Alex De Minaur (Photo by: Alessio Tarpini/LPS via ZUMA Wire)
Top seed, Alex De Minaur faces Italian wildcard, Jannik Sinner in the final of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan on Saturday.
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De Minaur is competing in his second consecutive final in Milan, having lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the title match last year, while Sinner is into the final on his debut appearance at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Both players recorded four-set wins in their respective semi-finals on Friday night, with De Minaur overcoming a third-set wobble to close out Frances Tiafoe, while Sinner recovered from a set down to ease past Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic. While De Minaur’s progress to the final was largely expected, Sinner’s run had been more of a surprise, but there can be no arguments that these two have been the best players in Milan this week.
De Minaur heads into the final with an unblemished 4-0 record, beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Kecmanovic, and Casper Ruud in the round-robin phase before getting past Tiafoe in the last eight. The Australian was very sharp out of the blocks against Tiafoe, frustrating the American with his trademark counterpunching, unfurling some rip-roaring passing shots in the process, but De Minaur was not just about defence, as he took the game to his opponent when he had the chance to be aggressive- a part of his game that has improved over the last year. He was almost untouchable on serve through the first two sets, hitting seven aces and dropping just four points on his first serve as he raced to a 4-2 4-1 lead.
De Minaur’s level dipped in the third set, and Tiafoe pounced to take it to love, but the top seed found his best form towards the end of the fourth to earn the match-winning break of serve and finish off a superb 4-2 4-1 0-4 4-2 victory.
His Milan form has been a continuation of the season he’s had- he won his first tour-level titles in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai, while he also made a final in Basel, and reached the fourth round of the US Open, rising to a career-high No. 18 in the world. Can he add the Next Gen ATP Finals title to an impressive 2019 collection?
To do that, he must get past the excellent Jannik Sinner in Saturday’s final. The Aussie, like everyone else, has been very impressed with his Sinner’s rapid rise.
“You can just see what he’s been able to accomplish, especially in the ATPs. It’s pretty special,” De Minaur said. “The amount of firepower he has is up there with anyone out there on Tour. It’s pretty amazing to see and to witness, because it doesn’t come very often.”
Before 2019, Italian wildcards were 0-6 at the Next Gen ATP Finals, but Sinner has completely turned home fortunes around, powering to a 3-1 record to take his place in the championship match.
He needed just two matches to secure his semi-final berth, scoring a thrilling four-set victory over Frances Tiafoe in his tournament opener before breezing past Swede, Mikael Ymer in straight sets in his second match. The 18-year-old was beaten by Ugo Humbert in his final group match- a dead rubber- but he was back to his best again on Friday night, lifting his game after the loss to the first set to storm past Miomir Kecmanovic 2-4 4-1 4-2 4-2.
Sinner might have been the eighth seed and the least experienced player in the Milan field, but there was the thought that the Italian could make a big impact in this tournament given the way he had surged up the rankings in 2019. The Italian rocketed from outside the top 500 to his current top-100 status, winning Challenger titles in Bergamo and Lexington, and reaching a maiden tour-level semi-final in Antwerp. He was eleventh on the ATP’s Race to Milan, missing out on automatic qualification by just one spot (considering the withdrawals).
Having got this far in Milan, can he deliver one final performance to beat Alex De Minaur and claim the Next Gen ATP Finals title?
“I will try to play my best tennis, because against Alex, if you want to win, you have to. It’s not an easy match tomorrow, but I [will] try my best,” the Italian said.
Sinner has all the firepower, but De Minaur’s expertise is in neutralizing firepower, and stinging with his own counter-punch. Sinner has showed enough in this tournament to make me believe that he can win this, but he’s got to play one of the matches of his career, with almost everything, from the serve to the big groundstrokes finding their mark. De Minaur only needs half a chance to pounce and reverse the direction of the point.
“Here you put everything aside. It doesn’t matter what rankings, form, how you have been playing. It’s a tennis match, and you’re playing your opponent. It’s about whoever plays better on that day” De Minaur said after his victory over Tiafoe on Friday night.
“…I’m going to do everything in my power to come tomorrow and play the best possible tennis I can…”
The Australian has been different class this week, and I think he will bring it home on Saturday night.
Alex De Minaur vs Jannik Sinner is live from Milan on Saturday, 9 November from 9:00pm local time/ 8:00pm GMT