PREVIEW: The Rising Stars Aiming Prove A Point At The Next Gen Finals - UBITENNIS
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PREVIEW: The Rising Stars Aiming Prove A Point At The Next Gen Finals

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After years of planning, the ATP’s hugely promoted Next Generation Finals concept has come to fruition in the Italian city of Milan.

The round-robin tournament features the highest ranked players under the age of 21 on the ATP Tour this season. Alexander Zverev is the only qualified player to miss the event as he prepares for next week’s ATP Finals in London. In total seven of the highest ranked players along with an Italian wild card will play in the tournament, which will be held at the Fiera Milano stadium. The aim of the event is to promote the younger generation of the sport to a wider audience. Proving that the future of the sport will be in safe hands when the ‘big four’ retire.

“I think it is going to be really interesting,” participant Karen Khachanov told the ATP.
“It’s something unusual. You need to get used to it and try to enjoy. I think it’s going to be a nice, fun event.”

Unlike tour events, there will be a series of new rules being trialled in Milan. It is part of the ATP’s goal to make the sport appeal to a wider audience as well as broadcasters. Matches will be the best-of-five sets with each set being the first player to get to four games. If the set is level at 3-3, a tiebreaker will be played. There will be sudden death deuce points, no service lets and a visible shot clock for players to monitor how long they take between points. Players will also be allowed to speak with their coaches at the end of each set via headset.

“I don’t think this will be the future and I hope they don’t change the rules because then they change the sport,” 20-year-old Andrey Rublev commented about the changes.
“It’s better to make a new sport if they are going to change the rules.”

The draw

On Sunday night the draw for the tournament took place. Staying away from traditional methods, the organisers opted to conduct the draw in an unorthodox fashion. Prompting a social media backlash. Each player would walk down the runway with a model next to them. Then they found out which group they belonged to when the model revelled a letter hidden somewhere on their body. Prompting a sense of awkardness among both the players and the crowd. Former British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray branded the ceremony as ‘awful.’

The Groups

Similar to the London finals, the eight players will be split into two groups. The top two in each group will then progress to the semi-final stage.

Group A

Embed from Getty Images

Denis Shapovalov heads into the tournament high in confidence following a breakthrough season. At the US Open, he became the youngest man to reach the fourth round since Michael Chang in 1989. He also defeated Rafael Nadal at the Canadian Masters in August. Shapovalov has won three titles in 2017, one at Futures level and two on the Challenger Tour. Overall, he has won 38 out of 58 main draw matches played this season.

At the age of 18, the Canadian already has already set out a big goal. To promote and attract more people to play tennis in his home country.

“My goal is to raise the level of Canadian tennis and just have more kids picking up a racquet instead of a hockey stick. I think I have definitely helped to do that, and hopefully I can keep doing it,” Shapovalov said. “I know a lot of people were tweeting towards me that don’t even follow tennis, and they’re starting to get into the sport because I have been doing well.
“It’s really inspiring for me. It makes me really want to keep working hard so that I can keep motivating these kids to try to pick up a racquet and hopefully become, as a player, like Milos [Raonic] or Vasek [Pospisil] or even me.”

Another player who enjoyed a breakthrough at the US Open was Andrey Rublev. In New York the Russian scored his first top-10 win over Grigor Dimitrov on his way to the quarter-finals. A former French Open junior champion, Rublev clinched his maiden ATP title in Umag, Croatia earlier this year. Defeating Paolo Lorenzi in the final.

A player who once said he has no preference about which surface he plays on, Rublev has praised the ATP for their new approach to the Next Gen finals.

“I think this innovation is a good idea. All the players are really motivated with this tournament,” he said. “You watch the big stars trying to qualify for London and us young players have a similar feeling here. Competing with that feeling inside you is interesting. In some ways, this is a preparation for the future”.

Hyeon Chung, who was named the ATP’s most improved player in 2015, peaked at a high of 44 in September. The South Korean has won one challenger title this year in Maui. At the French Open he achieved his best ever performance at a grand slam by reaching the third round. With a steady win-loss record of 28-17 so far this season, Chung has only lost in the first round once in his seven most recent tournaments.

“It’s the last tournament of the season, so I want to stay strong to the finish. Everyone here is playing well and I’m happy to be a part of this.” Chung told atpworldtour.com.

Completing the group is Gianluigi Quinzi, who won the Italian wildcard competition. Quinzi is yet to break the top 200, reaching a high of 226th in May. The 21-year-old is a former prodigy once tipped to rise to the top after becoming No.1 in juniors at the age of 17. As a teenager, he defeated Chung to win the 2013 Wimbledon boys title.

player Current ranking Ranking best ATP titles 2017 main draw win-loss
Andrey Rublev

37

35

1 ATP
1 Challenger

30-20

Denis Shapovalov

51

49

2 Challenger

38-20

Hyeon Chung

54

44

8 Challenger

28-17

Gianluigi Quinzi

306

226

0

13-11

Group B

Embed from Getty Images

Boric Coric will be hoping to end his roller coaster season on a high. The Croatian 20-year-old won his first tour title in Marrakesh, Morocco before stunning Andy Murray at the Madrid Open in May. Since Madrid, Coric has only managed to win seven main draw matches on the tour. Two of which guided him to the third round of the US Open.

“I think I need to improve basically every part of my game.” He told Ubitennis.net earlier in the year. “Especially forehand and also the backhand is sometimes lacking consistency as well. I think every part of the game I see where I can improve and how I can improve, I just need some time.”

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev has achieved a series of firsts in 2017. At Wimbledon he scored his first win over a top 10 player by defeating Stan Wawrinka in the opening round. Rewarding him his first ever main draw win in a grand slam. At the start of the year he also reached his first tour final in Chennai before losing to Roberto Bautista Agut.

Chasing after his first title of the year, Karen Khachanov is hoping to end the season on a high. Breaking into the top 30 earlier this year, the 21-year-old has only been able to win one match in his past five tournaments. His best performance was at the Halle Open in Germany when he reached the semifinals. Despite his mixed performance, world No.1 Rafael Nadal has predicted a bright future for the Russian.

“He’s really good and will have chances to be up in the rankings,” said Nadal. “Karen is a great player. He works well and has a big potential.”

Finally, flying the flag for America is Jared Donaldson. Starting the year at 105th in the world, he is slowly rising up the ranks by displaying glimmers of his talent. At the Miami Masters he reached the fourth round as a qualifier. He was able to follow up on that by reaching the third round at Wimbledon and the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters.

As a teenager Donaldson trained to Argentina in a bid to diversify his game. One player that remembers watching him train is Diego Schwartzman, who has praised his development over recent years.

“He’s playing unbelievable. We’ve played already two times this year,” Schwartzman told ATPWorldTour.com. “When he was in [Buenos Aires], he was a young guy. He was 15, 16, I didn’t expect him… He’s improved a lot, and he’s playing unbelievable this year.”

 

player Current ranking Ranking best ATP titles 2017 main draw win-loss
Borna Coric

48

33

1 ATP
3 Challenger

21-15

Daniil Medvedev

65

48

1 Challenger

24-25

Karen Khachanov

45

29

1 ATP
1 Challenger

27-30

Jared Donaldson

55

50

1 Challenger

25-26

Order of play – day 1

Afternoon session
Karen Khachanov RUS vs Daniil Medvedev RUS
Denis Shapovalov CAN vs Hyeon Chung KOR

Night session
Borna Coric CRO vs Jared Donaldson USA
Andrey Rublev RUS vs Gianluigi Quinzi ITA

 

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Statistical Deep Dive: Sinner At Rotterdam One Year Later

Jannik Sinner’s Rotterdam title compared with his run to the final last year.

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By Federico Bertelli

Let’s delve into Jannik Sinner’s triumphant journey at the ABN Amro Open and compare it with his 2023 campaign. Service and down-the-line backhands were the keys to victory.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. This is the version of Sinner that his opponents tasted, and it’s also the title of a Daft Punk song; the clip particularly reflects what the rest of the ATP circuit has been thinking about Jannik for some months now: an android emerging after a heavy upgrade. Jokes aside, as the sunshine double is about to start, we thought it wise to rewind and closely examine Sinner’s recent victories.

The focus of our analysis is the Rotterdam tournament: Sinner’s performance was spotless, a feat not seen since 2001 when Lleyton Hewitt, after his victory at Flushing Meadows over Pete Sampras, managed to repeat his success in Tokyo. If the Italian were to win next week under the California sun as well, he would be the first in ATP tennis history to win two consecutive ATP tournaments after the first Slam. But before we dive into the action of the Indian Wells, let’s scratch the surface of Sinner’s victory in the Netherlands a bit. The comparison is plausible as the Italian reached the final in both editions, playing 5 matches in each case.

Draw: The 2024 run was undoubtedly smoother compared to 2023, both on average and in absolute terms. In 2023, the average ranking of Sinner’s opponents increased significantly, from 50.6 in 2023 to 97 in 2024. This means that, in general, we can assume that the journey, at least on paper, was easier. Also, in absolute terms – considering the lowest ranking of an opponent faced – there was a notable difference. In 2023, the insurmountable obstacle was the Russian Medvedev, then the blue’s nemesis and number 3 in the rankings. In 2024, it was a more approachable De Minaur – number 11 in the ATP ranking – against whom the H2Hs have also always been in favour of Jannik.

Source, ATP data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Comparison of Opposing Players’ Rankings

Break Points: One aspect frequently discussed about Sinner in the last 12 months is his overall growth in all areas: technical, physical, and mental. However, it’s not news that Jannik is mentally tough. Surely, Sinner will continue to tirelessly work on this aspect, as he has always stated, but his starting base has always been enviable. And the results are there for everyone to see. Despite facing a number of break points in the tournament equal to 20 in both 2023 and 2024 – which perhaps was unexpected given the more modest caliber of opponents – the Italian’s response was undeniable. An 80% break point save rate, compared to 65% in 2023 and against an ATP tour average of 61%. (Note: The tour average refers to the average of the last 52 weeks of players who have competed in ATP level tournaments). This figure, among other things, underscores Jannik’s solidity, already above average in 2023.

Source, ATP data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Comparison of Break Points Saves, Years 2023-2024

Service – Overall Statistics: Another aspect that has been frequently discussed is Jannik’s improvement in his service game; indeed, the data speaks for itself. Both in terms of the percentage of first serves in play and in terms of effectiveness in converting such a play situation into a point, Sinner has significantly elevated his game. Working on the percentage of first serves in play was the number one priority to improve the Italian’s game performance, and the efforts of Vagnozzi, Cahill & co. have paid off handsomely. In 2023 in Rotterdam, the percentage of first serves in play was 57%, in line with the general performances recorded by Sinner up to that point. Considering that the ATP tour average was 62%, it’s clear this was an aspect still needing improvement until last year. However, the conversion rate from good became excellent. In 2023 in Rotterdam, the conversion rate of points on the first serve stood at 74%, a figure above the tour average, which is at 72%. In 2024, however, we witnessed a further leap forward, reaching the 80% threshold.

Source, ATP Data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Service Performance Comparison

To understand how high this figure is, just look at the leaderboard rankings of the last 52 weeks. In terms of first serves converted into points, 80% is the threshold of absolute excellence. Consider that the two most impressive serving machines ever seen on a tennis court, Karlovic and Isner, had career averages of 83% and 80%, respectively.

ATP Leaderboard

Finally, a somewhat surprising data point is the success performance on the second serve. The Italian won 60% of the points on his second serve in 2023, while in 2024, “only” 56%. This rate is evidently more than sufficient to win matches and tournaments, but in 2023, it was not a problem at all, on the contrary.

Delving further into detail and referring to more detailed analyses (for the metrics used, we also refer to the general description found here), the analysis is further enriched. The data reported are the result of TennisViz processing, on data owned by Tennis Data Innovations (TDI).

Service – Detailed Data: The service performance, in terms of precision and reliability of the shot under pressure, has improved from all perspectives. Among the various metrics available, there are some of interest. Starting with the accuracy on the first serve, i.e., the distance with which the serve is placed from the service lines, measured in cm. Referencing a post from the X Tennis Insights account, we have an overview.

Source: TennisViz on TDI Data

In Rotterdam in 2023, Sinner executed this shot with an accuracy of 57 cm, better than what was measured over the course of the year. But in 2024, this figure impressively dropped to a notable 52 cm, in line with that of Hurkacz. We’ll spare you the statistical details, but the result (highly debatable, given the small sample size) is as follows.

Of course, there are many other variables that explain the yield on the first serve, but the inverse correlation between serve speed and precision is not bad, and generally leads us to say that serving at 125 mph with an accuracy of 52 cm, combined with an average quality in return shots, guarantees an untouchable performance of 80% of points won on the first serve. If the quality is that of Sinner’s serving machine, even less will suffice.

Continuing with the quality of the service shown by Sinner, another data point that deserves further exploration is that of unreturned serves, where the opponent fails to return the serve back into play. Here too, Jannik performed exceptionally well, with aces and opponents’ missed returns bringing home an impressive 40% in 2023 and an exceptional 42% in 2024. Remember, in tennis, variations of 1% can make the difference between a solid top ten player and a Grand Slam title winner. To put it in perspective, the ATP average is 38%.

Source: @Tennisinsight

Finally, to conclude the chapter on the serve, one last piece of data, which we’ve kept in reserve for the most deserving who have persisted in reading up to this point; do you know what the percentage of first serve balls on break points was in 2023? And in 2024? Well, we’ll present it to you in a table, and we’ll add nothing more:

Source: TenniViz on TDI Data

In 2023, when serving on break points, the first serve landed much less than usual in crucial moments. In 2024, however, the Italian did not lose his composure at all, serving as if it were any other point… not bad at all.

Performance in rallies: in this case, we rely on [metrics developed by TDI and TennisViz, which obviously carry the ATP brand](https://www.atptour.com/en/news/insights-introduction); (bonus: if you happen to watch a match on ATP TV, these advanced metrics are just a click away, in the stats section of the App).

Source: TenniViz on TDIData

It’s notable how Jannik has leveled up both in his ability to convert points where he had the advantage (conversion score) and in managing to seize the initiative from opponents when they were in a favorable position during the rally (steal score). Lastly, the final data point: from the baseline, with the current form of Jannik, it’s tough to come out on top, and if we consider his aptitude for turning defense into offense, the puzzle for his opponents is almost unsolvable. Indeed, this explains the overwhelming 56% of points won from the baseline, significantly above the ATP average. This data also finds an explanation in a significant tactical adjustment, the more pronounced use of the down-the-line backhand variation. The backhand crosscourt is already a comfort zone for Sinner, which he can comfortably use to extract points, like a boxer working his opponent with jabs; if we add that now Sinner is also able to find the down-the-line solution at the right moment, again, it spells trouble for his opponents. In 2023, Sinner hit 19.5% of his backhands down the line, while in 2024 this percentage rose to 31.4% in the Rotterdam tournament. A change that helped him tip the scale further in his favor in baseline battles.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero Remaining Positive Despite Carlos Alcaraz’s Poor Form

Juan Carlos Ferrero remains confident of Carlos Alcaraz’s abilities despite his poor form.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero is looking on the positive side despite Carlos Alcaraz’s poor form.

After winning Wimbledon last year, many people thought that Carlos Alcaraz would dominate the ATP tour over the next year.

However since then, Alcaraz has lost his world number one ranking with the Spaniard not winning a trophy since capturing his second Grand Slam title at SW19.

There are concerns that Alcaraz’s form is dipping with Jannik Sinner potentially overtaking him in potential to challenge Novak Djokovic at the big events.

Despite the lack of titles to Alcaraz’s name, there is no reason to worry for coach Juan Carlos Ferrero as he is confident that the Spaniard’s lack of form is normal, “He has been achieving good results,” Ferrero claimed in an interview with Marca.

“The Cincinnati tournament was a shame because we were one point away. At the US Open, he made the semi-finals. When you play with such good people, it is difficult to win every tournament.

“For any player, not winning tournaments can affect your confidence level. For very good players, it is important to achieve the results that one sets in their path. Of course Carlos wants to win, but I see him well, I don’t see him with any type of desire, and that is very important.

“He doesn’t have the stress of I want to win, I want to win. He wants to do things well and wants to improve in every aspect that he can, and at 20 years of age there are many. The objectives are there. Every tournament that goes, the objective is to achieve a good result.

“And if he is physically well, a great result for him is to win. When you have that level and that potential, it is not bad to think that. Then, when you don’t get it, you have to know how to manage it and come out just as motivated.”

Ferrero brings a great level of experience and composure to the Alcaraz team having been in the Spaniard’s position many times when he was a player.

The Spaniard’s experience is evident as he claimed that failure isn’t a bad thing for Alcaraz to go through, “Not every year you can win six or seven tournaments and that doesn’t mean it will be a failure,” Ferrero was quoted by tennis 365 as saying.

“[Michael] Jordan and Tiger [Woods] didn’t win every Grand Slam and every ring every year. We cannot call that a failure. There are many positive things in a year even if you have earned less.

“You may have evolved in aspects that can be useful for the future. That’s where we are. The most important thing is that he is happy, that he trains well, that traveling makes him happy and from there he generates good tennis, which is what he loves. We all agree on that.”

Alcaraz will look to return to his best when he looks to defend his title in Indian Wells which starts on the sixth of March.

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Daria Kasatkina And Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Lead Calls For VAR In Tennis

There have been calls for VAR to be introduced into the sport.

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Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina have called for VAR to be implemented in tennis.

The calls have came after Andrey Rublev was disqualified from his semi-final with Alexander Bublik in Dubai.

As Bublik lead 6-5 in the final set, Rublev shouted in the face of an umpire allegedly swearing in Russian which was picked up by one of the officials.

This saw Rublev be disqualified from the event with Bublik reaching the final in Dubai.

However as a result of the incident players have called for a VAR review system with the video showing inconclusive proof of whether Rublev did swear in Russian.

Leading the calls for such innovation are Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as the duo called for VAR to be introduced on twitter, “So you can just disqualify a player, take away all his points and money, without even checking the video? What a joke, yet another confirmation that we need VAR in tennis and an electronic appeal system in all tournaments,” Kasatkina said on social media.

VAR has been implemented in football and also a similar system in rugby with mixed results.

It’s clear though that more technology would help umpires identify whether a grounds for disqualification would be necessary.

So far VAR has been trialled at the Next Gen Finals and the Nitto ATP Finals.

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