By Clair Maciel
Thursday, August 30, 2012
In less than three weeks’ time, 18-year-old American Dennis Novikov has managed to achieve four of the biggest milestones in his young tennis career.
On Aug. 11, the UCLA sophomore teamed up with Michael Redlicki of Duke to win the USTA Boys’ 18s National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., a title that earned the pair a wildcard into the main draw of doubles at this year’s US Open. A day later, he asserted his dominance in singles, winning the title at the same event and again securing a wildcard entry for himself in the main draw at Flushing Meadows.
Fast forward to week 1 of the US Open, where Novikov, ranked No. 1,098, has already penned his first two Grand Slam wins in the books – and in his Grand Slam debut, nonetheless. The first victory came on Tuesday over Poland's Jerzy Janowicz in singles (6-2, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3), a win Novikov said is “the biggest win I’ve had to this day.” The second was a doubles victory with Redlicki on Wednesday over fellow all-American duo Bobby Reynolds and Michael Russell (6-4, 2-6, 7-6(7)). Not bad for only his third ATP-level tournament.
Given his run in the last few weeks, it’s no wonder Novikov is riding a supercharged momentum heading into Friday’s singles match against No. 31 seed Julien Benneteau.
“My confidence is pretty high right now, especially coming off a 15-0 winning streak that includes both singles and doubles from Kalamazoo, where I played seven singles and six doubles matches, and then my two matches here,” Novikov said. “So I’m feeling really good about things.”
Much like other American players such as John Isner and James Blake, Novikov chose to forego an immediate professional career and instead opted to play collegiate tennis to allow himself time to improve. Since joining head coach Billy Martin and the Bruins in March of this year, Novikov admits he’s gone through a big maturation process, a necessary journey he hopes is better preparing him for a future on the professional tour.
“I’ve matured a lot in the past year, now that I’ve played in college for a quarter,” he said. “I got physically and mentally stronger and just improved my game overall. I felt like I wasn’t ready to go pro right off the bat because I needed to mature a bit. I was a little young, and didn’t feel I could do well right away. I needed a year to develop my game before I thought about that decision again. I’m still planning on playing for college now, maybe not the entire four years, but who knows what the future might hold for me soon.”
To succeed at the pro level, Novikov sees a bit of room for improvement in his game, including his court movement, mental focus and physical strength. But at 6-foot-3 and wielding a huge serve, his weapons are already proving powerful enough to withstand top players.
The Russian-born, California-raised Novikov is every bit the California teenager, with a beach-loving, laidback personality and an appreciation for everything the west coast has to offer. Though he grew up a hockey player, he caught the tennis bug when he spent time watching his father coach his older brother, Nikolai, on the tennis court. And he’s never looked back.
In conversations regarding the question about the future of American men’s tennis, Novikov’s name can now officially be included in the mix. If all goes as he plans, he’ll crack the top 200 in two years and be a force in the top 10 five years from now. But for now, there will be little time for celebration after the US Open, as he'll hit the courts of UCLA and get right back to work – perhaps for another Bruins championship title before being a steady contender on the pro tour.