I know I am late to the party, but it is time to discuss the Nex Gen ATP Finals that took place last week in Milan, Italy.
New this year, the tournament hosted the top 7 ranked singles players aged 21-and-under, and one wildcard. The exception to this was Alexander Zverev, ranked 4 in the world, who decided to skip the event to focus on the Nitto ATP Finals happening now (smart move). The wildcard, 8th seed, was given to a player from the host country Italy. This led to the following seeding:
1. Andrey Rublev (35)
2. Karen Khachanov (44)
3. Denis Shapovalov (49)
4. Borna Coric (51)
5. Jared Donaldson (54)
6. Hyeon Chung (55)
7. Daniil Medvedev (63)
8. Gianluigi Quinzi (294)
As you can see the top 7 players are all relatively close to each other in the rankings, and then you have Quinzi at 294. For those wondering if they did the top 8 instead of a wildcard, the 8th seed would have been Frances Tiafoe (78). Personally I feel as though the should do the top 8 qualifiers instead of a wildcard for events like these, because a young player who has fought all year to try and qualify for this event should be rewarded for their efforts.
A big focus of this event for the ATP was to introduce new rules of play. The tournament had was played best 3 out of 5 sets to 4 with a tiebreaker at 3-3, no lets and no ad scoring. The tournament also had a strict 25 second shot/serve clock, a shortened on court warm-up, a maximum of 1 medical timeout per player and players were able to talk to their coaches via headset after each set played.
The matches were played on a singles only court and had all line calls played by Hawkeye. This meant there were no challenges and that all calls were final.
Except for a couple of them, I am not a huge fan of these rule changes.
I really like the addition of a strict 25 second serve clock. I think this is a great way to speed up the match for your average viewer. If you watch a Rafael Nadal match you will notice it takes him about a decade to serve once a point is finished. I think that you could adjust the rule a little based on the length of the previous point. For example if a rally lasts longer than 15 shots you can have 30 seconds. The strict 25 seconds needs to be improved, but it s a good start.
I also like the idea of having Hawkeye make the line calls. This may be a more controversial take, but I think it is time sports entered the 21st century. This takes human error out of the game, if a ball is in it is called in. That simple.
I HATE no lets, I think that is an absolute garbage rule. No lets is also a rule for NCAA Division 1 players. I think it is garbage to win a point on luck, and that is exactly what a let is.
I also HATE that they played these matched on a singles only court. I only had 1 singles only tennis court near me growing up (shout out Capital Region), and I HATED playing on it. Playing on a singles only court is a total mind fuck. I am sure you get used to it, but there is no reason for them. Never again ATP, never again.
The group of 8 was broken up into two groups of 4, Group A and Group B. There was controversy regarding the draw selection. I will let you go read about that somewhere else, it is not hard to find.
Group A: Rublev, Sapovalov, Chung and Quinzi
Group B: Khachanov, Coric, Donaldson, Medvedev
Everyone played each member of their group once in a Round Robin format. Rublev (2-1) and Chung (3-0) advanced out of group A, while Coric (3-0) and Medvedev (2-1) advanced out of Group B. This led to a semifinal of Chung v Medvedev and Rublev v Coric. Before we get into those matches let's do a quick recap of the groups
Quinzi went 0-3 in this group, but I will give him credit in that fact that each of his three matches were close and well fought by the Italian. Shap went 1-2 losing in a close 5 setter to Rublev which ended up being the match to determine who advanced to the semis. Chung was an impressive 3-0 coming into the tournament as the 6 seed. He had a decisive straight set win over Rublev, but had a 5 set war with Quinzi.
Donaldson was HORRIBLE in Milan. Jared went 0-3 and only won 1, yes 1, set. Khachanov was a disappointment in this group as the 2 seed went 1-2 and lost to Medvedev in 4, allowing the fellow Russian to move onto the semis. Coric went 3-0 in Group B allowing him to be the top seed coming out of the group.
Let us start with Chung v Medvedev. Chung came out fast and took the opening two sets 4-1. Medvedev battled back and took the 3rd (4-3) and 4th (4-1) to force a 5th and final set. Daniil ran out of gas as Chung put him away in the decider 4-0.
Rublev v Coric was a match I was excited to see. Two of the top seeds entering the tournament, and both have a ton of talent. However, this match disappointed as Rublev crushed Coric 4-1, 4-3(6) 4-1. According to Yahoo Sports, Coric told his coach after the second set on the headset, "I don't know what to do anymore." Rublev looked sharped as this set up a rematch in the final.
This was the second time Rublev and Chung met in this tournament. In the Round Robin stage Chung handled Rublev 4-0, 4-1. 4-3(1). Coming off his semifinal match you knew this would be a much closer match. In the final, Rublev took the first set in a breaker, before dropping the next three to Chung.
Chung finished the tournament 5-0 and was definitely the best, most consistent, player throughout the week.
I thought this tournament was a great idea by the ATP. They were able to show case the young talent on the tour on a big stage at a good time.
Tennis is at an interesting time right now. All the big names we have known for the past decade are starting to get older and there is opportunity for the young talent to step up. Sure the Grand Slam season was dominated by a renewed Federer and Nadal, but who knows if there bodies can keep up next year. We saw injuries to top players like Novak, Murray and Wawrinka this year which led to young players like Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem cracking the top 5. This also allowed for young players like Shapovalov to break out on this biggest stages.
Look for some of these players to take the next step next year, like Zverev did this year, and become contenders for the big tournaments. I would expect to hear a couple of these names in the top 10 at the end of the 2018 season.