noah Rubin, who earlier had upset top seed Mitchell Krueger in the other quarterfinal played indoors, Novikov established his power game midway through the second set and closed out the 16-year-old New Yorker 7-6(6), 6-3.

"In the second set I felt he got a little tired," said the 6-foot-3 right-hander, who is back living in San Jose, Calif. after several years spent training in Florida. "He didn't serve as well as he did in the first set and I took advantage of my opportunities. He served a little worse and I stepped up my returns."

His opponent in the final, the eighth-seeded Halebian, played outdoors in his quarterfinal win over No. 2 seed Michael Redlicki, saving four set points in the second set tiebreaker to close out a 6-4, 7-6(7) victory in a battle of left-handers.

Halebian won another second set tiebreaker against No. 6 seed Jared Hiltzik in the semifinals, with his 6-3, 7-6(5) win setting up his first meeting in years with Novikov.

"I played him once, a long, long time ago in the 12s," said Halebian, an 18-year-old Californian who trains at the USTA's National Center in Boca Raton. "He's hitting the ball big this week, making errors, but also hitting winners. He's serving well, which I've been doing as well, so I guess it just depends on how we're both playing from the ground, who wants to attack."

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