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ATP Next Gen Finals, a springboard for future tennis stars

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The eight players set to play in the second edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals were officially presented to the media representatives around the world during a press conference held at Fiera Milano, the same venue where the innovative tournament will take place from 6-10 November.

 

On Sunday evening the eight players: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex De Minaur, Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Andrey Rublev, Jaume Munar, Hubert Hurzak and Liam Caruana were split into two groups. Group A features Tsitsipas, Tiafoe, Hurkacz and Munar. Meanwhile, De Minaur, Fritz, Rublev and Caruana were drawn in the Group B.

Hyeon Chung won the first edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals by beating Andrey Rublev in the title match. Other players, who took part in last year’s edition like Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov and Borna Coric made a big impact on the ATP World Tour stage this season. Shapovalov got through to his second Masters 1000 semifinal in Madrid. Coric reached the semifinals at Indian Wells and the final in Shanghai. Karen Khachanov, who was ranked number 44 at the time of the 2017 ATP Next Gen Finals, won his maiden Masters 1000 title in Paris Bercy by beating Novak Djokovic last Sunday and will end the 2018 season ranked world number 11.

Group A:

Stefanos Tsitsipas:

Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas is world number 16 in the ATP Rankings and is the highest-ranked player in the field. He is the favourite to follow in the footsteps of Hyeon Chung, who won the inaugural edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals in 2017. In last year’s edition of the ATP Next Gen finals he was an alternate.

Stefanos was introduced to tennis at the age of 3. 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. As a junior Tsitsipas was ranked number 1 in the world.

Last April he also finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the final in Barcelona on clay. He achieved his best result at Grand Slam level when he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon before losing to John Isner. During the summer hard-court season he reached the semifinal in Washington and the final in Toronto.

He has beaten four top 10 players (Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson) en route to reaching his first Masters 1000 final at the Rogers Cup in Toronto before losing to Rafael Nadal in the title match. At the Canadian Open he became the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since 19-year-old Novak Djokovic at the 2007 Miami Open.

Last October he became the first Greek player to win an ATP tournament in Stockolm, where he lifted the maiden trophy of his career.

“I achieved all my goals in 2018 and I have developed as a player. I am happy with my first title in Stockolm and the fourth round at Wimbledon. I am still focused on the 2018 season and I want to do my best in Milan. I have not planned 2019 yet. I have to improve my game, especially the tweener ! I have to continue working hard. The 2018 season was my first major season on the tour and I have learned a lot from the two finals I played against Nadal in Barcelona and Toronto. The level of the Next Gen is very high. Only small details make the difference”, said Tsitsipas during the Media Day in Milan.

Frances Tiafoe:

Frances Tiafoe beat Juan Martin Del Potro, Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapovalov and Peter Gojowczyk en route to winning his maiden ATP title last February in Delray Beach.

The US player 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. Tiafoe’s first idol was Juan Martin Del Potro.

Frances became the youngest player to reach an ATP Tour final on European clay in 30 years in Estoril.

His parents Frances senior and mother Alphina moved from Sierra Leone to the USA in 1996 before Frances’ birth. When he was a kid, his father worked at the Junior tennis Champions Center in College Park in Maryland.

“I have had my best year ever on Tour and hit a career-high in the ATP Rankings. It’s nice to be here in Milan. I need to improve the volleys and my game at the net, but I am 20 and I am at the beginning of my career”,said Tiafoe.

Tiafoe beat one of his rivals in Group A, Hubert Hurkacz from Poland, in straight sets in Washington last summer.

Before his debut in the ATP Next Gen Finals Tiafoe took the chance to relax and enjoy watching the Euroleague basketball match between Armani Exchange Milan and Efes Istanbul together with another ATP Next Gen Finals player, Jaume Munar.

 “Euroleague is not at the same level as the NBA but I really enjoyed the match. It was a really fun game, full of pressure and nerves until the end. Basketball is my favourite sport after tennis. I am a big fan of Washington Wizards NBA team”, said Tiafoe.

Jaume Munar:

Jaume Munar won two back-to-back ATP Challenger titles in Prostejov and Caltanissetta and reached his first ATP Tour semifinal at the Generali Open in Kitzbuehl, where he beat Robin Haase and Taro Daniel before losing to Martin Klizan. The Spanish player beat Andrey Rublev in Winston Salem.

The 21-year-old Spanish player hails from Santanyi, a municipality on the Spanish Island of Majorca, where Rafael Nadal grew up and started his tennis career. Munar started playing tennis at the age of 8. He has a special relationship to Nadal and trains at the famous Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in Mallorca. He is coached by Tomeu Salva, one of Nadal’s best friends.

Munar is the youngest Spanish player in the top 100. He lost to Andrey Rublev in the 2014 French Open final.

In July 2017 Munar won a title on the ATP Challenger Tour in Segovia following in the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin Del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, who won the past editions of this tournament.

This year he scored his first Grand Slam win against his idol David Ferrer at Roland Garros before losing to Novak Djokovic in the second round.

He enjoys reading and playing golf, watching films and listening to music and started studying economics at the University.

“At the start of the year I was thinking and dreaming about the ATP Next Gen Finals. I am a big fighter on the court, but I have to work a lot to be more consistent”, said Munar.

He is a clay specialist and achieved his best results on this surface, but the first tournaments he dreams winning are the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

“Rafa Nadal is a role model for every young player in Spain. My dream is to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon. I love Melbourne and every time I go there, I feel at home. Wimbledon represents the history of tennis”.

Hubert Hurkacz:

The Polish player born in Wroklaw moved up to ninth place in the ATP Race to Milan by winning his second ATP Challenger title in Brest, where he beat Ricardas Berankis in the final.

With the withdrawal of Denis Shapovalov due to exhaustion Hurkacz secured his spot for the ATP Next Final.

Hurkacz followed in the footsteps of his mother Zocia, a former Polish tennis champion. Roger Federer and Polish doubles star Lukasz Kubot were Hubert’s first idols when he grew up with the dream to emerge of the world tennis stage.

Last year he lost his first Challenger final in Shenzhen against Radu Albot from Moldovia. Despite the defeat he gained confidence ahead of the 2018 season.

Hurkacz started the season as world number 238 and has climbed to world number 79 this year.

He won his maiden ATP Challenger title in Poznan last June beating Taro Daniel from Japan in the final and advanced to the final in Zhuhai earlier in the season.

“The Shenzhen final gave me confidence, and I also built up my game, so I  am now stronger physically and mentally. It means a lot to me. It will be a different kind of tournament with only eight players in Milan, so it will be awesome to play here”,said Hurkacz.

Hurkacz is in contention for the ATP Newcomer of the Year Award together with other nominees Ugo Humbert, Alex De Minaur, Michael Mmoh and Jaume Munar.

Group B:

Taylor Fritz:

Fritz was the youngest ATP finalist since Kei Nishikori at the Delray Beach Open at the age of 18 two years ago. He ended 2016 as the youngest player inside the top 100 of the ATP Ranking and received the ATP Star of Tomorrow Award.

The 20-year-old US player married Raquel Pedraza, who played at all four Grand Slam Junior tournaments. Their first child Jordan was born in January 2017.

After the birth of his son he won his first match against a top 10 player at Indian Wells last March, where he beat Marin Cilic en route to reaching his first Round of 16 in a Masters 1000 tournament. The player from Rancho Santa Fé near San Diego (California) also reached his second ATP semifinal in Houston where he beat Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock before losing to Steve Johnson.

He began playing tennis at the age of 2 to follow in the footsteps of his parents, who were professional players. Taylor Fritz’s father Guy was his first coach. His mother Kathy May Fritz won seven WTA titles and was a Top 10 player. Taylor’s first idols growing up were Pete Sampras and Juan Martin Del Potro.

“I came to Milan as a young player, but playing the ATP Next Gen finals is a totally different experience”, said Taylor Fritz.

Fritz is a big fan of Los Angeles NFL American Football team and English football team Manchester United.

 Alex De Minaur:

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. He is the only teenager in the 2018 ATP Next Gen Finals field and the Number 1 Australian player in the ATP Rankings.

He started the 2018 season by reaching the semifinal in Brisbane and the final in Sydney. He was the youngest player to reach semifinals in consecutive weeks since Rafa Nadal at the 2005 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open.

Last August Alex saved four match points in the second set tie-break against last year’s ATP Next Gen Finals runner-up Andrey Rublev in the semifinal of the Citi Open ATP 500 in Washington en route to reaching the final.

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 Spain when Alex was five years old. The family returned to Australia, when he was 13 years old, and went back to Spain three years later.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting this. It has been a great year. I have played some unbelievable tennis. I want to continue working hard to develop my athletic training and my strength. It’s only way to keep up with the best players in the world”,said Alex De Minaur.

Andrey Rublev:

 The Russian player will play for the second consecutive year at the ATP Next Gen Final in Milan. In 2017 he lost the final against Hyeon Chung.

He started 2018 by reaching the final in Doha but he lost to Gael Monfils. He qualified for the quarter finals in Montpellier and Rotterdam.

His progress was slowed by a stress fracture injury in lower back during the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where he lost to Dominic Thiem after earning a match point. The 21-year-old player from Moscow missed three months including two Grand Slam tournaments: Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Rublev made his come-back to Umag, where he defended the title won in 2017 as a lucky-loser but lost to Robin Haase in the quarter final. During the summer Rublev lost in the semifinal of the Citi Open in Washington against Alex De Minaur. He came through the qualifying rounds in Vienna to reach the Round of 16 before losing to Mikhail Kukushkin. He is now ranked world number 76.

In Umag 2017 Andrey lost the final match in qualifying round, but he became lucky-loser after the withdrawal of Borna Coric. In the main draw he beat Fabio Fognini in the quarter final, Ivan Dodig in the semifinal and Paolo Lorenzi in the final to become the seventh lucky loser to win an ATP Tour title. He reached the quarter final at the US Open after beating Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin before losing to Rafael Nadal.

Rublev started playing tennis at the age of 3. His father Andrey is a restaurateur and a former professional boxer. His mother Marina and his sister Arina are tennis coaches. His mother worked with former tennis star Anna Kournikova. Rublev trains in Spain under the guidance of former Spanish player Fernando Vicente. Rublev won the 2014 French Open Junior title and the bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. Andrey’s idols growing up were Marat Safin and Rafael Nadal. His hobbies include boxing, basketball and music and he supports the NBA team Golden State Warriors. Andrey and a group of friends formed the music band “Summer Afternoon”. They released their first music video, a cover of “One Direction’s Steal My Girl”.

“I am fit now after a difficult season. Compared to last year I have less pressure. I am happy with my game, but I need to improve my mental strength. I hope to be able to win two consecutive matches”, said Rublev.

Liam Caruana:

Italian Liam Caruana came back from one set down to beat Raul Brancaccio 2-4 4-1 4-3 4-3 in the final of the Italian Under 21 play-off tournament to secure his spot for the ATP Next Gen Final at the Milano Fiera. Caruana won three matches in three days. In the semifinal he came back from two sets down to beat Luca Giacomini on Saturday.

Caruana was born in Rome on 22nd January 1998, but he moved to the United States at the age of six. He started his tennis career in Texas at junior level. His father Massimo, who was Liam’s first coach, moved to San Diego in California and then to Austin in Texas. Liam reached his best ranking of world number 375 last February, but he is now ranked world number 622.

“I have to improve many aspects of my game. I like playing aggressively and I want to continue playing at the net. My goal is to improve my ranking next year. I know Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe very well. We played many junior tournaments together”,said Caruana.

He played one ATP tour-level match in Auckland, where he lost to Steve Johnson, and climbed to his career-high of world number 375 in the ATP Ranking winning seven match on the ATP Challenger Tour. Liam practised with his friend Taylor Fritz when they were juniors. He also played against De Minaur and Rublev at junior tournaments.

Caruana will have the chance to use the ATP Next Gen Finals as a springboard event for his future career.

 

 

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Casper Ruud and Cristian Garin reach the semifinal in Hamburg

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Last week’s Rome Masters 1000 semifinalist Casper Ruud reached his second consecutive semifinal in Hamburg after beating Ugo Humbert 7-5 3-6 6-1 after 2 hours and 36 minutes. 

 

Ruud, the son of former Norwegian star Christian Ruud, converted four of his 17 break points and dropped his serve twice. 

Both players traded breaks in in the fifth and sixth games in the opening set and stayed neck and neck in the next games. Humbert earned two set points in the 10th game, which featured six deuces. Ruud saved both opportunities to draw level to 5-5 and broke serve to take a 6-5 lead. The Scandinavian player held serve at love with a smash winner to seal the first set 7-5 after 64 minutes. 

Humbert broke serve in the fourth game of the second set with a backhand winner and saved all five break points in the fifth and seventh games before closing out the first set 6-3 with an ace. Ruud fended off a break point in the first game of the decisive set and broke serve at love in the second game. 

Ruud broke serve at 4-1, as Humbert netted a forehand, and served out the match in the next game. Ruud set up a semifinal match against last year’s finalist Andrey Rublev. 

Chile’s Cristian Garin came back from one set down to beat lucky loser Alexander Bublik 3-6 6-4 6-4. Garin will play against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the oher semifinal. 

Bublik earned breaks in the first and ninth games to win the first set 6-3. Garin broke serve in the second game and saved two break points in the sixth and eights games to win the second set 6-4. Garin earned his only break at love in the fifth game to seal the decisive set 6-4. Garin will face Stefanos Tsitsipas for the first time in his career on the ATP Tour in the semifinal. 

“I am happy to be in the semifinals. Hamburg is a really special tournament. I am having a good week and I am playing my best tennis”, said Garin. 

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‘He Needs To Bulk Up’ – Tennis Great Cast Doubt On Alex De Minaur’s French Open Chances

John Newcombe believes it will be a few more years before the world No.27 reaches his peak.

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One of Australia’s most decorated Grand Slam champions of all time believes compatriot Alex de Minaur still has a way to go before he poses a threat at the French Open.

 

Former world No.1 John Newcombe believes the 21-year-old needs to improve on his physicality before reaching his peak on the surface. De Minaur comes into the Grand Slam high in confidence after reaching the quarter-finals of the US Open in what was his best performance at a major so far in his career. He was knocked out of the tournament by eventual winner Dominic Thiem.

Although De Minaur’s preparations for the clay took a blow last week after he lost the first round of the Italian Open to German qualifier Dominik Koepfer. The world No.27 had a set and 3-0 lead over Koepfer before losing. He is not playing in any tournament this week leading up to Roland Garros.

“I’d have to see the draw, how it comes out, but it will be hard work for him,” Newcombe told the Australian Associated Press about de Minaur’s chances in Paris.
“He’s going to have to do a hell of a lot of work. If he got to the quarters, it would be a terrific effort.
“He’s not going to be physically where he needs to be, just bulking up a bit, until he’s 25, 26.
“But he’s got a good all-court game and he understands the game well, so there’s no reason he can’t be a pretty good late maturer (on clay).”

This year’s clay-court major will be the fourth time the Australian has played in the main draw. In his three previous appearances, de Minaur has only won one match which was against Bradley Klahn last year.

During a recent interview with atptour.com, the Next Gen star gave little away about his expectations for the clay this year given the revised schedule. The French Open is taking place just two weeks after New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought the sport to a five-month standstill earlier this year.

“Realistically, you never know until you step out and play matches. It’s a very quick turnaround, something that has never happened to play such an important event after a slam. I’m taking it all in, doing as best as I can and we will have to see,” he said.

De Minaur has won three ATP titles and has scored four wins over top 10 players so far in his career. He is currently the only player from his country ranked in the world’s top 40 on the ATP Tour.

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Novak Djokovic claims his 36th Masters 1000 title in Rome

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Novak Djokovic came back from 0-3 down in the first set to beat Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 after 1 hour and 53 minutes in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at the Foro Italico in Rome. Djokovic claimed his fifth title in the Eternal City and his 36th Masters 1000 trophy and his 81st career title. Djokovic has become the oldest Rome champion. 

 

The World number 1 player extended his record in 2020 to an impressive record of 31 wins in 32 matches, including four titles at the Australian Open, Dubai, the Western and Southern Open in New York and Rome. 

Djokovic dropped his serve three times and earned five breaks of serve. 

Djokovic wasted a game point and dropped his serve, when he netted his backhand. Schwartzman hit four service winners in the second game to consolidate the break for 2-0. 

Djokovic made a backhand error to face a break point in the third game. Schwartzman earned his second break to open up a 3-0 after 18 minutes, as Djokovic netted another backhand.  Djokovic earned a break point chance and conveted it after a double fault from Schwartzman. 

Djokovic held serve at 15 with an ace in the fifth game to claw his way back to 2-3. The Serbian star forced an error from Schwarzman to earn a breka point in the sixth game and got the break, when the Argentine netted a forehand. Djokovic held serve at 15 to take a 4-3 in the seventh game. Schwartzman hit a forehand down the line winner at 30-15 in the eighth game and held serve with a service winner to draw level to 4-4. 

Djokovic saved a break point in the ninth game with a volley winner and held serve to take a 5-4 lead. Schwartzman saved a set point with a forehand winner and drew level to 5-5 after two deuces with a backhand the line winner. 

Djokovic held serve after a deuce to take a 6-5 lead forcing Schwartzman to serve to stay in the set for the second time. Djokovic converted his third set point to win the opening set 7-5 after 70 minutes. 

Schwartzman earned an early break at the start of the second set. Djokovic got the break back to draw level to 1-1 when Schwartzman sent a forehand wide. 

Djokovic hit a winner at the net to hold serve in the third game. Schwartzman hit four winners in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2.

Djokovic saved two break points in the fifth game and held serve with a service winner to take a 3-2 lead. Schwartman held serve with a drop shot. Djokovic won his service game at love to take a 4-3 lead and broke serve at love in the eighth game with a backhand down the line winner. Djokovic held serve at love to close out the final. 

“”It was a great week. A very challenging week. I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most in the decisive moments today, yesterday and in every match. That definitely makes me very satisfied and proud that I managed to find that fifth gear when it was most needed. Turning to Paris, I could not ask for a better tournament here in Rome. Another big title and i super pleased with it”, said Djokovic. 

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