Dennis Novak lost the first set of his match against Guido Pella on Monday evening 0-6. After a disappointing three-set loss against former World No. 3 Marin Cilic on Saturday, it was unclear if the Austrian would be able to bounce back.
But Novak did just that and more, rallying to defeat Pella, allowing countryman Dominic Thiem to clinch the tie for their country. The ATP Cup provides opportunities for players to rise to the occasion as they compete for their country. And although Novak’s FedEx ATP Ranking is No. 105, he has proven in Sydney that he can play with those placed above him.
“I think for me it's easier to play against a better-ranked guy than a worse-ranked guy,” Novak said. “Of course it's good to have some matches like this.”
Novak played only 11 tour-level matches in 2019, going 4-7. But because he is the No. 2-ranked singles player from Austria, he is guaranteed to get three tour-level matches to start 2020, and even more if Austria advances to the Final Eight. Those are valuable chances for Novak, who is projected to crack the Top 100 for the first time next week, to gain experience against some of the best players in the world.
“Of course he has the game. He has the game for a way higher [FedEx ATP] Ranking even, but still you have to create them,” Thiem said. “He did it today, did it with incredible performance after 0-6 in the first set against a guy like Guido, who is on Tour after such a long time, who is incredibly tough to beat.”
Throughout the ATP Cup — whether during practice or matches — it has helped that Novak has had established veterans by his side. Not only is Thiem a longtime friend, but the likes of Jurgen Melzer — who has reached the Top 10 in singles and doubles — and former doubles World No. 2 Oliver Marach, have been happy to advise him.
“He belongs there. He’s a great player. He has been providing great stuff in team competitions and you can see if he plays on the big stage how talented he is and how good he is as a tennis player,” Melzer said. “It’s just a matter of time that he has to get that Ranking where he can play [ATP] 250 tournaments and as soon as he’s there, I think you will see him progress even further. There’s no reason why Dennis cannot be Top 50 or even Top 30.
“He has all the shots that he needs. He is a great mover. Sometimes the thing between his ears is holding him back the most. But if he gets that under control, the sky is almost the limit.”