Frances Tiafoe and Mikael Ymer square off for a place in the semi-finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals on Thursday night in Milan, while teenage sensation Jannik Sinner – who has already claimed his ticket to the final four – looks to remain undefeated when he faces Ugo Humbert.
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Frances Tiafoe (2) vs Mikael Ymer (6), 7.30pm local time (6.30pm GMT)
It’s a straight shootout for the Next Gen ATP Finals semi-finals on Thursday night, with the winner of Frances Tiafoe vs Mikael Ymer to join Jannik Sinner in advancing to the knockout stages from Group B.
After suffering a four-set loss to Sinner in his opening match, Tiafoe got on the board and gave himself a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time as he overcame Ugo Humbert 4-2, 4-3(5), 3-4(4), 4-1 on Wednesday.
“I really like coming to Milan. In the next couple of years, I will probably just come and just hang out. I love the city that much. I always love coming back. The fans are great here. I feel very loved here, practising and stuff. Little kids seem to like me quite a lot here. That means a lot to me.”
Tiafoe is looking to make the knockout phase in Milan for the first time after being bundled out in the group stage 12 months ago.
The American put together a brilliant start to the season as he made his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open and maiden Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami, but his year has tailed off since March, with Tiafoe actually set to end 2019 lower in the rankings than last season, highlighting just how much he needs to work on his consistency.
Can Tiafoe end the year on a strong note and make the semi-finals in Milan? Beat Ymer on Thursday night and the spot is his.
Mikael Ymer (PA Images)
Ymer made a winning debut to the Next Gen ATP Finals in his first Group B match, beating Humbert in four sets, but he was no match for Sinner on Wednesday night, suffering a heavy 4-0, 4-2, 4-1 defeat.
Nevertheless, the Swede would have taken a do-or-die match with Tiafoe to make the semi-finals at the start of the tournament, with Ymer coming into Milan in good form after winning back-to-back Challenger titles in Orleans and Mouilleron Le Captif, which took his tally to four for the season.
After beginning the season outside the top 250, Ymer has risen into the top 80 in 2019 and will try to establish himself as an ATP regular in 2020 after playing predominantly on the Challenger circuit this year.
Ymer and Tiafoe have never played before, but after a confidence-boosting victory over Humbert on Wednesday, you have to lean with the more experienced American to find a way to win on Thursday night.
Ugo Humbert (3) vs Jannik Sinner (8/WC), 8.30pm local time (7.30pm GMT)
It’s been a dream debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals for local hope Jannik Sinner so far, with the 18-year-old Italian registering a 2-0 record in Group B with a four-set win over Tiafoe and straight sets victory over Ymer.
After dropping the first set against Tiafoe, Sinner has won six consecutive sets, dropping just three games against Ymer in a dominant 4-0, 4-2, 4-1 triumph that secured him the first semi-final berth.
Jannik Sinner (PA Images)
“I felt well on court today,” Sinner said. “It was a perfect start and I was serving well. I tried to push the ball immediately. I’m very happy.
“I’m just trying my best. The younger guys in Italy are all improving a lot, so hopefully I’m giving them a little bit of inspiration.”
The youngest member of the top 100 after rising nearly 500 spots in the rankings this season, Sinner has quickly established himself as one of the brightest young stars in tennis after making his first ATP semi-final in Antwerp, along with winning a pair of Challenger titles.
Sinner is ending 2019 in strong fashion and is favourite to take out Humbert and make it three wins from three on Thursday night.
The Frenchman is 0-2 in Group B after going down in four sets to Ymer and Tiafoe and is the only player in the tournament that doesn’t have a chance to reach the semi-finals heading into the final day of round robin play.
Nevertheless, Humbert will be determined to finish his season on a winning note, and what better way to end it by beating the home hope in prime time in front of an electric Milano crowd.