Milan missing stars, but the show’s the thing

For the Next-Gen Finals to truly be what they were designed to be, they ideally would feature all of the best 21-and-under players in the world.

But two of the marquee players are not there.

For the second straight season, the best of the bunch has understandably opted for the ATP Tour Finals next week. 

Alexander Zverev came to Milan last year, for the inaugural edition, and played an exhibition to give the new exhibition a boost. But that seems to not have been in the plans this year. 

And arguably the most entertaining and popular of the rest, Canadian Denis Shapovalov, begged off after a fall season during which he essentially played every single week.

That the 19-year-old was on fumes was fairly evident in those final weeks.

Shapovalov, incredibly, still has two years of eligibility left. But you know he’s hoping to be in the same boat as Zverev is sooner, rather than later.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who didn’t even make the cut a year ago, is the No. 1 seed – and the No. 15-ranked player of any age. (Peter Staples/ATP)

Tsitsipas the biggest star

One player who had a monster season on the ATP Tour is in Milan. But as with Shapovalov, you could sense over the last few weeks – after he won his first career ATP Tour title in Stockholm, that Stefanos Tsitsipas also is a little wrung out.

Hopefully he will be able to muster a final reserve of energy and quickly adjust to the radically different match experience and scoring system.

On the plus side, there was no sign of the “models” who joined the young fellows on stage for last year’s draw ceremony. That didn’t go over too well, and the ATP later apologized.

Rather, they gave us … this!


Hurkacz, Munar and .. Caruana

The Americans were thoroughly jovial during the draw ceremony. (Peter Staples/ATP)

The final group of eight features some appealing talent – notably Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe.

Tiafoe’s irrepressible personality is already evident in the leadup to the event. His smile is contagious, and his game style is a crowd-pleaser.

The rest are not nearly as well-known. So the fans in Milan and watching at home will get to discover them, much the way they did a year ago.


Spain’s Jaume Munar has the full sport of the Rafael Nadal Academy behind him. And even though he arrived on the ATP Tour with everyone assuming he would be a clay-court player, he has proven more than adept on the other surfaces.

When we watched him play another Next-Gen player, Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, in the French Open qualifying, he was even serve-volleying on clay.

Munar struggled in the heat in New York this summer, but Milan is mercifully indoors. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As for Hubert Hurkacz, he’s tall – 6-foot-5 – and reached his career best ranking of No. 79 last week before dropping six spots with the new rankings Monday.

He qualified for the last three Slams this season, losing to Marin Cilic in the second round both in Paris and at the US Open. In New York, he got just two games in three sets against the Croat.

Hurkacz retired due to “fatigue”, down in the first set of his second-round match at the Eckental Challenger last week.

He has faced the other three players in his pool group a total of once – a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Tiafoe in Washington, D.C. this summer. He has two losses on clay to Munar in the juniors.

The draws

Group A:  Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jaume Munar, Frances Tiafoe, Hubert Kurkacz

Group B: Alex de Minaur, Andrey Rublev, Taylor Fritz, Liam Caruana


It’s hard to pick the stronger one. But you’d have to go with the superior top-level experience of Tsitsipas and Tiafoe in Group A.

Caruana, 20, is ranked No. 622 on the ATP Tour (down from a career high of No. 375 back in February). He won three matches in an all-Italian playoff for the local wild card – the final in five (short-version) sets.

If the experience of Quinzi a year ago is any indicator, he’ll arrive game, but a little short on legs after the hard work involved getting here.


Caruana peaked at No. 22 in the junior rankings, fully 18 years old with a January birthday (and therefore one of the oldest kids playing at the ITF level). He never did particularly well at the junior majors, but he did play most of the other players once each. He suffered a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Tsitsipas in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open juniors. a 6-1, 6-3 loss to de Minaur on clay in 2015, a three-set loss to Rublev on clay in 2014 and losses in doubles to both Fritz and Tiafoe on separate occasions.

In other words, he doesn’t come in with the same credentials as Quinzi did. So he’ll have to play above his level to surprise.

NOTE: Southern California native Tracy Austin notes that Caruana, while Italian, is very much a SoCal kid. She writes that he and Fritz grew up 20 minutes apart (Fritz in Rancho Santa Fe and Caruana in La Jolla, outside San Diego) and played many times in the juniors. She adds that Caruana moved to Texas as a young teenager.

Opening-day schedule

The day session on Tuesday features Tsitsipas vs. Munar, then Fritz vs Rublev.

The night session kicks off with Tiafoe vs. Hurkacz, followed by de Minaur vs. Caruana.

The rules

The ATP has put out a couple of videos explaining the unique rules attached to this event.

One features the players.

The other features the neat graphics they’ve come up with for this year’s edition.

As well, the automatic Hawkeye line-calling system used last year will be expanded to adjudicate a host of other on-court situations.

Next-Gen Finals will review … EVERYTHING!

Next-Gen 2017: where are they now?

Last year’s final featured Hyeon Chung vs. Andrey Rublev

Group A:

Hyeon Chung
’17 ranking: 54
Current ranking: 25

Denis Shapovalov
’17 ranking: 51
Current ranking: 27

Andrey Rublev
’17 ranking: 37
Current ranking: 68

Gianluigi Quinzi
’17 ranking: 306
Current ranking: 149

Group B:

Borna Coric
’17 ranking: 48
Current ranking: 12

Karen Khachanov
’17 ranking: 45
Current ranking: 11

Daniil Medvedev
’17 ranking: 65
Current ranking: 16

Jared Donaldson
’17 ranking: 55
Current ranking: 109

Notable that three of the Group B players (none of whom made the 2017 final), are now in the top 16. Shapovalov and Chung have improved their rankings as well (Chung, even with much time missed due to injury).

Jared Donaldson hasn’t played since the Rogers Cup in Toronto due to knee tendonitis, which affected him long before that. Rublev missed three months, after Monte Carlo and through Wimbledon, with back issues.

(Photos from Peter Staples/ATP – full draw gallery here)

ATP Rankings Report – July 23, 2018

Unlike the women, there were three top-20 players in action last week.

And there will be seven this week both on the clay in Europe and the hard courts of Atlanta, where the US Open Series gets under way on the ATP side.

John Isner’s decision to skip Newport after his long run at Wimbledon cost him a spot, as he dropped down to No. 9 and allowed Dominic Thiem to slip past him. Last year, the American won Newport – and Atlanta, where he returns this week.

The players ranked between No. 12 and No. 20, with less than 700 points separating them top to bottom, are going to be jostling for position to get among the top 16 seeds for the US Open over the next couple of weeks. 

And players like Steve Johnson, Gaël Monfils and Karen Khachanov are going to push it to try to squeeze into the top 32 and get a seed at Flushing Meadow.

So there will be plenty at stake over the next few weeks.


rankingsMarco Cecchinato (ITA): No. 27 ————–> No. 22 (The 25-year-old who made all that noise at Roland Garros won Umag, and jumped to a new career high).

Steve Johnson (USA): No. 48 ————–> No. 34 (A great effort by the American on the Newport grass puts him in line for a US Open seed).

Gilles Simon (FRA): No. 42 ————–> No. 39

Guido Pella (ARG): No. 72 ————–> No. 57 (Finalist in Umag).

Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 98 ————–> No. 91 (A nice win over Mischa Zverev, but he didn’t follow it up in the next round. Still a long way from where he should be).

Tim Smyczek (USA): No. 123 ————–> No. 102 (A great effort in Newport, but a week too late for direct US Open entry. A wild card wouldn’t be a shock, though).

Marcel Granollers (ESP): No. 124 ————–> No. 104 (Granollers, who reached the top 20 six years ago this week, had disappeared from the singles scene, but looks to be working his way back).

rankingsRamkumar Ramanathan (IND): No. 161 ————–> No. 115 (The elegant 23-year-old reaches the Newport final, and a new career high).

Jason Jung (TPE): No. 131 ————–> No. 121 (Via Torrance, Calif. Jung reaches a career high with his QF effort in Newport).

Bradley Klahn (USA): No. 143 ————–> No. 122

Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): No. 144 ————–> No. 139 (Another career high for the 17-year-old, who remains in Europe on clay this week, in Gstaad).

Marco Trungelliti (ARG): No. 188 ————–> No. 148 (The infamous Roland Garros road-tripper jumps 40 spots as he goes from the qualies to the semis in Umag).

Daniel Brands (GER): No. 252 ————–> No. 217 (And we thought the man was retired. But after making the Astana Challenger final, he’s on the upswing).


Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 35 ————–> No. 46 (The 20-year-old didn’t defend his Umag title. But in his first tournament since Monte Carlo because of back problems, his quarter-final effort mitigated the rankings damage).

Matthew Ebden (AUS): No. 43 ————–> No. 55

David Ferrer (ESP): No. 39 ————–> No. 62 (It’s been awhile since Ferrer has dropped this low, since May 2004, in fact)

rankingsAlexandr Dolgopolov (UKR): No. 63 ————–> No. 78 (Dolgopolov has been a ghost on Tour in recent months, and his ranking is beginning to reflect it. He has played just two matches since he last won one, at the Australian Open. And none since he lost in the first round of Rome to Novak Djokovic).

Matteo Berrettini (ITA): No. 75 ————–> No. 84 (Berrettini is finding himself in that netherworld, in the transition from the Challenger level to the ATP level. He won a Challenger this week a year ago, when he was ranked No. 229).

Paolo Lorenzi (ITA): No. 88 ————–> No. 109 (After a late-career surge into the top 40, Lorenzi, at 36, has dropped out of the top 100).

Ruben Bemelmans (BEL): No. 113 ————–> No. 133

Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 122 ————–> No. 134 (After being a couple of matches away from the top 100 las month, Polansky finds himself with a lot of Canadian Challenger points to defend).

Frank Dancevic (CAN): No. 296 ————–> No. 328 (Ouch for Frank the Tank, who is trying to make another run but lost the points he earned in Newport last year after losing in the first round of qualifying).

(For the complete ATP Tour rankings picture click here).

Auger-Aliassime and Rublev put on a show

Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime, who (finally) turns 18 in three weeks, may not yet be at the level of the highly-promoted “Next Gen” that includes his friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov.

But after spending the better part of three months grinding it out on the red clay in Europe, he’s gaining ground quickly.

Auger-Aliassime lost a heartbreaker Thursday night at the Croatia Open in Umag to 20-year-old Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Ranked No. 35 to Auger-Aliassime’s No. 144, Rublev – another member of the Next Gen – came out the winner 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 after exactly 2 1/2 hours.

The match featured some dazzling, high-powered groundstroking.

And the Canadian gave as good as he got – until the last five minutes.

Clay-court tennis is dirty business – especially if an attempted slide turns into a fall.

Rublev has been out three months, since Monte Carlo in mid-April, as he dealt with a back injury.  

He won his first career ATP Tour title a year ago in Umag.

And so it was both a perfect place to return but also a risky place to return, with all those points to defend.

An early loss, and Rublev would have dropped out of the top 50.

Clay tested, Umag approved

AugerAuger-Aliassime, who had received a wild card into that Monte Carlo event, was playing in his 11th tournament since then.

With a brief pit stop at home after the French Open, he piled up eight Challengers, the Estoril ATP event and the French Open qualifying.

The Russian, surprisingly, didn’t look rusty or tentative. And Auger-Aliassime was right there with him.

He was even up a break early in the third set, before Rublev broke him back to tie the match at 3-3. 

But the Canadian was broken at love in the 3-4 game, which included a couple of angry racket tosses. And Rublev (not without difficulty), served it out.


Rublev was pretty emotional about it. And Auger-Aliassime shook umpire Damian Steiner’s hand before crossing over to the other side of the court to hug Rublev.

The kid turned very 17 after that, punching his fist repeatedly towards the stands, and throwing down his gear once he returned to his chair.



(That’s Auger-Aliassime’s mother, Marie, above his right shoulder).

Auger-Aliassime had a full Tennis Canada support crew in Umag, in addition to his mother.

The two coaches he works with, who usually trade off travelling with him, both were on hand: Guillaume Marx, who is the head coach for the national program boys, and Frédéric Fontang, longtime coach of Vasek Pospisil who is now a coach with the Canadian Davis Cup team.

Frédéric Fontang (left) and Guillaume Marx were both with Auger-Aliassime in Umag.

No grass – and now to hard courts

The teenager’s clay spring and summer meant that he passed on playing any grass-court tennis at all.

And, assuming he takes a well-deserved rest after playing the last six weeks straight, he will be short of hard-court match play with two of the biggest tournaments of his career coming up.

Auger-Aliassime teamed up with the magician, Mansour Bahrami, in an exhibition set before the start of the Croatian Open. (Croatian Open FB)

Auger-Aliassime missed all of the Canadian Challenger events and his Rogers Cup debut in his hometown of Montreal last summer, because of a wrist injury.

You would expect him to make that debut this year, as the men’s event is held in Toronto. That’s in 2 1/2 weeks.

After that, he will head to the US Open, where he won the junior event in 2016 and reached the second round of qualifying a year ago.

Auger-Aliassime’s ATP Tour ranking, after this clay swing, could stand inside the top 140 although there are five players still alive this week who would jump ahead of him by winning their next match.

There is no one younger than Auger-Aliassime ranked higher. There aren’t even any 18-year-olds ranked higher. Three 19-year-olds (Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur) are in the top 75.

The next 17-year-old in the rankings is Germany’s Rudy Molleker, at No. 275.

Auger-Aliassime may well end up being seeded in the US Open qualifying.

(All illustrations TennisTV screenshots, except the exhibition photo and the feature pic)

Draws made at Next-Gen Finals

The biggest curiosity at next week’s inaugural Next-Gen finals arguably isn’t the group of eight young players who will compete in the event.

At least as much attention will be paid to all the rules changes and innovations planned for the exhibition tournament.

But there will be tennis – probably some excellent tennis even if the young guys are on fumes by now, after their long and successful campaigns.

The two round-robin pools were finalized at a launch party on Sunday (sponsored by Red Bull, of course, a beverage of choice for Next-Geners everywhere).

They could have named the pools “Federer” and “Nadal” groups. Or the “Becker” and “Chang” groups, a nod to the two youngest teenagers to win Grand Slam titles.

Or even the “Pietrangeli” and “Panatta” groups, to honor the two male Italian Slam winners.

But they’ve gone with … “Group A” and “Group B”.

(The tournament did name the various sections of the arena: #Vision, #Emotion, #Passion, #Innovation, #Speed, #Future. Tickets are available in five of the 10 sections for the opening session, and in all 10 sections for the Tuesday night session.)

Two rather formally-dressed women held up the pool group cards, and the tournament made the young guys “select” their model. A rather tone-deaf move, given all that’s going on in the world at the moment.

Group A

Andrey Rublev (RUS)
Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Hyeong Chung (KOR)
[WC] Gianluigi Quinzi (ITA)

Group B

Karen Khachanov (RUS)
Borna Coric (CRO)
Jared Donaldson (USA)
Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 

Doubles specialists Bruno Soares and Jean-Julien Rojer were on hand to interview them.

The action begins on Tuesday.

The 2 p.m. day session kicks off with Khachanov vs. Medvedev, followed by Shapovalov vs. Chung. That is scheduled to be followed by an exhibition between the highest-ranked Next-Gen absentee, Alexander Zverev, and alternate Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Coric and Donaldson open the 7:30 p.m. night session. Rublev and home-country favorite Quinzi will follow.

Meanwhile, the Next-Geners have revealed their favorite emojis.

Coric showed everyone the bag of freebies in his hotel room (nice cutaway shot to the host hotel’s logo – yeah, a lot of this is about the benjamins).

Not to be left out, Shapovalov and Medvedev went sightseeing.

US Open Day 10 – What to Watch

NEW YORK – Whatever watching you’re doing, it’s going to be on Arthur Ashe Stadium under the roof.

When the schedule for the second Wednesday came out Tuesday evening, the US Open didn’t even bother trying to schedule the myriad of junior and legends and men’s doubles matches that would normally have been played.

The weather forecast was that bad.

To the four singles quarterfinals scheduled on Arthur Ashe, they did add three women’s quarterfinal doubles matches on the Grandstand. But that was with a hope and a prayer.


Women’s Matches to Watch

[1] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. [20] Coco Vandeweghe (USA)

Two more Americans will try to add their names to the women’s singles semifinal roster, along with Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.

Those two got it done – both in third-set tiebreaks, Tuesday.

First up is No. 20 seed Coco Vandeweghe, who has the toughest task of all against world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova.

Despite being the top-ranked woman in the world, Pliskova has been very much under the radar during the US Open. Part of that was the stadium-court scheduling and return of Maria Sharapova. The other has been the success of the American women at their home Slam.

Pliskova’s hold on No. 1 was tenuous going in. There were, in theory, eight women who could have ended the US Open in the top spot. But most of them fell away quite early. That includes No. 2 Simona Halep, who was just five ranking points behind at the start and had far fewer ranking points to defend this fortnight than Pliskova, a finalist last year.


Now, only one player stands in the way of the Czech’s maintaining the top spot: Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza.

If Pliskova doesn’t reach the final (i.e., win this match against Vandeweghe and her semi-final as well), Muguruza will become the new No. 1, the 24th player in the history of the WTA Tour to do so.  

Pliskova won their last meeting, on the indoor clay-court track in Stuttgart. But Vandeweghe won their previous two meetings, on hard court in Dubai and at Wimbledon two years ago, in the second round.

There will be big serving, and hard hitting. And, hopefully, some fruitful net attacking by Vandweghe to change things up.

[15] Madison Keys (USA) vs. [Q] Kaia Kanepi (EST)

The theme of the day for the women is power as two more hard hitters take the court tonight.

“Late Night with Madison” has become a theme with the 22-year-old American, who has fed off the well-refreshed late night crowds on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys had no hard feelings after their Stanford final last month – clearly! Both returned to the top 20.

This time, she and Kanepi are the opening act for the blockbuster to follow between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro.

Kanepi, sidelined for much of the last few years with plantar fasciitis in both feet as well as a bout with the Epstein-barr virus, has gone through the qualifying and won four main-draw matches to get this far.

Keys has played some marathons, but still would be relatively fresher.

There’s a decade between them (Kanepi is 32). But they’ve only met once, on clay in Madrid in 2015 (won by Kanepi).

Men’s Matches to Watch

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Andrey Rublev (RUS)

Nadal’s draw has worked out extremely well for him. He has yet to face a top-50 player, and Rublev is no exception.

But the 19-year-old Russian, who upset No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the tournament, will be top 50 when this tournament is over. In fact, he’ll be in the top 40 no matter what happens against Nadal. Rublev also beat No. 9 seed David Goffin, clearly hobbled by a knee injury.

Nadal has never played Rublev. But he’s 1-0 against his coach, a Spaniard named Fernando Vicente. Nadal beat Vicente, who reached No. 29 in the singles rankings in 2000,  in straight sets in the first round of the 2003 US Open. Nadal was 17 at the time.

[3] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [24] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)

This rematch of the 2009 US Open final was the most hotly-anticipated potential clash on the men’s side with the exception of one – a potential Federer-Nadal semifinal.

That del Potro got to this place at all was close to miraculous, after he struggled with a virus in the 36 hours before his match against No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem.

Down two sets to none, aching and ailing, del Potro somehow found a way to come back and win in five. It was a match he called “unforgettable.”

He should be feeling better by this point. But obviously not at his best. 

Federer had an unblemished record against his previous three opponents (Mikhail Youzhny, Feliciano Lopez, Philipp Kohlscrieber). He’s 16-5 against del Potro. But the Argentine’s victories over him have hurt.

He defeated Federer twice at his hometown tournament in Basel, Switzerland. And he defeated him in the US Open that year, ending Federer’s streak of five straight titles at Flushing Meadows.

It’s going to be a long day of tennis before this one gets going tonight. Hopefully, the wait will have been worth it.

First Wimby for teens Rublev and Tsitsipas

WIMBLEDON – The two career moments took place within moments of each other, on two courts in the field at the Bank of England Sports Grounds that were kitty-corner to each other. 

And if the moment was identical, the reactions were wildly different.

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, still just 18, was the first to make his first career Wimbledon main draw. Just a year ago, he was playing the junior event.

For more than three hours, he had maintained his youthful composure. After a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win over Joris de Loore of the Netherlands, the teenager leaped into the air several times and had a look of pure joy on his face,  

As Tsitsipas celebrated, 19-year-old Andrey Rublev of Russia was serving for the match against 35-year-old Paul-Henri Mathieu of France just a few feet away.

He closed out a 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4 victory that put him into the main draw in his third career attempt to qualify.

Rublev’s angst-riddled court drama already is a well-oiled machine. But he had almost no reaction after this career moment. He clenched his first, made the sign of the cross, looked up to the sky, and went up to shake Mathieu’s hand.

Here’s how it looked, at it happened.

Slow and steady for Tsitsipas

With a one-handed backhand, an all-court game and matinee-idol looks, Tsitsipas stayed in the junior ranks until his eligibility was used up. That’s fairly rare these days with the top tier of promising players.

He already had turned 18 when he played the US Open juniors last September. Tsitsipas lost to eventual champion Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, two years younger, in the semifinals there. He lost to another Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, a year younger, in a junior Wimbledon final a year ago.

It was one of the finest junior matches in recent years – chock-full of one-handed backhands, chip and charges, net-rushes and good sportsmanship.

He has often be overshadowed by more precocious players. But with his ATP Tour ranking at No. 190 coming into this week, Tsitsipas is on a steady, studied path.  

His first full year in the professional ranks hasn’t resulted in a big rankings leap. But he has been gaining in experience as he fills out his lanko 6-foot-4 frame.

New in the top 100

Rublev, 6-foot-2, listed at just 150 pounds has an extraordinary-looking face. It can go from baleful, to despairing, to brilliantly sunny in the blink of an eye.

His path has been different than that of Tsitsipas.

A year older and a regular junior doubles partner of top-20 player Alexander Zverev, Rublev just broke into the top 100 for the first time last week. He reached the quarter-finals on grass in Halle, Germany.

This is his third try at the Wimbledon qualifying. A year ago, he lost in straight sets to the hero of the week, Brit Marcus Willis, in the second round.

Rublev became the No. 1 junior in the world after the 2014 US Open. He won the junior French Open that spring. And he decided to forego his last year of junior eligibility and hit the pro circuit full-time.

Tsitsipas became No. 1 just before last year’s French Open juniors.

On their two courts Thursday, the dynamics were very different.

Tsitsipas’ opponent, de Loore, is 24 and has been a professional for six years. But only in the last 12 months has he been ranked high enough to try to qualify at majors. He has now tried each at each one once; this was his closest effort yet, against the most beatable opponent he has faced.

But he will have other opportunities.

Adieu for Mathieu

Across the way, there was a poignancy in Rublev’s victory over Mathieu. The Frenchman said goodbye at his home Grand Slam in Paris earlier this month. And on that day, he said that he just wanted to play Wimbledon one more time.

He was denied at the final stage, by a kid who will be playing Wimbledon for the first time. There’s a certain symmetry to that. As a door closes for an older man, while a window opens for the kid.

Ranked No. 138 now, after dealing with several major injuries through the latter stages of his career, Mathieu has four career ATP Tour titles and earned his first career ranking when Rublev was less than a year old. 

Twice, he has reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. This was only his second time even travelling to Roehampton for the qualifying in a Wimbledon history that stretches back to 2002.

It felt, by the way they greeted each other at the net, that Rublev sensed what the moment meant for Mathieu.


One man was saying hello, the other was saying goodbye.

But in the end, it turns out that you arrive, and you leave, the very same way – with a big backpack on your back,  your tournament credential swinging in the breeze, alone with your thoughts.