Second seed Frances Tiafoe found himself in an identical situation to last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals when he took the court on Thursday against Swede Mikael Ymer, but gave himself a different outcome this time.
The American could have advanced to the semi-finals last year if he’d beaten Jaume Munar, but found himself overwhelmed by the occasion and fell in straight sets. But with a semi-final berth on the line again this year, Tiafoe embraced the pressure and produced a convincing 4-2, 4-2, 4-2 win over Ymer.
“I’m pretty stoked. I needed this. The second half of this season has been rough for me, so every match is an opportunity for me,” Tiafoe said. “I love this event and I want to stay. The more you win, the longer you can stay, so I’m happy to be in the semis.
“I thought I came up with the good points when I needed them… I did a good job, nothing fancy and just stayed locked in.”
Read More: Tiafoe Has Milan Title On His Mind
He joined Jannik Sinner as the two players to advance out of Group B. Tiafoe will face close friend and top seed Alex de Minaur in Friday’s semi-final action. The Aussie prevailed in their lone FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting at last year’s US Open.
“I wanted to see him in the final, but unfortunately it has to be in the semis,” Tiafoe said. “He’s a workhorse. He’s going to get every ball, keep every rally extremely long and make me beat him. I’m ready for the task. We’re going to go after each other, but we’ll still be great friends after.”
Read More: Tiafoe Talks #NextGenATP Friendships
Tiafoe joined Thursday’s trend of dominant runs at the Allianz Cloud, going on a five-game winning streak from 1-2 in the opening set. Consistently landing first serves at more than 200 kph to set up winning forehands, the second seed dictated the tempo of play and kept Ymer pinned behind the baseline in rallies.
The second seed also showed his growth in the most critical moments of the match. Tiafoe didn’t convert his two chances to break last year against Munar, but made good on 50 per cent (3/6) of his opportunities against Ymer. He was equally impressive in deciding points against the Swede, winning four of five on the night.
Tiafoe secured his final break at 2-2 in the third set and raised his arms in triumph after another strong serve wrapped up play after 67 minutes.
Federer & Djokovic Lead Indoor Performers At The Nitto ATP Finals
The FedEx ATP Performance Zone provides insight into the success of the London competitors indoors
The Nitto ATP Finals is the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, with the top eight players battling it out for the trophy at the season finale. But since they will be playing inside The O2, which of the octet has been most successful indoors in their career?
Three members of the field have previously lifted the Nitto ATP Finals trophy, but nobody competing has won as many matches or at a higher rate than Roger Federer. The Swiss superstar tops the active leaderboard in both categories.
Federer could potentially earn his 300th tour-level victory indoors next week in London. He holds a 296-68 record indoors, having won more than 81 per cent of his matches. No other active player has 150 wins indoors.
The 38-year-old has captured 26 ATP Tour trophies indoors, which ranks fifth in the Open Era. The nearest active player on the list is Andy Murray, who has 15. Federer holds the record for most titles at this event with six.
“You’ve got to be sharp, I think,” Federer said last year. “You’ve got to be explosive. You’ve got to be quick in your decision-making.
“Playing aggressive and playing forward and taking charge of the point is definitely what you should be doing indoors.”
Indoor Winning Percentage
1. Roger Federer
2. Novak Djokovic
3. Daniil Medvedev
4. Rafael Nadal
5. Stefanos Tsitsipas
6. Alexander Zverev
7. Dominic Thiem
8. Matteo Berrettini
But Djokovic, a five-time champion, is not far behind. The Serbian ranks second in the field in both wins and winning percentage indoors. The 32-year-old owns a 148-40 record, emerging victorious 78.7 per cent of the time.
Federer and Nadal have distanced themselves from the pack in this category, according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone. Nobody else playing in these Nitto ATP Finals has won more than 70 per cent of their indoor matches. The closest is Daniil Medvedev, who has used his indoor success over the past couple of years to propel him into the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings.
Medvedev, who has won 69 per cent of his indoor matches, has the best record indoors this year with a 12-2 mark. The Russian has lifted three of his seven ATP Tour trophies under a roof, with all of those triumphs coming in the past two years.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is right behind Medvedev, having won 68.9 per cent of his indoor matches. The Spaniard, who holds an 82-37 indoor record, will hope to play his best at The O2 as he battles Novak Djokovic for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. Winning two round-robin matches and then advancing to the final would guarantee the lefty accomplishes the feat for the fifth time, tying Djokovic, Federer and Jimmy Connors for second all-time.
Stefanos Tsitsipas ranks fifth among 2019 Nitto ATP Finals competitors having won just short of 66 per cent of his indoor matches, and reigning season finale champion Alexander Zverev is sixth with a 60.6 winning percentage.
Rounding out the London field are Dominic Thiem, who has won more than 58 per cent of his indoor matches, and first-time qualifier Matteo Berrettini at over 56 per cent.
Did You Know? There have been 14 tour-level knockout tournaments indoors this season, and Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers won six of them.
Tsitsipas’ Journey: From Dreaming Of Beating The Best To Being Among Them
Stefanos Tsitsipas is the first Greek to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals. As Reem Abulleil writes, the 21-year-old debutant is very much one of a kind.
To get a sense of just how much it means to Stefanos Tsitsipas to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time, all you have to do is watch the video of when he found out he had secured a spot in London.
An interviewer broke the news to Tsitsipas on camera, just after he had defeated Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Shanghai in October. The 21-year-old Greek burst into laughter, almost in disbelief, as the reporter assured him he was telling the truth. “It’s great. It’s sweet,” Tsitsipas later said with a grin on his face, after processing the good news. “It’s something that I have been trying to get, and it was on my [wish] list from the beginning of the year.”
Just 12 months after lifting the Next Gen ATP Finals trophy in Milan, which is for players who are 21 or under, Tsitsipas has positioned himself among the world’s top eight players, of all ages, at this season-ending tournament in London. The first Greek player in history to feature in this elite competition, Tsitsipas enters the Nitto ATP Finals after a year in which he has kept on crossing off items on his wish list. Before the start of the season, he set himself some ambitious targets to chase throughout 2019. And he did not shy away from announcing them, unfazed by the thought that being so public with his goals would add to the pressure he was under.
Barely four weeks into the season, he achieved his first main goal when he reached a first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open, upsetting Roger Federer en route in a blockbuster fourth-round encounter. A month later, he crossed another item off his list by cracking the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings for the first time, becoming the first Greek to climb that high in the standings. By April, he had picked up a second title of the year in Estoril, to go with the one he had scooped in Marseille in February (and to add to his first ATP Tour title in Stockholm in 2018, when he was the first Greek in history to win a trophy at that level).
Among other highlights this season, he accomplished one of the toughest feats in tennis, overcoming Rafael Nadal on clay at the Spaniard’s home tournament, the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid in May. In June, he co-produced one of the best matches of the year with Stan Wawrinka, in the fourth round at Roland Garros. And in October – after a tricky stint of sub-par results – he took down Djokovic in Shanghai. “I always dreamt of beating those players, and I see each match when I go out on the court as an opportunity to bring the best out of me,” said Tsitsipas. “It’s a very big boost. I honestly feel like they are more threatened than I am, and I think also that gives me kind of a more relaxed me out on the court.”
While Tsitsipas is not the only young gun making an impact on the ATP Tour at the moment, he is very much one-of-a-kind. “I’m not perfect, I’m original,” he wrote in a social media post this year. ‘Original’ is an apt description. While others his age spend most of their downtime playing video games or streaming TV shows, Tsitsipas dedicates hours each week to his amateur photography, as well as filming, editing and producing vlogs for his YouTube channel, which has more than 160,000 subscribers.
“Photography for me is a way to shape human perception, a creative outlet which lives in the present and pushes you to discover yourself,” said Tsitsipas, who has an alternative Instagram account, @stevethehawk. He says his vlogs help him stay “open-minded and young, being able to just live life and share moments with other human beings”.
His social media accounts are a mix of philosophical quotes and cryptic one-liners only he can decipher. But when he felt he was spending more time than he wanted to on such platforms, he went on a “social media detox” on various occasions this year. It was a move he believes helped him both on and off the court. “I feel much more connected than before with people that I care about,” he said. “I spend more quality time. I feel more human and more like me than ever before. I feel like I can also concentrate more on the sport that I play.”
Tall, quirky and with hair like Björn Borg, Tsitsipas also brings an exciting game style that feels like a throwback to a bygone era. He ventures to the net any chance he gets, flaunting smooth hand skills and daring dive volleys, reminiscent of a young Boris Becker.
At 6’4”, he has a big serve that helped him win around 85 per cent of his service games this season. Another attribute is his ability to play his best tennis at moments of great intensity, while he takes enormous pride in putting Greece on the tennis map.
Tsitsipas is coached by his father, Apostolos, who saved him from drowning in 2015 – an incident the player admits gave him a new perspective on life. Tsitsipas tries to do his part in helping others. When Greece was ravaged by deadly fires in 2018, Tsitsipas spent hours each day trying to raise funds to send back home, even when he was due to step on court for a semi-final a few minutes later.
His ability to engage with fans by showing his most authentic, unapologetic self, combined with his thrilling on-court game, has seen his popularity soar this year. Having posted victories over the sport’s Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, and with the kind of self-confidence that has inserted him among the world’s best, many believe Tsitsipas could be the one to break the trio’s stronghold.
“At some point we will see change. I mean, it can’t be that Rafa, Roger, and Novak win everything,” Tsitsipas said. “I know that in order to see my name among these titles, I’m going to have to go through a lot of pain and a lot of hype and struggle. I’m honestly excited. I’m excited by the idea of trying to get there.”
Coach says ‘he should be ready to compete on Monday’
Rafael Nadal had his first practise on centre court at The O2 Thursday as he looks ahead to Sunday’s start of the Nitto ATP Finals. Flanked by workers putting finishing touches on the venue, Nadal, a two-time finalist at the event, practised for just under an hour with coach Carlos Moya and top Argentine junior Thiago Tirante.
Following practice, Moya said that he was upbeat about Nadal’s chances of competing in London despite his withdrawal from the Rolex Paris Masters semi-finals with an abdominal injury.
“We arrived yesterday in London and trained at Queen’s,” Moya said. “Today was our first practice session at The O2 and it went well. We’re going step by step. We’re cautious but we also know that we have four days ahead of us.
“Today was the first time that Rafa has served since we left Paris. He didn’t put a lot of power today. His evolution is going fine. He should be ready to compete on Monday.”
Nadal enters the season finale 640 ATP Rankings points ahead of five-time tournament champion Novak Djokovic, who kept pressure on the Spaniard in the battle to finish the season No. 1 by winning the Rolex Paris Masters.
Nadal is looking to join Djokovic, Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors as players to finish the year No. 1 five times. Djokovic is hoping to equal Pete Sampras’ record mark of six No. 1 finishes. Sampras achieved the feat in consecutive years between 1993-98.
Nadal headlines Group Andre Agassi, which also features Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and defending champion Alexander Zverev. He plays his first match of the tournament against Zverev Monday night.
Djokovic tops Group Bjorn Borg, which features Federer, Dominic Thiem and Italian Mattteo Berrettini.
Nadal will go into the Nitto ATP Finals sitting atop the ATP Rankings for the 198th week in his career. That is sixth all-time, behind Federer (310), Sampras (286), Djokovic (275), Ivan Lendl (270) and Connors (268).
Tomeu Salva, friend and coach of the World No. 1, reflects on their relationship
Born just five months apart, fate brought Rafael Nadal (born 3 June 1986) and Bartolome “Tomeu” Salva-Vidal (20 November 1986) together on the tennis court when they were just children; first as opponents, then as friends and eventually as doubles partners. Their relationship has grown into that of student and coach, as Salva is one of three Team Nadal members tasked with training the World No. 1 on a regular basis.
They share more than just their age (33), a history and their current professional connection. Both took up tennis early, play left-handed, and were raised on the island of Mallorca, Spain. It was at a junior event in Nadal’s hometown of Manacor where the youths first crossed paths.
“We were seven years old. He played at the Manacor Tennis Club with his uncle (Toni Nadal) and I lived in a nearby town, but I also went to school in Manacor,” Salva recalls. “The first time I saw Rafa was at his club. It was my first tournament and I had to play against him in the second round. I lost 0-6, 0-6. I had no chance at all.”
It wasn’t the result Salva had hoped for, but he walked off the court understanding there was a lot to learn from his peer, who was competing for Balearic Islands titles above his age category.
“I knew if I wanted to evolve as a player, I had to surround myself with players like him,” Salva says. “A funny story I remember is we were leaving the court one time and I asked Rafa if he wanted to come over and hang out with me, and he said, ‘No,’ obviously, because he didn’t even know me!”
As predicted, being around Nadal helped raise Salva’s game as both players developed into the brightest talents to emerge from Mallorca’s youth divisions.
“We started competing against each other at tournaments,” the former junior standout explains. “We began practising together and from there we became friends. We got to know each other well and we wound up attending the Balearic Tennis Federation’s academy in Palma.”
From there, though, their paths diverged. At age 14, Salva accepted a scholarship from the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation, the governing body of tennis in Spain, and relocated to Barcelona. The same offer was extended to Nadal but he declined, opting instead to continue his development under the tutelage of Uncle Toni in Mallorca.
“In terms of level of play, I was a few years behind,” Salva says. “We started spending less and less time together because we were living some distance apart. We bumped into each other at events but even that became less frequent because he was competing at more prestigious events. Still, we kept in contact almost daily.”
Despite entering the same Futures tournaments on several occasions, Nadal and Salva never faced off in an official match. They did, however, compete as a team in doubles matches, the first time as 15-year-olds in 2002 at an ATP Tour event in Mallorca — the same tournament where Nadal would score his first ATP Tour singles win by defeating Ramon Delgado. The two would join forces again later in the year at Futures events in Spain at Vigo and Irun.
Their best performances as a team came in 2007, when the Spaniards reached the final at ATP Tour events in Chennai and Barcelona. The tournament in Barcelona would be the closest they’d get to clinching a title.
By then, Nadal had already established himself as a top singles player by climbing to No. 2 in the ATP Rankings and lifting three consecutive Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros. Salva, just 21, decided to retire from regular competition, though he did compete sporadically in singles and doubles events over the next few years.
“I returned to Mallorca and I started working with the Balearic Tennis Federation in an education capacity for six or seven years,” Salva says. “Then they proposed an academy program. We started developing a local tennis school and I ended up getting involved with the Rafa Nadal Academy’s project.”
Joining the sports complex in Mallorca was Salva’s first step toward coming full circle with Nadal. From boyhood rivals and childhood friends at the Manacor Tennis Club to his role as Pro Tour Coach at Nadal’s training facility, the Spaniards established a bond that eventually led to a position on Nadal’s core team, alongside fellow coaches Carlos Moya and Francisco Roig, physio Rafael Maymo and fitness trainer Joan Forcades. In addition to his duties with Team Nadal, Salva also oversees the professional progress of 22-year-old Jaume Munar and #NextGenATP star Casper Ruud.
“I’m tremendously grateful,” the coach says. “I share the calendar season with Rafa for about 10 weeks and split the rest with Munar and Ruud.”
Picking out remarkable talents and predicting whether they’ll live up to their promise or fall short of their potential is no easy task. With Nadal, though, Salva knew early on his comrade would develop into something special. As the amateur racked up medals and awards first on the Balearic Islands, then in Spain, and eventually throughout Europe, Salva was certain Nadal’s high level of play would carry over into the professional ranks.
“It’s hard to pin down the exact evolution of a player, but in Rafa you saw something that distinguished himself from the rest. He was a boy who, from an early age, you could tell would make a living playing tennis. I knew for sure he had not only the talent but also the mentality and the attitude to be a winner,” Salva recalls.
“He had a clear vision of what he wanted to be from a very young age, something you don’t often see in young people. Rafa was very clear that tennis was his passion, his world and his future,” Salva says of his charge. “He turned pro at a young age and his game translated well immediately. He was competing against the best and winning. People knew back then he’d go on to accomplish great things.”
Salva knew all those years ago what everyone knows now: Nadal is extraordinary. He’s competed in over 1,000 tour-level matches (970-196) and has captured 84 titles, including 19 Grand Slams. He’s spent a total of 197 weeks at No. 1 and regained that position on Monday.
What makes Nadal such a fine player? As someone who knows the Spaniard so well for so long, Salva has a few ideas as to what sets his friend apart.
“He’s a great competitor and wants to be the best,” Salva explains. “He’s driven and since he was a young boy, he’s loved to compete. He seems to thrive in the face of adversity, not only in tennis but in any sport he takes up or anything he does. He needs the competition practically every day. On top of that, he has always been a boy who loves to evolve. He studies his game, is passionate about what he does and has always been eager to get better. Rafa’s not just like that on the court but off it as well; he has a deep interest in learning on all levels.”
It’s an accurate explanation, and an intimate depiction, from a lifelong friend and discerning coach.
Serbian defeats Davidovich Fokina in straight sets
With a semi-final spot on the line at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, Miomir Kecmanovic found a new gear on Thursday. The Serbian saved two set points en route to a convincing 4-1, 4-1, 4-3(6) win over Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Kecmanovic earned his place in the last four after winning the first two sets against Davidovich Fokina, but continued to fire winners from all parts of the court to prevail in 58 minutes. The Serbian finished with a 2-1 record in round-robin action to join top-seeded Aussie Alex de Minaur as the players advancing out of Group A.
“I was a lot calmer than yesterday. I was happy to play well and be stable out there,” Kecmanovic said. “There was definitely a lot of pressure on this match today and I think I handled it better than he did. I have a bit more experience on Tour playing big matches and that helped me a lot today.”
Awaiting him in the semi-finals is Italian Jannik Sinner, who advanced out of Group B on Thursday. This will be their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against each other.
”It’s going to be tough playing him, especially here [in Milan],” Kecmanovic said. “I’ll just do my best and we’ll see how it goes.”
Read More: 5 Things To Know About Kecmanovic
Kecmanovic was in firm control during the first two sets against Davidovich Fokina. After dropping the opening game, the 20-year-old went on a seven-game run as his opponent struggled to find the range on his shots. Kecmanovic was particularly dominant in his service games, landing 83 per cent of his first-serves (19/23) and dropping just three points.
Davidovich Fokina began to utilise more variety in his shots in the third set and played himself into a tie-break. An acrobatic overhead smash gave the Spaniard two set points at 6/4, but he couldn’t convert and missed two consecutive backhands. Two points later, a forehand error from Davidovich Fokina wrapped up the match after 58 minutes.
From NextGen To Nitto: Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev & Berrettini Make The Jump
The four comprise half the Nitto ATP Finals draw
Stefanos Tsitsipas had been crowned the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals champion only minutes earlier, but already, the Greek was looking forward to completing the transition, from the 21-and-under event in Milan to the Nitto ATP Finals.
Would he be back at the award-winning tournament in Italy? Or would he have a calendar clash? The then-20-year-old flashed a sheepish grin and gave a witty reply. “I think it would be a good idea if the Nitto [ATP] Finals moved to Milan so I can play here,” he said.
His confident prediction has come true. Next week, Tsitsipas, the face of #NextGenATP over the past two seasons, will be making his debut at The O2 in London. The 21-year-old is part of a growing group of players who have graduated from #NextGenATP and used the concept, along with the Next Gen ATP Finals, as a launching pad for further success on the ATP Tour.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev, Russian Daniil Medvedev and Italy’s Matteo Berrettini also top the long list. Zverev, the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion, never competed in Milan, but the 22-year-old German was a key part of the #NextGenATP campaign until this year and is returning to The O2 for the third consecutive year.
Medvedev, 23, will be making his Nitto ATP Finals debut and finished in third place at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in 2017.
Berrettini lost in qualifying in Milan during the same year. But he thrust himself into Nitto ATP Finals qualifying contention late this season with semi-final runs at the US Open and the Rolex Shanghai Masters and captured the eighth and final qualification spot.
“The way they’re moving up is so impressive. They’re accustomed to playing the big events, being a part of all the hype and promotion of the sport, which the Next Gen ATP Finals gave them,” said Ross Hutchins, ATP Chief Player Officer and Next Gen ATP Finals Tournament Director.
Watch: Behind The Scenes At 2018 Milan, Where Tsitsipas Won The Title
One of the reasons the ATP created the innovative tournament, Hutchins notes, was to promote 21-and-under players who hadn’t reached the top of the game because of the historic greats – Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer – patrolling the top of the sport.
But even Hutchins and other ATP officials didn’t foresee Tsitsipas and others closing the gap between themselves and the top of the game as quickly as they have.
“The intention was to promote these guys and to give them a stepping stone to the highest echelons,” Hutchins said. “But for them to step into the next level within one year or two years has been staggering and quite a phenomenal achievement.”
It took Tsitsipas only two months after the Next Gen ATP Finals to show that he belonged at the next level. The Greek became the second consecutive Next Gen ATP Finals champion to ride the Milan momentum of November into the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January.
South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals champion, also backed up his Milan title with a run to the semi-finals in Melbourne. Both players finished Milan unbeaten, and both pushed their winning streak to 10 by making their first major semi-final in Australia.
Chung’s coach later credited his charge’s Australian Open run to his Milan experience, and it’s a sentiment in which Hutchins agrees. The eight #NextGenATP qualifiers garner all the attention in Milan.
“It’s about how someone becomes accustomed to winning, being at the top of the sport with expectation, being in the spotlight, being a household name, playing at big events, being talked about a lot and how they enjoy it. Do they warm to it, do they welcome it?” Hutchins said.
More On #NittoATPFinals Medvedev’s Magical Run: The Russian’s Journey To Three Titles From Six Finals Berrettini Brings Italian Power Over Style In London Debut Reigning Champ Zverev Set To Defend #NittoATPFinals Title Groups, Sunday/Monday Schedule Announced For #NittoATPFinals
Medvedev has welcomed it better than anyone in 2019. The Russian was No. 65 in the ATP Rankings when he played at the inaugural Milan tournament two years ago and now finds himself in the Top 5 after winning three titles from six consecutive finals – Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati (title), US Open, St. Petersburg (title), Shanghai (title).
In doing so, he’s caught up to the historic greats. The only other active players who have reached six or more consecutive finals: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray. The achievement has led pundits to name the former Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier as first in line to catch the Big Four.
“I’m happy about it because [it’s] my results [that] make people talk in this way,” Medvedev said. “The most important [thing] is going to be continuing these results, this game that I’m showing, because the moment I drop, people forget good things quite fast. So I know that, and I want to work and improve every day.”
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina’s unexpected journey to the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan is proof that one week can be life-altering for a professional tennis player.
Last week, the 21-year-old believed he had missed out on qualifying for this year’s event by one spot. But, after Davidovich Fokina pulled out of an ATP Challenger Tour event in Shenzhen, he took an 18-hour flight back to his home in Malaga to play the waiting game.
Three days later, Denis Shapovalov withdrew from from Milan due to fatigue and Davidovich Fokina took the last qualifying spot. The Spaniard plays his final match in Group A on Friday against Miomir Kecmanovic.
“I was very anxious waiting, checking [my phone] all the time, refreshing the page,” Davidovich Fokina said. “Then I got the call that I was in, so I called my mother and my coach right away. We were all so happy.”
His appearance at the Allianz Cloud is the cherry on top of a breakout season. He’s climbed more than 150 spots in the ATP Rankings this year and sits at No. 87 after picking up his first two Challenger titles in Seville and Liuzhou, in addition to reaching his maiden ATP Tour semi-final at the Millennium Estoril Open.
Read More: Davidovich Fokina: ‘Breaking The Top 100 Is A Huge Step’
But in between the highs were some of the most difficult moments in Davidovich Fokina’s young career. The Spaniard was forced to deal with a prolonged losing streak after his inspired run in Estoril. After concluding a dominant junior career with the 2017 Wimbledon boys’ singles title and rapidly rising up the ATP Rankings since focussing on pro events, he hasn’t been accustomed to losing. The early exits were a blow to his psyche, but he dug deep to persevere.
“For three months, I didn’t win one [main draw] match and it was so tough to keep playing,” Davidovich Fokina admitted. “But I was working with my mental coach and we did a good job. I went back to Challengers at the end of the year and then my results were so good.”
Read More: 5 Things To Know About Davidovich Fokina
The confidence from winning matches has been on display this week. Although he lost his first two round-robin matches to Alex de Minaur and Casper Ruud, his flashy shotmaking and fighting spirit won him plenty of new fans. Davidovich Fokina had the crowd firmly on his side during Wednesday’s clash with Ruud after fighting through a painful right knee injury he sustained mid-match to stretch the Norwegian to five sets.
But the Spaniard isn’t content to merely fill space in the draw. A win over Kecmanovic will keep him in the running to advance into Friday’s semi-finals. After tirelessly working all season to qualify for Milan, he’s not ready to leave yet.
“The crowd is unbelievable here,” Davidovich Fokina said. “It’s a little bit different when they’re moving around and screaming, but it’s been nice. I’ve really liked it.”
Thursday Milan Preview: Three SF Spots On The Line
De Minaur, Ruud, Kecmanovic, Davidovich Fokina, Ymer and Tiafoe will try to make the last four
Alex de Minaur said on day one of the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals that he feels like a completely different player during his return to Milan. The Aussie finished as runner-up last year to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, and backed it up in 2019 with his first three ATP Tour titles (Sydney, Atlanta, Zhuhai).
But De Minaur has looked every bit as dominant during Group A play as he was last year during group action, when he went undefeated. The 20-year-old will try to go 3-0 again during group play on Thursday when he faces Norway’s Casper Ruud.
De Minaur moved to 2-0 on Wednesday with a four-set triumph against Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, and Ruud, who is making his debut, earned his first Next Gen ATP Finals victory against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 3-4(2), 4-3(2), 4-2, 3-4(2), 4-1.
“[Casper] played a hell of a match today and it’s going to be incredibly tough, but this is what we’re here for,” De Minaur said. “Everyone is playing at a high level, so I have to be ready for it.”
Kecmanovic, who is 1-1, will face Davidovich Fokina, who’s going for his first Milan victory. The Serbian will come in second place in the group and advance to the semi-finals if he beats the Spaniard and De Minaur beats Ruud.
Davidovich Fokina, despite being 0-2, still has a chance to make the final two days of the award-winning 21-and-under event. But he needs to beat Kecmanovic in three or four sets to have a chance.
Ruud can reach the semi-finals, but he needs to win in straight sets and to have Kecmanovic beat Davidovich Fokina by any score. Ruud’s other route to Friday features a win against De Minaur, by any score, and a Davidovich Fokina victory against Kecmanovic by any score.
Read More: All Of The Milan Semi-Final Scenarios
Determining the two semi-finalists out of Group B, though, is much simpler, largely thanks to Jannik Sinner’s dominating start. The 18-year-old Italian wild card dropped the first set he played, against American Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday, but has since reeled off six consecutive sets and became the first player to make the semi-finals with a 4-0, 4-2, 4-1 win against Sweden’s Mikael Ymer on Wednesday.
“I’m very happy that I won today, and I’m very happy that I can play the semi-finals,” Sinner said.
Sinner’s red-hot start has captivated the home fans, who were waiting in droves to buy an evening session ticket on Wednesday.
The eighth-seeded Italian will meet third seed Ugo Humbert of France, who will look to end his season with a win. Humbert is 0-2 so far after falling in four sets to Tiafoe on Wednesday.
The American, who failed to make the semi-finals last year, will face Ymer in a win-or-go-home match. The winner will finish second place in the group behind Sinner. It will be the first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting between Tiafoe and Ymer.
“Play the way I have been playing. I have been playing well. I even played well yesterday. Sinner was playing great. I played well today,” Tiafoe said. “Keep serving well. You serve well in this format, you most likely will win. So serve well and keep putting pressure on the other guy. All you need is one break and the other guy is in trouble. I’m ready to go.”