Hyeon Chung beats Rublev to win inaugural ATP NextGen Finals, as innovations come under scrutiny

South Korea’s Hyeon Chung wins the ATP NextGen Finals, beating Andrey Rublev in the final in Milan

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

In the first playing of the NextGen ATP Finals in Milan, contested by the best 21-and-under players in the world, it was South Korea’s Hyeon Chung who put his name into the record books as the inaugural champion.

Ranked 54 in the world, and seventh in the NextGen rankings, Chung beat the top seed and world No37, Andrey Rublev, 3-4(5), 4-3(2), 4-2, 4-2, to win his maiden ATP main-tour title.

The 21-year-old also became the first South Korean to win an ATP singles trophy since Hyung-Taik Lee in Sydney in 2003, and he did so by winning all three matches in group play, plus Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals.

Chung reached his only previous semi-final on the clay of Munich in May, but had picked up some wins over several higher ranked players this season, including Gael Monfils, David Goffin, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Alexander Zverev—who was the top-ranked NextGen player but qualified as No3 for the World Tour Finals, forcing him to pull from Milan.

All week, Chung, nicknamed ‘the professor’ because he wears glasses, had faced long matches but proved himself as strong mentally as he was physically to save 27 break points through the tournament, including five in the first set of the final, and three times coming back after dropping the first set.

The performance was all the more impressive after a season beset by injuries. After withdrawing from Indian Wells with a heel injury, he missed the entire grass-court season due to a left ankle problem, and pulled out of both Shenzhen and Tokyo at the end of the season with an abdominal pull.

Rublev had looked the better and more confident player in the early goings, winning the first set tie-break and taking a 3-1 lead in the second, but his serve dropped off dramatically, the errors flowed, and Chung levelled with the second set.

The young Russian was tight and frustrated, and although he continued his aggressive play, he allowed Chung to stay in a strong rhythm from the baseline and defend superbly. Chung pressed Rublev across the extreme corners, threw in the occasional angled drop shot, and drew errors time and again.

Only when Rublev took control by coming forward did he gain some traction, but it was too little and inconsistent. After two hours, Chung sealed the deal against a downcast Rublev, the first champion in Milan.

The calm and composed Chung, though coping in broken English, made it very clear how delighted he was:

“I’m just really, really happy, because I don’t know, I really don’t know how I won here in Milan. Was a really tough match tonight against Rublev. I was just trying to play my best.”

The Russian, looking close to tears, admitted:

“I was playing much better than him. I was dictating the match, and then I let my emotions out and everything changed, because Chung, he was always there. He was always focused. He was always in the match. No matter if something went wrong, he was still fighting,”

The third-place play-off was abandoned when Borna Coric withdrew, and then replacement Denis Shapovalov also had to pull out.

The play-off was one of several innovations being trialled at the tournament, and thus the tour awards no points, though the substantial prize money was of course an important bonus for rising players trying to make their way on the tour.

But also on trial were no-let serves and no-ad scoring, a shot clock, Hawkeye in place of all line-judges, and most controversially, five first-to-four game sets. The hope from the ATP side has been that some of the innovations will be introduced onto the main tour in due course, but there has certainly been some resistance both from the #NextGen players and stars of the main tour.

Zverev, who straddles both generations, was forthright:

“I don’t think many of them will transfer ever. Maybe two things: Automatic line calls—that was good. And also the shot clock, that has potential. Those are the two things. Everything else will never happen in my opinion.”

Nadal withheld judgement on specifics:

“There’s a few things I like, some I don’t.”

The second youngest among the elite eight in London, Dominic Thiem, said:

“I didn’t watch any of it. But the rules, the scoring system, I don’t really like. I like the shot clock, think that’s a very good thing, so everyone knows when they have to be ready again. I think that’s a very good rule. Everything else we should keep the old rules.”

The experienced Marin Cilic, a Major champion and Wimbledon finalist this year, added:

“Some of the matches were quite interesting to see what the coaches are saying. It was great with the singles court. The shot clock is something we should introduce straight away. Let cords I’m not a big fan of that, and I think the sets were too short.”

So it remains to be seen when and how many of these trial changes will last the course: Perhaps next year’s #NextGen finals will give us a clue. For now, the Nitto ATP Finals in London get underway with the established rules very firmly in place.

The ‘Milan’ rules

· Shorter sets: First to 4 games, with tie-break at 3-3, but matches best of 5 sets—designed to increase number of pivotal moments in a match, while playing same number of games, 12;

· No-ad scoring, no let on serve;

· Shorter warm-up: precisely 5 mins from when second player walks on court;

· Shot clock: used in between points to enforce 25-second rule, between sets, for medical time-outs and for warm-up;

· Medical time-outs: one per player per match;

· Player coaching: will be allowed at certain points in match (to be determined), though coaches not be allowed on court;

· Crowd behaviour: free movement policy for crowd during matches (except behind the baselines);

· Line calls: all to be determined by Hawkeye, so no on-court line judges.

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