Casper Ruud and Miomir Kecmanovic meet in the opening match of the Next Gen ATP Finals on Tuesday as they battle for the early leadership of Group A.
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Casper Ruud (4) vs Miomir Kecmanovic (5), 2:00pm local time/ 1:00pm GMT
Ruud and Kecmanovic are making their debuts at the season-ending tournament, having finished seventh and eight respectively in the ATP’s Race to Milan.
Both players arrive Milan on the back of a season during which they cracked the top-100 for the first time, with Kecmanovic breaching the top-50, while Ruud peaked at No. 54 in the world. The two players also contested their maiden tour-level finals this year, with Ruud falling just short to Cristian Garin in the Houston title match, while Kecmanovic contested the Antalya final, losing in three sets to Lorenzo Sonego.
It is worth mentioning that Ruud has had his best results on clay, adding semi-finals in Sao Paolo and Kitzbuhel, and a quarter final in Rio to his runner-up finish in Houston, while he also notably reached the third round at the French Open and the Rome Masters. His best tour-level result on hard courts was a quarter final in St. Petersburg, where he defeated Alexander Bublik and Salvatore Caruso before falling to Borna Coric.
Former junior No. 1, Kecmanovic, on the other hand, had more success on the quicker surfaces, with his stand-out result, along with Antalya, being a first Masters 1000 quarter final at Indian Wells. He also reached the quarter finals in Atlanta, and the third round in Cincinnati and Washington.
Those results would seem to suggest that Kecmanovic has the edge going into Tuesday’s contest. Kecmanovic also won the only previous meeting between the two, albeit via a retirement in Zhuhai, with the Serbian leading 6-2, while Ruud scored a 6-2 6-1 victory in an earlier match in the qualifying rounds in Rome.
Alex De Minaur (1) vs Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (7), to follow
Following Ruud vs Kecmanovic will be top seed, Alex De Minaur, who begins his Next Gen ATP Finals campaign against Spaniard, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
De Minaur heads into the 2019 Next Gen Finals as the favourite for the title following an outstanding season that has seen him rise into the top-20. The Australian is also looking to go one step further than last season, when he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the championship match.
Despite the disappointment of that defeat to Tsitsipas, De Minaur could look back at a fine 2018, when he rose from outside the world’s top-200 to end the year at No. 31 in the world.
He has taken his game to another level in 2019, winning his maiden tour-level title in Sydney in January, and adding further title runs in Atlanta and Zhuhai. The 20-year-old also made the final in Basel, scoring fine wins over John Millman, Andy Murray, Borna Coric and Roberto Bautista-Agut before falling to the great Roger Federer. De Minaur also reached the fourth round of the US Open- his best Grand Slam performance. The Aussie young gun heads into Milan in fine form, and will expect to get past Davidovich Fokina in his tournament opener.
Davidovich Fokina actually finished 10th on the ATP’s Race to Milan, but he got into the draw following the withdrawal of Stefanos Tsitsipas, who’s heading to the Nitto ATP Finals in London, and Canadians, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Paris Masters finalist, Denis Shapovalov.
Wimbledon Boys’ champion in 2017, Davidovich Fokina has made big strides this year, breaking into the top-100 having begun the year ranked 237th in the world. He has surged into Milan on the back of some excellent form in the last few months, winning Challenger titles in Seville and Liuzhou, making a final in Genova, and reaching semi-finals in Mallorca, Biella and Ningbo, all of these since the final week in August.
Before then, he had recorded his best tour-level result in May- a semi-final in Estoril, where he took out Taylor Fritz, Jeremy Chardy and Gael Monfils before falling to Pablo Cuevas. He also made a Challenger final in Bangkok in February.
Davidovich Fokina did not win any other tour-level main draw match outside Estoril, losing tournament openers in Marrakech, Madrid, Roland Garros, s-Hertogenbosch, Bastad and Hamburg, but he’s got a good chance to score some wins in Milan this week.
He will be the underdog in his tournament opener though, as he takes on top seed, De Minaur on Tuesday. It’s the first meeting between the two, and given the season De Minaur has had, the form he’s been on and the experience from last season, the Australian should make a winning start to his Milan campaign.