Top-seeded De Minaur in Group A and Tiafoe leads Group B
A mouth-watering draw was set on Saturday for this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, with the eight competitors ready to battle at the Allianz Cloud. Top-seeded Aussie Alex de Minaur headlines Group A and second-seeded American Frances Tiafoe leads Group B, with the action to begin on Tuesday.
This year’s Milan contenders were split into two groups during the draw ceremony at the Lavazza Flagship Store. Players in each group will contest three round-robin matches, with two competitors advancing from each group into the knockout elimination semi-finals.
Group A Alex de Minaur Casper Ruud Miomir Kecmanovic Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Group B Frances Tiafoe Ugo Humbert Mikael Ymer Jannik Sinner
With three ATP Tour titles this season accompanying a runner-up finish last week in Basel, De Minaur is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 18 in the ATP Rankings. But he’s never faced anyone in his group in an ATP Tour main draw before, meaning this year’s event will mark the beginning of long-lasting FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalries. De Minaur, Casper Ruud and Miomir Kecmanovic have all reached tour-level finals this year.
“It’s a tough draw. Both groups are equally good,” Kecmanovic said. “Everybody is playing well and have had the best years of their careers, so it’s going to be tough.”
Group B is equally intriguing as all four players arrive in strong form. Sinner and Humbert both reached the semi-finals last month in Antwerp, with Sinner defeating Tiafoe in a three-set quarter-final. Ymer has won four ATP Challenger Tour titles this year, including back-to-back crowns in September.
“The draw speaks for itself,” said Ymer. “It’s all of the best players our age, so it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Tuesday’s schedule has also been released. Ruud and Kecmanovic kick off the day session, followed by De Minaur facing Davidovich Fokina. The night session opens with Humbert taking on Ymer, followed by Tiafoe squaring off against Sinner.
The winner of this year’s event will receive $250,000, with an undefeated champion taking home $429,000.
Djokovic Continues Year-End No. 1 Push As Shapovalov Seeks Canadian History
Battle will determine final ATP Masters 1000 champ of 2019
Novak Djokovic and Denis Shapovalov have played the first three matches in their budding FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry this year. But when they clash on Sunday, the stakes will be higher than ever.
Djokovic and Shapovalov will compete for the Rolex Paris Masters title. For the Serbian, a four-time champion in Bercy, this is an opportunity to claw closer to Rafael Nadal in the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. Shapovalov is not just trying to spoil that opportunity for the top seed, but he is trying to claim his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown in his first final at this level.
“It’s awesome to be in my first [Masters 1000] final,” Shapovalov said. “I’m just going to go for it, see what I can do and just enjoy my time out there.”
Shapovalov has won just one of eight sets he has played against Djokovic, and that came in a four-set defeat at the Australian Open. But Djokovic knows that the big-hitting Canadian has the ability to challenge him with his powerful game.
“Denis is very dangerous player. If he has time, if he’s feeling the ball well, it can be a tough match,” Djokovic said after a 6-3, 6-3 victory against Shapovalov less than a month ago in Shanghai. “He was serving really well, [making a] high percentage of first serves, and [it was] just really difficult to return in the first set, so it took me a little bit of time to really adjust [and] start reading his serve a little bit better.”
Djokovic is not just in a battle for year-end No. 1 with Nadal, who withdrew from Paris on Saturday before his semi-final due to an abdominal injury. But Djokovic can also win his 34th Masters 1000 title — in his 50th final at this level — which would put him within one of Nadal’s 35 trophies. It would also be the ninth time he has earned at least five tour-level crowns in a season.
“It is very satisfying honestly, because I haven’t really been feeling my best throughout the week. But I’ve been playing really well the past couple of matches,” Djokovic said. “[I am] looking forward to the final tomorrow.”
Although the pair’s second clash was on the Roman clay of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, which doesn’t match up with this meeting’s surface, Djokovic made note of the length of the Canadian’s swing. And on Paris’ quicker indoor courts, where the Serbian will have more opportunities to take time away from his opponent, he will likely try to take advantage of that.
“He has a big swing. He can play really with a lot of spin and also a lot of speed and power from the back of the court,” Djokovic said in Rome. “I took away that time from him.”
Djokovic On Rome Win Vs. Shapovalov
Shapovalov has far more momentum this week than he did during the clay-court season, though. The lefty not only won his first ATP Tour title indoors last month in Stockholm, but he has showed a balance of both shotmaking and patience this week in Paris. On Friday, Shapovalov conceded just four games against Gael Monfils in a match that had a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals on the line for the Frenchman.
“It’s going to be a different match. But of course I feel like the way I played against Gael was unbelievable. It was kind of one of those days where everything was going in for me. So I hope I can bring the same kind of level that I did against him,” Shapovalov said. “But at the same time, Novak is a different player. So it’s going to be a different kind of game and it’s going to be different tennis.”
One area to watch will be where Djokovic targets his second serves. In his semi-final win against Grigor Dimitrov, he went to Dimitrov’s forehand with 72 per cent of his second serves in the deuce court — compared to just 25 per cent in his quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Shapovalov this week said that with his coach, Mikhail Youzhny, they have been working on blocking his backhand return.
“[On my backhand return, Youzhny and I] worked on blocking it a lot more to start the point and it’s a tricky shot for the opponents,” Shapovalov said. “I feel like it’s a really big improvement in my game.”
Shapovalov was unequivocal in stating that he will go for his shots against Djokovic, believing he has nothing to lose. But a victory would mean national history, too, as he can become the first Canadian to lift a Masters 1000 trophy.
Even though he knows playing Djokovic is a tall order, Shapovalov feels he has learnt from his losses against the Serbian this season.
“I feel like every time I get a little more and more input on how he plays. I think when he played me in Shanghai, he played absolutely amazing. I don’t think I played bad at all, but he was coming up with amazing shots,” Shapovalov said. “Hopefully he’s missing a little bit more tomorrow, a little bit tighter. But hopefully I can also step up my game and play the way I’ve been playing all week.”
Did You Know? Shapovalov as a 3-13 record against Top 10 opposition (2-6 this year). Djokovic has the same number of Masters 1000 titles as the Canadian has match wins at this level (33).
Shapovalov On His Surge: ‘I Knew It Was Just A Question Of Time’
Canadian to face Djokovic in first ATP Masters 1000 final
Denis Shapovalov continued his impressive run of results in recent months by reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Rolex Paris Masters.
But less than three months ago at the Winston-Salem Open in August, the 20-year-old was searching for form with just four victories from his past 16 matches.
Ranked No. 38 in the ATP Rankings at the time, Shapovalov started a trial period with Mikhail Youzhny at the ATP 250 tournament. Youzhny’s impact on the Canadian was immediate, with Shapovalov reaching his first ATP Tour semi-final in five months.
The partnership has since proven to be a consistent success. Since joining forces with the former World No. 8, Shapovalov has won 18 of 25 encounters, lifted his maiden ATP Tour trophy in Stockholm and reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Paris.
Aside from his playing experience and great knowledge of many of the current stars on the ATP Tour, what else has Youzhny brought to the young Canadian’s game? Shapovalov highlighted one area in his game that they have brought to new heights.
“[On my backhand return, Youzhny and I] worked on blocking it a lot more to start the point and it’s a tricky shot for the opponents,” said Shapovalov. “I feel like it was working for me in Chengdu in one of my matches, and then from then I just stayed with it. I feel like it’s a really big improvement in my game.”
Shapovalov’s improved return was on show throughout his week at the Intrum Stockholm Open — his first tournament of the European indoor swing — last month. On a fast indoor surface in the Swedish capital, the 6’1” left-hander won each of the eight sets he contested and was only taken to one tie-break en route to the trophy.
That title run has lifted the pressure off Shapovalov — who entered Stockholm with an 0-6 record in ATP Tour semi-finals — and provided the Canadian with the opportunity to relax and enjoy his tennis in the final weeks of the 2019 season.
“I’m just enjoying myself in the last couple weeks of the year,” said Shapovalov. “I feel like with that title in Stockholm, it gave me a sense of calmness, relief. And I’ve just been able to enjoy the last couple weeks of the season and, because of that, I feel like I’ve been able to play really well.”
But despite his relief, Shapovalov has still been working hard to add to his trophy collection. The Stockholm champion has defeated three Top 15 seeds in a row this week to reach his first Masters 1000 final at the Rolex Paris Masters.
With wins against Fabio Fognini, Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils in the French capital, Shapovalov has guaranteed himself a spot alongside those names in the Top 15 when the latest ATP Rankings are released on Monday.
“I think my level is there [in the Top 15]. I’ve beaten most of these guys here or there, or a guy like Goffin, I have gotten really close with him,” said Shapovalov. “I think my level is there and I knew [it was] just a question of time… It’s just taken me a little bit of time to improve my game and just grow as a player.”
Shapovalov advanced to his first Masters 1000 championship match in unfortunate circumstances, following Rafael Nadal’s late withdrawal from their semi-final encounter on Court Central. The Canadian took a moment to reflect on the situation ahead of his final meeting against Novak Djokovic.
“It’s not the way I wanted to reach my first [ATP Masters 1000] final,” said Shapovalov. “Nonetheless, it’s a great opportunity for me to be in the final of a Masters 1000.”
With the opportunity to finish his final ATP Tour event of the season with the biggest victory of his career, Shapovalov was clear in his strategy ahead of his meeting against the World No. 1.
“I’m not one to cut down risk, so I’m going to go for it [against Novak]. It’s a match where I have nothing to lose,” said Shapovalov. “It’s awesome to be in my first Masters 1000 final and it’s just a bonus for me. Honestly, I’m just going to go for it, see what I can do and just enjoy my time out there.”
If Shapovalov is looking for inspiration or words of advice on how to beat Djokovic indoors, the 20-year-old only has to turn to his side and ask his coach. Youzhny ended his career with a 3-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against the World No. 1 on indoor hard courts.
And while there is no way of knowing if the Canadian will be able to follow in the footsteps of his coach on Sunday, he’s done an impressive job so far in Paris.
Match Analysis: Key Patterns In Djokovic’s Win Over Dimitrov
Hawkeye stats and graphics provide insight into Djokovic’s victory
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeated 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov 7-6(5), 6-4 in Saturday’s Rolex Paris Masters semi-finals. But despite the Serbian triumphing in straight sets, the match came down to just a few points, with Djokovic winning only four more points overall.
What proved key in the four-time champion’s victory? Hawkeye’s stats and graphics give key insight into Djokovic’s second-serve direction and backhand patterns.
“You don’t think of Novak Djokovic as a big server, but it’s been a very effective weapon today,” said Tennis Channel analyst and former World No. 5 Jimmy Arias during his broadcast of the match.
Djokovic’s won a healthy 64 per cent of his second-serve points. But notably 29 per cent of Djokovic’s second serves were unreturned compared to 10 per cent of Dimitrov’s.
Djokovic interestingly went to Dimitrov’s forehand with 72 per cent of his second serves in the deuce court — compared to just 25 per cent in his quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas — while the Bulgarian served out wide in the deuce court just once on his second delivery.
This proved crucial at 3/5 in the pivotal first-set tie-break. Djokovic had just double faulted to give Dimitrov the edge, and he missed his first serve in the deuce court. But the Serbian went out wide with his second serve to pull Dimitrov off the court, using the space he opened up to take a strong aggressive posture in the point, which he ultimately won to stay within striking distance and avoid giving the Bulgarian three set points.
The 33-time ATP Masters 1000 champion also struck a majority of his second serves down the ‘T’ in the ad court, doing so 60 per cent of the time to Dimitrov’s 50 per cent. Djokovic did not face a break point in his win.
Djokovic Second-Serve Placement
Dimitrov Second-Serve Placement
In looking at contact points on the backhand side, Djokovic was often pinned deep behind the baseline. The Serbian hit 33 per cent of his backhands from more than two metres behind the baseline, nearly double Dimitrov’s 17 per cent rate from that far back.
Overall, Djokovic hit his backhands at 111 km/h on average compared to Dimitrov, who was at 104 km/h.
Djokovic Backhand Contact Points
Dimitrov Backhand Contact Points
Djokovic notably kept his backhands cross-court 67 per cent of the time, showing a willingness to engage in backhand-to-backhand rallies. Dimitrov on the other hand only struck his backhand cross-court at a rate of 49 per cent.
Djokovic Backhand Placement
Dimitrov Backhand Placement
Overall, Dimitrov went down the middle of the court more often on both wings, especially on the forehand side. The former World No. 3 hit 19 per cent of his forehands down the middle, while Djokovic did so at a rate of just five per cent, amounting to only six forehands in the match. Taking all shots into consideration, Dimitrov went down the middle 23 per cent of the time to just 11 per cent for Djokovic.
Dimitrov also used a lot more of his slice — coming under the ball 28 per cent of the time — compared to Djokovic, who almost strictly utilised topspin, hitting over hits shots at a 96 per cent clip.
Djokovic and Dimitrov put forth a thrilling battle in Bercy for one hour and 38 minutes. And while on paper they were within four points of one another, they used two significantly different strategies to get there.
Li Zhe and Zhang Zhizhen to meet for Challenger glory
In 2016, Wu Di lifted China’s first ATP Challenger Tour trophy. One year later, Wu Yibing became its first teenage titlist. And on Sunday, the country will celebrate yet another milestone on the circuit.
For the first time in Challenger history, an all-Chinese final will take centre stage. Zhang Zhizhen is set to face Li Zhe for the title at the Shenzhen Longhua Open, in what will be a historic moment for the emerging tennis nation.
Zhang, the 23-year-old Shanghai native, is making a splash on the scene in 2019, having lifted his first trophy in Jinan and earning a pair of ATP Tour match wins last month in Zhuhai and Beijing. Li, meanwhile, is appearing in his second final and first in nearly three years. The 33-year-old from Tianjin previously reached the championship match in Bangkok to open the 2017 season.
Now, much will be at stake at the Mission Hills Country Club. With China continuing to emerge on the professional scene, both players understand the impact this moment can have.
“This is a great feeling for a Chinese player,” said Li. “It’s the first time ever it’s happened in a Challenger final. And it’s a big Challenger as well. It’s a big moment for Chinese tennis and special for men’s tennis as a whole, because we’ve never had this before. It’s a great feeling.”
“It shows that we are improving,” added Zhang. “It’s never happened before where two Chinese players reach a final. It’s very good news for us.”
This week in Shenzhen, the Challenger 110 event is held at one of the more renowned country clubs in the world. Also accredited as the world’s largest golf facility in 2004, it is home to 12 courses, each designed by a different golfing legend.
Players stay at the adjacent Hard Rock Hotel, within walking distance to the courts. The venue is also home to an amusement park, with families encouraged to spend the day at the tennis while enjoying the rides and activities.
Zhang, nicknamed ‘ZZZ’, owns a 3-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head lead over the man they call ‘Tiger’. All five meetings have come at the Challenger level, including two this year. Most recently, Zhang prevailed in straight sets in Columbus in June.
This week, ZZZ is doing his best to build off a breakthrough victory over World No. 34 Kyle Edmund at the China Open. He has not dropped a set en route to the final and is already projected to rise to a career-high ATP Ranking in the Top 160.
“This week my coach is not here, so I’ve been pretty relaxed,” Zhang said, laughing. “I’m just focusing on every single point in the matches and it’s going well.”
Li is also projected to reach a career-high in the ATP Rankings on Monday. He will crack the Top 200 for the first time.
“I’ve just been trying my best and fighting in every match,” said Li. “I pushed as hard as I could and gave everything on the court. It’s been a very good result so far this week and I wish to keep going tomorrow.”
The numbers don’t lie. The depth at this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, which starts Tuesday at the Allianz Cloud in Milan, is better than ever.
There are 13 #NextGenATP stars currently inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings, compared to 10 in 2017 and 2018. Three of them (Tsitsipas, De Minaur, Auger-Aliassime) are inside the Top 20, compared to two last year and one in 2017.
Top 100 #NextGenATP Players
ATP Rankings Points
Alex de Minaur
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
But it’s not just the quantity of players that is making it difficult to qualify. The ATP Race to Milan, which determines who qualifies for Milan, shows that the number of ATP Rankings points required to make the cut is higher than ever.
South Korean Hyeon Chung (2017) and Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic (2019) were both seventh in the Race for their respective years competing in Milan. But Chung, who finished seventh in the 2017 Race with 805 points, would have been tenth in this year’s Race. Meanwhile, Kecmanovic’s current tally of 975 points would have put him at fourth in the 2017 Race.
Seventh In ATP Race to Milan
The difference still holds further down in the standings. Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 11th in the Race (653), is the last direct entrant into this year’s event. He also holds more points than the players in his position for the previous two years.
11th In ATP Race to Milan
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
After weathering the toughest cut yet with their outstanding results, this year’s competitors will be in prime form as they to look to finish the season with a title in Milan.
Nadal Withdraws From Paris Ahead Of Semi-final Against Shapovalov
Shapovalov to meet Djokovic in Sunday’s final
Second seed Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the Rolex Paris Masters ahead of his semi-final due to an abdominal injury he sustained during his warm-up. He made the decision not to play on recommendation of the on-site doctors.
Canadian Denis Shapovalov advances to his first ATP Masters 1000 final. The #NextGenATP star will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the title on Sunday. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 3-0, with each of those meetings coming this year.
The battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking will come down to the Nitto ATP Finals. By reaching the Paris final, Djokovic is within 1,040 points of Nadal in the ATP Race To London, and he can pull to within 640 points of the Spaniard by lifting his 34th Masters 1000 trophy against Shapovalov.
Novak Djokovic has enjoyed great success at ATP Masters 1000 events throughout his career, lifting 33 trophies across all nine events.
The World No. 1 enjoyed another milestone on Saturday, reaching his 50th Masters 1000 championship match with a 7-6(5), 6-4 win against Grigor Dimitrov at the Rolex Paris Masters.
The World No. 1 extended his unbeaten record in Bercy semi-finals to six matches, winning 85 per cent of first-serve points (34/40) to reach his sixth final at the event. Djokovic owns a 10-1 record at this tournament after reaching the semi-finals.
”It’s a motivation [to win my fifth Paris title] every day. I feel good in such conditions, especially in France… You have the culture of tennis,” said Djokovic. “You have a lot of support from the crowd. You could see the French players had a lot of support. I’m motivated. I want to do well tomorrow. I hope to find my best tennis.”
With his ninth victory in 10 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Dimitrov, Djokovic is through to his sixth final of the year (4-1). The four-time Paris champion is tied with Dominic Thiem (5-1) and Roger Federer (4-2) in second place on the 2019 finals leaderboard. Daniil Medvedev has reached nine championship matches (4-5) this year.
Djokovic is aiming to finish as year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings for a record-tying sixth time. The 32-year-old will enter the championship match against Denis Shapovalov 1,040 points behind Rafael Nadal in the Race. Djokovic is unbeaten in three FedEx ATP Head2Head clashes against the Canadian.
“I think [Denis has] reduced his unforced errors. His game has always been there and, especially this year, he’s improved even more,” said Djokovic. “He has played some impressive tennis, yesterday especially against Monfils. I’m looking forward to the final… Hopefully I will be able to get the best out of myself tomorrow.”
In a first set dominated by serve, neither player was able to earn a break point en route to the tie-break. With Dimitrov leading 5/3, Djokovic raised his level and refused to miss. The World No. 1 soaked up the aggression from Dimitrov’s racquet, extending rallies with consistent depth on his groundstrokes and great defensive skill to eventually extract errors and take the opening set.
Djokovic returned with depth and proved more consistent than his opponent on his forehand side to claim the only break of the match at 2-2 in the second set. The World No. 1 maintained his advantage to serve for the match at 5-4 and booked his spot in the final with a cross-court forehand.
“He was probably the better player in the tie-break,” said Djokovic. “[With Grigor up] 5/3 and 5/4, serving twice, I managed to get returns into play and just make him play an extra shot… We both really understood the importance of clinching the first set so we could feel a bit more relaxed in the second and start swinging through.
“In the beginning of the second set, I was focused. I did well and managed to break his serve and hold my serve really well towards the end.”
Dimitrov ends his 2019 ATP Tour season with a 22-21 tour-level record, highlighted by runs to the US Open and Paris semi-finals. At the Erste Bank Open in Vienna last week, the Bulgarian recorded his 300th tour-level victory.
Defending champion Elina Svitolina reached the WTA Finals showpiece in Shenzhen when a tearful Belinda Bencic retired injured in their semi-final.
The Ukrainian, 25, had fought back to lead 5-7 6-3 4-1 when Swiss Bencic, 22, pulled out with cramp.
Bencic took the opening set – the first dropped by Svitolina in the tournament – minutes after taking a medical timeout for a leg injury at 6-5.
The Swiss, broken twice in the second set, battled on but could not finish.
Bencic is the fourth player to suffer an injury at the women’s end-of-season event featuring the world’s top eight players, following the withdrawals of Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, Naomi Osaka and the Japanese two-time Grand Slam champion’s replacement at the Finals, Kiki Bertens.
Svitolina, ranked eighth in the world, said she was “sad” for Bencic and hoped she would recover for next season.
The Ukrainian will play Australian Ashleigh Barty or Czech Karolina Pliskova, the top two players in the world, in Sunday’s final.
“I will leave everything out on court in the final to lift that trophy again,” Svitolina said.
Karolina Pliskova beats Simona Halep to make semi-finals