In a thriller of a final, Lukas Klein from Slovakia secured the title at the 14th edition of the Sparkasse Challenger Val Gardena South Tyrol today, one year after losing the final to Borna Gojo.
The 25-year-old, currently number 181 in the world rankings, won a final that was unsurpassable in terms of suspense and in which he even had to fend off two match points against Poland's Maks Kasnikowski (ATP number 310). After 2:38 hours Klein had won the third Challenger title of his career with a 6:7 (4), 7:6 (4), 7:6 (6). He won the seventh match in Gardena-Gröden and collects a prize money of 4910 Euros and 50 world ranking points. Kasnikowski gets 2950 Euros and 30 points, which will help him to climb back into the top 300.
In the first set, the servers dominate the action with two exceptions. Klein won the first two break points after three winning shots and took the first chance to make it 4:2. A forehand from the Pole landed out of bounds. Kasnikowski manages the re-break. On the second break point, the Slovak's stop ball is too short. The match goes into a tiebreak, which is decided by a mini-break. After a wonderful backhand passing shot, Kasnikowski makes it 3:1 and doesn't let the lead slip away. After 51 minutes he wins the first set with a service winner.
But Klein doesn't give up and takes the lead in the second set with a break to 1:0. He even had four more break points to make it 3:0, but Kasnikowski saved his serve again and again and won the important game to make it 1:2. Klein was not threatened with his service games until 5:4, when he served to equalise the set. With a bit of luck, the Pole gets two break points and uses the first one after a mistake to close the gap to 4:4. Again it goes to a tiebreak. In the second set, too, only a mini-break decides the match. Klein took the 1:0 lead after a backhand error by his opponent and did not relinquish it. After 1:45 hours, a third set has to decide.
There were no break points in the deciding set, so the third tiebreak is all the more dramatic. Klein takes a 4:1 lead, but Kasnikowski takes the next five points and has two match points. Klein doesn't give up, counters, fends off both match points and after a backhand from the Pole lands in the net, the match is over. The spectators in the packed stands applaud enthusiastically.
Klein was tired at the end, but also satisfied. A week ago he had come to Gröden to play the qualification. Now he leaves with the winner's trophy. "I am really happy. It was such a close final, decided by a few points. It's a good feeling to win so many games in a row, it's good for my confidence. I hope this continues until the end of the season." Next week Klein plays a Challenger in Germany.
Kasnikowski: "Of course I am very disappointed. It was a contested final. I was only one point away from winning in the third set tiebreak, but it was an encouraging week for me. I played good tennis this week and I hope I can keep this form in the next tournaments."