04:02 PM GMT October 30, 2019
Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic hasn't been around the ATP Tour for long. The 20-year-old is in the final weeks of his first full ATP Tour season that will end at next week's Next Gen ATP Finals, to be held 5-9 November at the Allianz Cloud in Milan.
But the Belgrade native has already learned one key factor for success on Tour: Being a great player in practice doesn't mean you'll back it up during a match.
“[They're] a lot different. In practice, everybody's relaxed, everybody's making shots. Everybody's playing great,” Kecmanovic told ATPTour.com. “But in the matches, the pressure moments, the expectations, all kinds of things [are] put into one.”
The intensity from big matches can dwindle some young players. The bright lights. The big names. It all gets to be too much at times.
But that hasn't been the case for Kecmanovic. In pressure moments, he has thrived during his breakout season that has seen him check off a list of career accomplishments, including his maiden ATP Tour final and first Top 10 win.
The 6'0” right-hander enters Milan at No. 55 in the ATP Rankings, but during break points, he's been a Top 30 player all season.
Kecmanovic is 17th on Tour in break points saved this season, having saved 64.34 per cent (157/244), better than Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers Stefanos Tsitsipas, last year's Milan champion, and Russian Daniil Medvedev, who competed at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in 2017.
Kecmanovic will be the sixth seed in Milan, but among his fellow Next Gen ATP Finals qualifiers, he's second in this category, behind only Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who has saved 64.83 per cent (188/290).
“I don't see him getting tight very often,” Miro Hrvatin, Kecmanovic's coach for the past three years, told ATPTour.com. “He believes in his strokes. I think whenever the ball is in play he has a chance.”
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On the returning end, Kecmanovic has been nearly as proficient. He is 27th on Tour in break points converted (40%, 98/245), slightly behind Nitto ATP Finals qualifier Dominic Thiem (40.41%) but ahead of London hopeful and 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev (38.72%).
“The way I handled things on court, I think at some of the key moments, the pressure moments, I handled them all pretty well... I played really good and I didn't let a lot of things get to me... I was calm, I was focussed, and I'm really happy about that,” Kecmanovic said.
His reward has been a steady climb up the ATP Rankings and reaching two of his biggest goals: cracking the Top 100 and qualifying for Milan.
Kecmanovic started the season at No. 131 in the ATP Rankings, but by March, following his quarter-final run at the BNP Paribas Open, he had already reached No. 95. The Serbian, who had just one tour-level win before the season's first ATP Masters 1000 event, became the first lucky loser to reach the Indian Wells quarter-finals (l. to Raonic) since the Masters 1000 series began in 1990.
“After Indian Wells, he started to believe that he can really play with those guys and be there in the Top 100,” Hrvatin said.
Kecmanovic made his maiden ATP Tour final in June at the Turkish Airlines Open Antalya (l. to Sonego) and in August, during the U.S. summer hard-court swing, the Serbian beat Zverev for his first Top 10 win and a place inside the Top 50 (49).
“After each win you get a little bit more confidence, especially after big wins, and I think that just knowing that I can beat these guys, play with these guys, I think it just helps me a lot more to compete,” Kecmanovic said.
His rise has come on quicker than even he thought, but he's eager to show he belongs among the best in the sport.
“I'm definitely happy with the way I played and [how] everything has come together. I've been able to keep it up for an extended period of time,” Kecmanovic said. “[I need to] stay focussed, work even harder, not get satisfied, relaxed, just to be mentally in it. In practice, work hard, believe in it, and I think it'll be good.”
In Milan, Kecmanovic's play under pressure might be more important than ever. The tournament will have no-ad scoring for the third consecutive year and tie-breaks at three-all.
“It's a great group of guys, they had so much success, a lot of them,” Kecmanovic said of the Milan qualifiers. “It's nice to have a breakthrough at such a young age, and I'm really happy to be a part of this.”