There should be plenty of reasons to watch the upcoming third edition of the ATP NextGen Finals, with the most exciting young prospects on tour battling it for the title this week. Norway’s finest Casper Ruud will open proceedings with a match against Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic, and the exciting Jannik Sinner will close off play with a match against Frances Tiafoe later on.
Remember, matches at the ATP NextGen Finals are best-of-five sets, played to four games each.
ATP NextGen Finals Day 1 Predictions
Casper Ruud vs Miomir Kecmanovic
Head-to-head: Kecmanovic leads 1-0
Qualifying for the ATP NextGen Finals for the very first time in his career is Casper Ruud. The Norwegian has shown plenty of promise and progress this year in particular, making eight tour-level quarterfinals this season. Most notably, he reached a first ever tour final in Houston, where he lost out to an inspired Christian Garin on the day. The problem for the Norwegian this week is really the issue he’s had most of the season, which is being able to transfer his game from an outdoor or quicker clay court to the indoor hard court surface laid in Milan this week.
The Norwegian’s predominantly heavy top-spin forehand works to good effect on the higher-bouncing clay courts, but his biggest forehand weapon does look much more vulnerable and less impactful away from his beloved clay. He has finished the year much better than his first opponent Kecmanovic though, so there could be potential openings for him in this matchup. For the Serbian he is really renowned for his work rate in matches, his foot speed from the back of the court and his ability to hang tough in baseline rallies, which is very different to the Norwegian’s strengths. The Serbian has fallen off form after the U.S. hard-court swing, losing six of his last eight matches, but he did pick up a win over Ruud by retirement earlier on in the year in Zhuhai.
Prediction: Kecmanovic in 4
Alex De Minaur vs Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Head-to-head: First meeting
In the second Day 1 at the NextGen Finals, Alex De Minaur will face the promising Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. The Australian is perhaps one of the more decorated youngsters playing in the field this week, now a Top-20 player, has made huge progress since hurting his groin earlier on in the year and gradually started picking form back up in the U.S. hard court swing. He has the advantage of knowing how this format works, is playing the tournament for the second year in a row and is a defending finalist, so he clearly enjoys the indoor conditions here in Milan. On top of that the Australian has just made his biggest tour final in Basel a few weeks ago, so he’s feeling good about his game and gives nothing away cheaply from rally to rally.
In many ways, Spain’s Davidovich Fokina is a very different kind of player to his next opponent. He’s very energetic, strikes a wonderfully clean flat backhand and made a lot of noise during the clay court swing earlier this season. He has far more fluctuations to his overall level over the course of a match but he wins matches by banking that his high moments can take him to the next level and is far more unpredictable in shot-making than De Minaur. Davidovich Fokina will make this a fun, engaging battle, but De Minaur’s composure will be too much for him.
Prediction: De Minaur in 3
Ugo Humbert vs Mikael Ymer
Head-to-head: First meeting
The third match of the day promises for a very interesting battle. First of all, the young Frenchman Ugo Humbert has been another young player on the rise and really does deserve his place in the final eight. He’s played very well in the last few weeks in particular, making the semifinal in Antwerp then winning a Challenger the following week in Brest, beating some good players along the way. The key for the Frenchman is really backing himself. He clearly has the game for an indoor tournament, with the strong aggressive serve and the following forehand to support it, but the question is if he can deliver under the pressure this week.
Standing in his way of a first group win is Sweden’s Mikael Ymer. Ymer was a very good junior, making a Wimbledon juniors final four years ago, but the transition to the big leagues hasn’t been steady for him and he’s had to find a lot out about himself in that period of time. The Swede has improved this season and has started to see the upturn in results now that he regularly applies a more aggressive court position after many years of relying mostly on defensive retrievals in baseline rallies. Humbert perhaps will have the edge, holding more experience at tour-level, the better serve and probably the player more sure of himself overall.
Prediction: Humbert in 4
Frances Tiafoe vs Jannik Sinner
Head-to-head: First meeting
Frances Tiafoe will be playing the tournament for the second year in a row. This season hasn’t been an easy road at all for the American – after making the quarter-final at the Australian Open at the beginning of the season most of his results have been inconsistent and there have been many spells where he’s talked about his lack of confidence on the court. The American does have the ability to find special weeks from out of nowhere like he showed in Delray Beach last year, so that makes him a threat, but he’s a player that takes huge swings at the ball, and in a quicker indoor surface that is something that might hold him back this week.
His first opponent in the group stage will be Italian wildcard Jannik Sinner. The 18-year-old has had a year to remember, winning a couple of Challenger titles, qualifying for his first Grand Slam outright and then of course making the semi-final of a tour-level event for the first time in Antwerp. The Italian perhaps doesn’t have the years of experience both in juniors and on the main tour that some of the others do, but he’s learning fast, gaining speed very quickly and he shows absolutely no fear on the court on both the forehand and the backhand. I think with the Italian crowd supporting him and lifting his performance levels, Sinner might just win this against Tiafoe.
Prediction: Sinner in 5
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