THERE was a dramatic end to the men’s singles final at the Ilkley Trophy.

Runner-up Dennis Novak, who had a match point at 5-4 in the final set, broke his racquet over his knee after losing 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) to Germany’s Dominik Koepfer.

Seconds later, after the obligatory handshakes with his opponent and the umpire, 25-year-old left-hander Koepfer walked to the centre of the court and let out a victory roar after clinching his first ATP Challenger Tour title and, more importantly, a wild card into Wimbledon next week.

World No 132 Koepfer, who lost 7-5 in the fifth set in the final qualifying round for Wimbledon last year to Norbert Gombos, was thus spared the perils of Roehampton this week and is guaranteed £45,000 even if he loses in the first round at The All-England Club.

The unseeded Koepfer, who had won ten straight sets to reach the Ilkley final, despatching three seeds along the way – No 5 Yannick Maden, No 2 Ugo Humbert and No 12 Jason Jung – then revealed that his path to glory included eating pasta carbonara at the same restaurant (Piccolino’s) every night.

“Ilkley is a nice little town and the restaurant was just a little superstition of mine,” revealed Koepfer.

He said of the 1hr 49min final against the Austrian ninth seed: “The first set and a half I was defending and he was dictating and I couldn’t find a rhythm – both of us were nervous - but later in the second I just found a way.

“I had a little luck too but the third set was just a battle back and forth and I somehow pulled it out in a tie-break.”

Koepfer saved his match point with a swinging first serve to Novak’s backhand and said: "I knew that I had to make a first serve on that match point otherwise I would have got tight."

The former student from Tulane University in the United States, who lost in the first round of qualifying at Ilkley last year to Stefano Napolitano, thus sealed his debut singles appearance in a Grand Slam.

He said: “It was a heart-breaker last year to lose in the Wimbledon qualifying like that but now I know that I can go down to London and stay in my Airbnb, take a couple of days off and then start practising for Wimbledon.

“But knowing that there was a Wimbledon wild card at stake it is on your mind the night before and during the whole match because playing in the main draw at Grand Slams is what you play for and is a crazy opportunity.”

He said of the $137,560 event: “Ilkley is an unbelievable tournament, great organisation and a lot of people come to watch all week long from Monday to Sunday, which makes it really special and the players appreciate it.

“There were a couple of courts that weren’t as good because they were not covered from the rain but the Centre Court conditions were perfect.”

There was also Wimbledon wild card joy for Romania’s Monica Niculescu, who beat Hungary’s Timea Babos 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the women’s singles final at Ilkley, which followed the men’s decider.

After winning a battle of unseeded players, 31-year-old Niculescu admitted that she did not wholly believe that the winner of the women’s singles would get a Wimbledon wild card.

She said: “(Magdalena) Rybarikova (who won Ilkley in 2017 to gain a Wimbledon wild card and went on to reach the semi-finals there) told me one Sunday ‘You know the winners gets a wild card’ but I didn’t ask around.

“But then I saw that they gave Wimbledon wild cards to Watson, Dart and Swan and I thought that it was just a rumour.

“But then I found out at the ceremony that it is true and I just want to thank the tournament for this opportunity and I will do my best to fight and play like this at Wimbledon and do them proud and have the luck with a good draw.”

It was the world No 138’s 23rd title and she said: “I feel amazing after such a tough battle and it was the same in my semi-final against Jana Cepelova.

“I can’t believe it as I could not play the French Open and some clay-court tournaments because I was injured but I prepared well for this tournament.

“I stayed in a very nice hotel here and I love the people who have helped me so much.

“We have so many courts and look at the weather to play in front of a big crowd on Centre Court and it didn’t rain once. I cannot ask for more and for sure I will be back next year.”

As for the final, Niculescu said: “We both played a top, top match. In the second set I was just pushing my serve but I had the strength in my legs and the energy to hit my serve harder in the third set and I came to the net and played well there and put pressure on her as she was serving and returning very well.”