01:50 AM GMT July 27, 2021
Eighteen-year-old Alcaraz secured the biggest breakthrough of the group on Sunday at the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag by lifting his first ATP Tour trophy in a fitting triumph against Richard Gasquet, a veteran who knew only too well that hype, having been a teenage star himself.
As Alcaraz made waves on the Croatian coast, his fellow #NextGenATP hopes were making sizable inroads of their own at concurrent ATP Tour events. On Saturday, American Nakashima appeared in his first tour-level final in Los Cabos, where he came up short against top-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie. In the Swiss Alps, Frenchman Gaston was attempting to become the lowest-ranked Gstaad champion since the FedEx ATP Rankings began in 1973. But in his first tour-level final, the lefty found third seed Casper Ruud too tough.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable week for all three talented players.
Alcaraz’s 6-2, 6-2 victory over former world No. 7 Gasquet made him the youngest ATP Tour titlist since an 18-year-old Kei Nishikori in Delray Beach 13 years ago. Alcaraz became the youngest tour-level winner from Spain since countryman Rafael Nadal, who was eight days younger when he won in Sopot 17 years ago.
“I had a lot of good moments in this tournament. I beat five great tennis players,” Alcaraz said. “I think that I grew up a lot in this tournament and I keep a lot of experience from this tournament. It’s going to be useful for the future.”
The teenager first announced himself last February, when as a 16-year-old ranked outside the Top 400, he stunned countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Rio de Janeiro on his ATP Tour main draw debut. He again defeated his fellow Spaniard in the Umag semi-finals on Saturday – one of three top-four seeds he defeated on his title run.
Victory over former Top 10 star John Isner on Friday made the 19-year-old Nakashima the youngest American to reach an ATP Tour final since an 18-year-old Taylor Fritz in Memphis five years ago. Having failed to win a tour-level match all season entering the week, he fell one victory shy of becoming the youngest man from the United States to win a trophy outside his home country since 19-year-old Michael Chang in Birmingham in 1991.
“Making a first ATP final is a great accomplishment for me, but obviously we want to be on top at the end of this week. I know now from this week and this loss what I need to work on to bring home that title next time,” Nakashima said following his 2-6, 2-6 defeat against Norrie. “Hopefully in these next couple of tournaments in the U.S. before the US Open I’ll be able to get some good results and hopefully be able to pick up my first ATP title as well.
“I definitely learned a lot from this week – both positively and negatively – what I need to work on, specifically my fitness needs to improve, playing all these tough matches this week.”
At Roland Garros in 2020, Gaston made an emphatic Grand Slam debut before his home crowd when he defeated former champion Stan Wawrinka en route to the fourth round. It took two-time finalist Dominic Thiem to stop him in five sets, but he had done enough to boost French expectations. Nine months later, the 20-year-old beat three seeds in succession to reach the championship match in Gstaad, before Norwegian Ruud ended his run 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday.
“I tried to do my best, but I am happy overall with my week,” Gaston said. “I hope I can continue like this. It is amazing to play in an ATP Tour final. Now I need some rest for my body, but I feel good.”
Alcaraz’s breakthrough lifted him to No. 5 in the ATP Race to Milan, where he has his sights set on making his Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals debut. Gaston rose two places to eighth place, while Nakashima is now nipping at his heels in ninth.
“For me it's incredible. It's a goal,” Alcaraz said of his Milan prospects. “It would be amazing to play the [Intesa Sanpaolo] Next Gen ATP Finals against the best Next Gen [players] of the year. I would enjoy that moment.”