Feature

How The ATP Cup Is Showing 'The Sky Is Almost The Limit' For Novak

By Andrew Eichenholz
Updated , First
Published

Feature

How The ATP Cup Is Showing 'The Sky Is Almost The Limit' For Novak

By Andrew Eichenholz
Updated , First
Published

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.”

"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.”

Jurgen Melzer

on Dennis Novak

Marach believes that it’s not just the result that matters for Novak, but that strong efforts against elite players in the sport could help him in the long run.

“He played here the past two matches against guys who have been in the Top 30. Today he played an unbelievable match. Against Cilic, even if he lost it, he played a very good match,” Marach said. “I think he belongs there and he has for sure Top 50 to 30 potential. If he goes a little bit more to the net after his really good shots, he will have some easier points as we saw today. But all in all, he’s a really great player and he belongs where he is right now.”

Novak is also getting to learn from a legend in former World No. 1 Thomas Muster, Austria’s captain, who has not shied away from giving advice since they arrived in Australia.

“It's really important. I mean, he has so much experience. He was an unbelievable player, Grand Slam champion, No. 1. He's really a legend in Austria. It's an honour to have him in the box,” Novak said. “We can learn really, really many things from him, because he was a really hard worker. He knows how to react in different situations when it's tough. He knows what to say. It's really important and really nice.”

"He's really a legend in Austria. It's an honour to have him in the box."

Dennis Novak

on Thomas Muster

After losing the first set against Pella in rapid fashion, Novak took a bathroom break. Muster walked with him, and gave him a motivational talk that helped turn the match around.

“It was a rough speech, I have to say,” Novak said, cracking a smile. “But actually he just told me to start moving better, hitting the ball, go for it, not waiting for him to miss. That's what I changed. I think I stepped in the court, and I played some really good shots.”

From the platform Novak is getting to play on to all of the stars around him to help, it’s been a memorable week for the Austrian. The experiences at this ATP Cup could be a springboard to a breakthrough season in 2020.

But Novak isn't worrying about that right now. Following his win against Pella, he did not sit back and fully focus on his own win. He went to the physio for nearly 40 minutes, spoke to the media, and rushed right back to Ken Rosewall Arena to watch Thiem battle Diego Schwartzman.

After all, the ATP Cup’s motto is “for the love of country”.

“I like to play in a team event,” Novak said. “I hope we continue like this and get through the group.”