03:07 PM GMT November 07, 2019
Stefanos Tsitsipas had been crowned the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals champion only minutes earlier, but already, the Greek was looking forward to completing the transition, from the 21-and-under event in Milan to the Nitto ATP Finals.
Would he be back at the award-winning tournament in Italy? Or would he have a calendar clash? The then-20-year-old flashed a sheepish grin and gave a witty reply. “I think it would be a good idea if the Nitto [ATP] Finals moved to Milan so I can play here,” he said.
His confident prediction has come true. Next week, Tsitsipas, the face of #NextGenATP over the past two seasons, will be making his debut at The O2 in London. The 21-year-old is part of a growing group of players who have graduated from #NextGenATP and used the concept, along with the Next Gen ATP Finals, as a launching pad for further success on the ATP Tour.
Germany's Alexander Zverev, Russian Daniil Medvedev and Italy's Matteo Berrettini also top the long list. Zverev, the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion, never competed in Milan, but the 22-year-old German was a key part of the #NextGenATP campaign until this year and is returning to The O2 for the third consecutive year.
Medvedev, 23, will be making his Nitto ATP Finals debut and finished in third place at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in 2017.
Berrettini lost in qualifying in Milan during the same year. But he thrust himself into Nitto ATP Finals qualifying contention late this season with semi-final runs at the US Open and the Rolex Shanghai Masters and captured the eighth and final qualification spot.
“The way they're moving up is so impressive. They're accustomed to playing the big events, being a part of all the hype and promotion of the sport, which the Next Gen ATP Finals gave them,” said Ross Hutchins, ATP Chief Player Officer and Next Gen ATP Finals Tournament Director.
Watch: Behind The Scenes At 2018 Milan, Where Tsitsipas Won The Title
One of the reasons the ATP created the innovative tournament, Hutchins notes, was to promote 21-and-under players who hadn't reached the top of the game because of the historic greats – Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer – patrolling the top of the sport.
But even Hutchins and other ATP officials didn't foresee Tsitsipas and others closing the gap between themselves and the top of the game as quickly as they have.
“The intention was to promote these guys and to give them a stepping stone to the highest echelons,” Hutchins said. “But for them to step into the next level within one year or two years has been staggering and quite a phenomenal achievement.”
It took Tsitsipas only two months after the Next Gen ATP Finals to show that he belonged at the next level. The Greek became the second consecutive Next Gen ATP Finals champion to ride the Milan momentum of November into the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January.
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South Korea's Hyeon Chung, the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals champion, also backed up his Milan title with a run to the semi-finals in Melbourne. Both players finished Milan unbeaten, and both pushed their winning streak to 10 by making their first major semi-final in Australia.
Chung's coach later credited his charge's Australian Open run to his Milan experience, and it's a sentiment in which Hutchins agrees. The eight #NextGenATP qualifiers garner all the attention in Milan.
“It's about how someone becomes accustomed to winning, being at the top of the sport with expectation, being in the spotlight, being a household name, playing at big events, being talked about a lot and how they enjoy it. Do they warm to it, do they welcome it?” Hutchins said.
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Medvedev has welcomed it better than anyone in 2019. The Russian was No. 65 in the ATP Rankings when he played at the inaugural Milan tournament two years ago and now finds himself in the Top 5 after winning three titles from six consecutive finals – Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati (title), US Open, St. Petersburg (title), Shanghai (title).
In doing so, he's caught up to the historic greats. The only other active players who have reached six or more consecutive finals: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray. The achievement has led pundits to name the former Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier as first in line to catch the Big Four.
“I'm happy about it because [it's] my results [that] make people talk in this way,” Medvedev said. “The most important [thing] is going to be continuing these results, this game that I'm showing, because the moment I drop, people forget good things quite fast. So I know that, and I want to work and improve every day.”