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Slovenian holds off Smyczek in Irving Tennis Classic final

For the second year in a row, a rising star in American men’s tennis reached the final of the Irving Tennis Classic with a chance to pull off a sweep of the two Challenger events held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

For the second year in a row, the American hopeful came up short.

Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia used an early break in the third set to edge Milwaukee native and No. 83-ranked Tim Smyczek 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 on Sunday at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas.

Last year, it was two-time NCAA champion Steve Johnson who won the RBC Championship in Dallas, then advanced to the final in Irving where he lost to Lukas Rosol.

“I wouldn’t mind having the type of year Steve had [last year],” Smyczek said of Johnson, who went on to reach a career-high ranking of No. 37. “It’s a good start to the year and I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I’m just looking forward to next week in Miami.”

Smyczek is also looking forward to some rest after he complete a 6-4, 7-6 (8) semifinal victory over No. 36-ranked and No. 2-seeded Gilles Muller of Luxembourg earlier Sunday after the match was suspended by rain Saturday night.

The No. 115-ranked Bedene also worked overtime this weekend, but his extra effort came Saturday when he made up for Friday’s rainout by playing both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches, beating former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis and Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, before playing in a late semifinal doubles match late.

But for Bedene, Sunday’s victory made it worth it. He has struggled lately after starting the year on a high note with his first ATP final appearance in Chennai, India, where he fell to Stan Wawrinka.

“My confidence had dropped and I guess I got it back,” Bedene said. “I played some great tennis this week.”

In the final, Bedene got off to a fast start, breaking Smyczek twice in the set. Both times Smyczek was able to fight back and break to force a tiebreaker. Bedene got two mini-breaks in the tiebreaker and this time he didn’t give them back.

In the second set, Smyczek was the one who started fast with an early break that he made hold up to even the match at a set apiece. However, a loose service game early in the third set proved costly for Smyczek. He had chances to get back on serve against the next three Bedene service games, but Bedene held each time and converted his second match point when Smyczek sent a forehand long.

“Winning a tournament, especially a high-quality tournament like this one, is always good,” Bedene said.

“It was a tough loss,” said Smyczek, who is one of six American men ranked in the top 100. “I got off to a slow start, which was not what I wanted to do. I was happy with the way I rebounded a little bit and took the second set, but ultimately, he was just too good today. He served real well and came up with some great shots when he needed to.”

Smyczek then turned his sights on the Masters-level event in Miami next week.

“Luckily, I’m in the main draw, so I don’t have to play until Wednesday or Thursday,” Smyczek said. I have a few days to recover, thankfully.”

In the doubles final, Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine used a service break in each set and held on for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over former Baylor star and Dallas resident Benjamin Becker of Germany and fellow German Philipp Petzschner.

Lindstedt only lost two points on serve, both times in the final game before he was able to close out the match. He had held at love in his three other service games during the match.

Rusty Hall, 817-390-7816

Twitter: RustyHall10s