Alex De Minaur (Photo by: Alessio Tarpini/LPS via ZUMA Wire)
Can top seed, Alex De Minaur reach back-to-back finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals? The Australian goes up against Frances Tiafoe in the semi-finals on Friday.
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De Minaur goes into the last four with a perfect 3-0 record at the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals, having won all three of his round-robin matches in Milan.
The 20-year-old was pushed hard in his opening match against Spaniard, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who took the second set to even the match at one-set all, and then broke in the first game of the third set to raise the possibility of an upset, but De Minaur broke back immediately, before pulling away to record a 4-2 3-4 4-1 4-1 victory.
The world No. 18 also needed four sets to get past Miomir Kecmanovic in his second match, winning 4-1 4-3 1-4 4-0, but he produced his most convincing performance of the week so far in the final match of the round-robin phase, sprinting past Norwegian, Casper Ruud 4-1 4-0 4-2, thus recording a record-breaking seventh win at the Next Gen ATP Finals, including his four wins at last year’s tournament.
“I knew from playing Casper before that he’d dictate any short ball without a purpose,” De Minaur said. “The game plan was to play on my own terms, play aggressively, play different styles of tennis. The goal I had was [to take] any half-chance, go up and back myself at the net. I’m glad it worked out today. I’m looking forward to the semi-finals.”
De Minaur lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in last year’s championship match in Milan, but that served as a springboard to bigger successes in 2019, with the young Aussie building significantly on the progress he had made in the previous season. De Minaur started 2019 at No. 31 in the world, but he will finish inside the top-20. He’s claimed his first tour titles this year, winning in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai, while he also contested the final in Basel, losing to Roger Federer after an excellent week, and reached the fourth round of the US Open- the first time he’d been to the second week of a major.
Can he cap a fine season by winning the Next Gen ATP Finals title? He faces Frances Tiafoe in the semi-finals on Friday.
Like De Minaur, Tiafoe is featuring at the Next Gen ATP Finals for the second straight season, but while De Minaur went all the way to the final last season, Tiafoe crashed out in the round robin phase, winning just one of his three group matches.
The American did not have the greatest start to the 2019 edition, losing in four sets to Jannik Sinner in his tournament opener, but he responded strongly to that setback, beating Frenchman Ugo Humbert 4-2 4-3 3-4 4-1 to get his campaign back on track, before outclassing Mikael Ymer 4-2 4-2 4-2 in his final group match to confirm his spot in the semi-finals.
“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”.
It’s a welcome semi-final for Tiafoe, who did not make a single semi-final throughout the regular season. The American began the season brightly, reaching quarter finals at the Australian Open and Miami within the first three months of the year, but he lost his way after that, making just three more quarter finals- at ATP 250 tournaments in Estoril, Winston-Salem and Antwerp- in the remainder of the season.
His ranking stalled as the year progressed, dropping to a current mark of 47 after peaking at 29th in February. He’s got the chance to end a generally disappointing year on a bright note, and hopefully set himself up for a much better campaign in 2020.
De Minaur has won their two previous career meetings- the first at the qualifying event in Brisbane in 2017, and the second, a 6-4 6-0 5-7 6-2 victory in the second round of the US Open in 2018. Tiafoe packs the bigger punch, and is generally the better stroke-maker, but De Minaur is extremely difficult to hit through, and will again look to wear down his opponent with his stubborn defence. The Australian isn’t just about defending, as he takes the ball very early and tries to get on front-foot whenever he can.
“I wanted to see him in the final, but unfortunately it has to be in the semis,” Tiafoe said about De Minaur. “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.”
The top seed will again be hard to dislodge on Friday.
Alex De Minaur vs Frances Tiafoe is live from Milan on Friday, 8 November from 7:00pm local time/ 6:00pm GMT