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The ATP Next Gen Finals, a showcase for future tennis stars

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The 2018 ATP Next Gen Finals have been officially presented to the Italian media during the official press conference at the Palazzina degli Orafi at City Life, the modern commercial and business district in Milan. The press conference was attended by AT Executive Chairman and President Chris Kermode, FIT President Angelo Binaghi. Giovanni Gorno Tempini, President of Fiera Milano, Martina Cambiaghi, Councilor for Sport of Regione Lombardia, and Roberta Guaineri, Councilor for Sport of Milan City Council.

 

The second edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals will be held from 6-10 November 2018 at the Fiera Milan.

Denis Shapovalov from Canada, Frances Tiafoe from the USA and Alex De Minaur from Australia have secured their spot for the prestigious tournament with the top eight Under 21 players in the world joining the already qualified Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece.

“The Italian Tennis Federation is ready to set up a new edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals with ATP and Coni Servizi and the support of Fondazione Fiera Milano, Ente Fiera, Regione Lombardia and Milan municipality. Milan confirms its leading tradition in Italy and around the world in organizing top events for young players. The ATP Next Gen Finals will be a showcase for future tennis stars. Major junior tournaments like the Trofeo Bonfiglio, the Trofeo Porro Lambertenghi and the Trofeo Avvenire take place every year. Players, who have reached the top in the world of tennis, started their career in Milan. The 2018 season has been very successful for Italian tennis. For the first time since 1979 two Italian players have reached the top 20 in the ATP Ranking. Fabio Fognini won three tournaments in Sao Paulo, Bastad and Los Cabos. Marco Cecchinato lifted two trophies in Budapest and Umag, Camila Giorgi won her second title in Linz. We have a good group of young players. We are confident that we will be able to do better than last year. We expect this event to be not only very exciting, but also capable of responding fully to the needs of producing a great stage for tomorrow’s world tennis dominators. We also trust that our ATP Next Gen Finals will confirm Milan as a strategic for our national and international tennis movement. Last year Hyeon Chung won the first edition of the ATP Next Finals and went on to reach the semifinals at the Australian Open. This year the level is even higher than in 2017”, said FIT President Angelo Binaghi.  

The innovative tournament will continue the innovations, which were trialed at the inaugural tournament last year. The new rules include the best-of-five set format, shorter sets to 4 (tiebreak at 3-All), No-Lets and In-Match player coaching via head-sets. The player warm-up will be reduced by a further minute from 5 minutes to 4, and players will be instructed to use a towel rack at the back of the court to remove the onus on ball-kids to handle towels.

“Many people have asked me why we chose Milan as host city. It’s a simple question to answer and is summed up by two simple words: innovation and passion. People, who are behind the organization of this event have the passion for tennis. Italian people are passionate fans. Last year this tournament was very successful and that was was incredible for a first edition. Milan has the opportunity to see players, who are on the threshold of world excellence. The ATP Next Gen Finals is a launchpad for future players. The depth of this year’s tournament is really exceptional. Tsitsipas has reached the top 15, Shapovalov qualified for the Masters 1000 semifinals in Madrid. Our sport is very conservative, but it has to adapt to changes. We need to find a new generation of tennis fans and be brave and innovative. We will not rush innovations but do strategically”, said ATP Executive Chairman and President Chris Kermode.  

 The most eagerly awaited stars of this year’s edition are Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

 Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov has qualified for the second consecutive year. He came close to reaching the semifinal in 2017 after a very successful season in which he became the youngest ATP Masters 1000 semifinalist since 1990 at the Canadian Open. This year the left-hander reached another Masters 1000 semifinal at the Madrid Mutua Open. He also qualified for two more semifinals in Delray Beach and Tokyo. He was born in Tel Aviv. He is the son of Tessa and Viktor Shapovalov. His mother was a former player and moved from Russia to Israel, where she became a tennis coach. The family moved from Canada before Denis’ first birthday.

Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas became the youngest player in ATP World Tour history to beat four top 10 players in Toronto’s Rogers Cup (Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev after saving two match points, and Kevin Anderson after fending off another match point). He became the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since 19-year-old Novak Djokovic at 2007 Miami. He is coached by his father Apostolos. His Russian mother Julia Salnikova was a top Soviet player in the 1980s. His father helped Stefanos develop his aggressive game and his one-handed backhand.

Two US players Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz have already secured their spot in the line-up. Fritz reached his first ATP World Tour final in only his third tour-level event in Memphis where he finished runner-up to Kei in the 2008 Delray Beach Open. The 20-year-old player married Raquel Pedraza, who played at all four Grand Slam tournaments. Their first child Jordan was born in January 2017. Taylor’s father Guy was a former professional player and his first coach. His mother Kathy May Fritz won sevent WTA titles.

Tiafoe won his maiden ATP title last February in Delray Beach after beating Juan Martin Del Potro, Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapovalov and Peter Gojowczyk. He became the first wild-card recipient to win the Delray Beach title in the 26-year history and the youngest US champion on tour since Andy Roddick at 2002 Houston. His first idol was Juan Martin Del Potro. Tiafoe became the youngest player to reach an ATP Tour final on European clay in 30 years. His parents Frances and mother Alphina moved from Sierra Leone to the USA in 1996. When Frances was a kid, his father worked at the Junior tennis Champions Center in College Park in Maryland.

Australia’s Alex De Minaur reached a career-high of world number 31 after starting the year at world number 210 in the ATP Ranking. Last August Alex saved four match points against last year’s ATP Next Gen Finals runner-up Andrey Rublev in the semifnal of the Citi Open ATP 500 level tournament in Washington to reach the final.He also reached the semifinal in Brisbane and the final in Sydney. De Minaur works with Australian legend Lleyton Hewitt, who is Alex’s mentor during Grand Slam tournaments and Davis Cup ties. De Minaur’s father Anibal comes from Uruguay. His mother Esther is Spanish. They moved to Australia, when Alex was 13 years old.

There are still remaining spots. The favourites to clinch the remining two automatic spots are last year’s ATP Next Finals runner-up Andrey Rublev and Spain’s Jaume Munar. The eighth spot will be reserved for the winner of an Italian qualifying tournament to be held in Milan in the week before the ATP Next Gen Finals.

TAG Heuer will partner with the Italian Tennis Federation to become the Official Watch and Timekeeper of the ATP Next Gen Finals and will provide the on-court clock and the Shot Clock.

 

 

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Canada Daily Preview: A Huge Day of Action Headlined by Serena/Bencic and Medvedev/Kyrgios

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Serena Williams on Monday in Toronto (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

On Tuesday, Serena Williams announced her retirement from the sport in a poignant essay.  With only a month left before one of the greatest players of all-time retires, Serena will play only her third match in the past 14 months on Wednesday, as she faces fellow Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic.

 

In Montreal, the two ATP singles champions from last week will collide, as Los Cabos champ and world No.1 Daniil Medvedev takes on Washington champ and Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios

Those are just two of a plethora of high-profile second round matches on Wednesday.  Overall seven of the WTA top 10 and six of the ATP top 10 will be in action in a jam-packed day of tennis.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Wednesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in both Toronto and Montreal.


Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Not Before 1:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Medvedev did not drop a set during his title run last week in Mexico, and is the defending champion of this event.  But Kyrgios is having the best summer of his career.  He’s now claimed 12 of his last 13 matches, which of course includes his first Major singles final at Wimbledon.  And Nick is 2-1 against Daniil, though they’ve split two hard court meetings.  Three years ago in the final of Washington, Kyrgios prevailed thanks to two tiebreaks.  But at this year’s Australian Open, Medvedev was victorious in four.  Last year at this tournament, Daniil defeated a few other big servers such as Hubi Hurkacz, John Isner, and Reilly Opelka.  On Wednesday, his defensive skills may again prove to diffuse Nick’s serving prowess.  And as seen in the Wimbledon final, Kyrgios can get easily frustrated by opponents who can play elite-level defense.


Belinda Bencic (12) vs. Serena Williams – Not Before 7:00pm on Centre Court on Toronto

These next few weeks will be the last in perhaps the most remarkable career in tennis history.  Serena has said she does not want a lot of fanfare surrounding her last tournaments, but fans will surely be clamoring to see the all-time great one last time.  In just her third match this year, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in women’s singles faces the most recent gold medalist.  Bencic is now 28-13 this season, and two of her best results this season have come in the US.  She was a semifinalist in Miami, and the champion in Charleston.  Serena is 2-1 against Belinda, though Bencic’s only victory occurred in this same city seven years ago, when the Swiss star won this title as an 18-year-old.  Williams played some good tennis during her straight-set victory on Monday, and both players will assumedly be quite nervous knowing this is one of Serena’s final matches.  But considering Williams has not defeated a top 20 player since the 2021 Australian Open, Bencic should be favored on this day.  Regardless, this opportunity to watch Serena compete will be cherished by her millions of fans.


Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Swiatek is now 48-5 on the year, and has won her last three hard court tournaments dating back to February (Doha, Indian Wells, Miami).  Tomljanovic reached her second consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinal last month.  Their only previous meeting also occurred in Toronto, when three years ago the Australian retired after only five games.

Elena Rybakina vs. Coco Gauff (10) – The new Wimbledon champion played for a full three hours on Tuesday, eventually defeating Marie Bouzkova 6-1 in the third.  On the same day, Gauff dropped only four games to fellow American Madison Brengle. 

Tommy Paul vs. Carlos Alcaraz – Alcaraz is now 42-7 in 2022, and is coming off back-to-back finals at clay events in Europe.  Paul has accumulated 25 wins of his own this season, 16 of which have come on hard courts.

Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Leylah Fernandez (13) – Fernandez gritted her way to a three-set victory on Monday night in her first match since injuring her foot at Roland Garros.  Haddad Maia has 34 wins on the year, and won back-to-back grass court tournaments in June.  Earlier this season in the semifinals of Monterrey, Leylah prevailed over Beatriz in straight sets.

Qinwen Zheng vs. Ons Jabeur (5) – Jabeur went 1-1 last week in her first two matches since her losing effort in the Wimbledon final.  Qinwen also lost to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon, after two tight sets in the third round of that event.

Bianca Andreescu vs. Alize Cornet – Andreescu overcame injury to defeat San Jose champion Daria Kasatkina on Tuesday evening, requiring multiple medical timeouts in the first set alone.  Earlier in the day, Cornet took out Caroline Garcia in three sets.  Alize is 2-0 against Bianca.

Yoshihito Nishioka (SE) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (6) – Nishioka was a surprise finalist last week in Washington, where he earned impressive victories over five top 40 players, including Andrey Rublev.  Auger-Aliassime has now lost four of his last six matches.  Yoshi leads their tour-level head-to-head 2-1, which includes a dramatic three-set win three years ago at Indian Wells in a third-set tiebreak.

Jack Draper (Q) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Tsitsipas has not played since his embarrassing behavior in a third-round defeat at the hands of Kyrgios at Wimbledon.  20-year-old Draper has earned 35 match wins at all levels this season. 


Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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6, 5, 4…is the rise of Carlos Alcaraz going to continue this week?

Canadian Open and Cincinnati Masters 1000 may allow the Spaniard’s ranking to reach new zeniths

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CARLOS ALCARAZ OF SPAIN - PHOTO: ANGEL MARTINEZ / MMO

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Numbers are fascinating, even worshipped by some, unquestionable and reassuring. We may forget the fallibility of subjective evaluation and rejoice with the sense of power that comes with belief that any reality, from outer space to the inner world, can be measured, and expressed with numbers.

 

And numbers have been fuelling tennis headlines over the last weeks as Carlos Alcaraz has been heading on, his rise in the rankings unblemished by the losses to Musetti and Sinner in the finals in Hamburg and Umag and ticking on like an ultimate countdown.  

In the next two weeks Alcaraz will have limitless opportunities to reap points in the two Masters 1000 leading up to the US Open since he will only be dropping the points he earned last year in Cincinnati where, after qualifying, he reached the round of 32 before losing to Lorenzo Sonego.

There is more at stake for those he is chasing: Medvedev, winner in Canada and semi-finalist in Cincinnati is surely capable of bettering such results, but it will not be a walkover. Zverev is fully committed to rehab and unable to defend his Cincinnati 2021 crown. Nadal, who missed all the second part of the last season and could be a serious challenger in terms of point harvesting, has just had to pull out from Montreal owing to his still-healing abdominal injury.    

Nitpickers may suggest that the most recent hurdles cleared by Alcaraz have not coincided with immaculate victories and that what had seemed for a long time to be a perfect set-up engine, meticulously fine-tuned, has been starting to misfire.

No doubt that his 2022 campaign had been a crescendo up to his triumph in the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, where he brushed aside Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. The match with Djokovic was of supreme quality and will stand out as one of the gems of the year.

Till then, his loss to Korda in Monte Carlo was the only lapse and could be considered an incident, as it may occur to any guy setting foot on clay for the first time in months, adorned with a new status as a tennis prodigy after his win in Miami and awaited by a roaring buzz of expectations.

In Paris, a first yellow alert did appear when he was on the brink of defeat in round 2 with Ramos-Vinolas in a match stained by 74 unforced errors. Then followed shining performances against Korda and Khachanov before falling in the quarter-finals to Zverev who overpowered him throughout most of their match. But Zverev was formidable that day and Alcaraz strove to the very end to find an escape way and was close to coming back, missing a set point in the fourth set tiebreak that would have tugged him into a decider.

His star seemed to be shining at Wimbledon after his impressive dominance over Otte, but two days later was obscured by Sinner. On this occasion, for the first time in his newly established career, his game appeared blunted.

Was his body starting to remind him he’s a teen, capable of formidable performances, but still to develop that endurance and resilience which are needed to maintain peak cruising over longer stretches?

Then followed defeats in Hamburg and Umag finals on clay. A final itself cannot be considered a disappointing result, but his halo of invincibility was dimmed.

Particular concern was his second defeat in a month to Sinner, where he appeared at loss for solutions over the last one hour and a half, his boisterous self-confidence slowly deflating and his body language revealing frustration. In his press conference, Alcaraz admitted such a sense of helplessness and said to be determined to figure out a way to win against the Italian. 

The point is that Alcaraz made such a great impression in the first part of this season that it has become hard to believe he can lose a match.

At his best, he can deliver any shot at any moment, with a variety rarely seen before. In an inspired instant, he can switch from herculean ball-striking to caressing a dropshot, which will land, bounceless, a few inches after the net. What about his eagerness to volley, often following his wondrously effective kick serve? Not to mention his serve which alternates power and spin, his endurance in winning long rallies, scuttling far and beyond to fling in a winner from out of the blue. Opponents cannot but be befuddled. 

And then, is clay really the surface that best suits his game? In an interview with Marca, he said he’s comfortable on all surfaces but feels that his dynamic game most suits hard courts. If we couple this statement with his enthusiasm for being in Montreal and playing the Canadian Open for the first time, after throwing in some hard work for a successful transition from clay to hard, we can be positive that the fire has been kindled, and the countdown for reaching the highest ranking orbits is running once again.      

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Canada Daily Preview: Andreescu, Osaka, Raducanu Face Formidable Opposition

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Canada’s Bianca Andreescu won this title in 2019 (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

Tuesday’s schedule in Toronto features several Major singles champions taking on recent tournament finalists.  2019 US Open champ Bianca Andreescu faces San Jose champ Daria Kasatkina.  Four-time Slam champ Naomi Osaka plays Washington runner-up Kaia Kanepi.  US Open champ Emma Raducanu faces defending champion Camila Giorgi.  And another US Open champ, Sloane Stephens, plays Indian Wells runner-up Maria Sakkari.

 

In Montreal, many matches have been carried over from Monday due to rain, including Andy Murray against Taylor Fritz, which was previewed here.  Also on Tuesday, Italy’s Matteo Berrettini takes on Pablo Carreno Busta.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in both cities.


Camila Giorgi vs. Emma Raducanu (9) – Second on Centre Court in Toronto

Giorgi was a surprising champion of this event a year ago, as she was ranked outside the top 70 at the time.  And she has failed to follow-up on that title run.  Camila promptly lost her next four matches, and in 2022, she’s just 13-13.  Of course Raducanu also won the biggest title of her career last summer, and has similarly struggled ever since, with a record of 11-13 on the year.  In their first career meeting, the pressure will be on Giorgi, as she’s never before defended a title of this caliber. That makes Raducanu the favorite to advance in her Canadian debut.


Daria Kasatkina (11) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Not Before 7pm on Centre Court in Toronto

What a season Kasatkina is having.  She is now 32-14, and is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings.  Last week in San Jose, she defeated two top six players en route to the title (Badosa, Sabalenka).  And at the same time, she’s influencing social change, as the Russian recently came out as gay, and spoke out against that subject remaining “taboo” in her home country.  In her own home country, Andreescu achieved great success three years ago, winning this title just weeks before becoming a US Open champion.  But the last few years have thoroughly tested Andreescu, as she’s battled injuries, COVID, and mental health issues.  Just a week ago in San Jose, she retired mid-match due to back pain.  In her first match in Toronto since her title run, it’s hard to imagine she’ll be fully healthy.  A confident, happy, and in-form Kasatkina is a strong favorite to continue her winning streak despite their history.  Bianca leads their head-to-head 2-0, which includes a three-set victory three years ago at this same event.


Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Matteo Berrettini (11) – This will be Berrettini’s debut at this event, while Carreno Busta is only 2-2 lifetime here.  Their only previous meeting occurred at this year’s Australian Open, which Matteo claimed in straight sets.

Kaia Kanepi vs. Naomi Osaka – Kanepi lost the final of Washington on Sunday to Liudmila Samsonova 6-3 in the third.  This will only be Osaka’s third match since May, and she’s coming off a straight-set loss last week in San Jose to Coco Gauff.  When they played five years ago at the US Open, Kanepi prevailed 7-5 in the third.

Maria Sakkari (3) vs. Sloane Stephens – Stephens was up a set and 5-2 over Sofia Kenin on Monday before eventually prevailing 7-5 in the third on her sixth match point in a highly-dramatic affair.  Sakkari was decisively defeated last week in San Jose by Shelby Rogers.  This is their first career encounter.


Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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