09:30 PM GMT November 11, 2017
“The Professor” is now at the top of the #NextGenATP class.
South Korea's Hyeon Chung won the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals championship on Saturday night, beating top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia 3-4(5), 4-3(2), 4-2, 4-2 to celebrate his maiden ATP World Tour crown in Milan.
“I'm just really, really happy, because, I don't know, I really don't know how I won here in Milan,” Chung said. “[It was a] really tough match tonight against Rublev. He was better than the last time [we played]. So I was just trying to play my best.”
The 21-year-old Chung became the first South Korean to hoist an ATP World Tour singles trophy since Hyung-Taik Lee captured the 2003 Sydney title (d. Ferrero), and he did it by racing through the #NextGenATP field.
Chung won all three matches in group play, including an earlier straight-sets win against Rublev, and the Korean dismissed Russian Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals to reach his first tour-level final.
In Chung's third FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against Rublev, he was as steady as ever to finish the tournament a perfect 5-0.
The sixth-seeded Chung had reached only a tour-level semi-final before Saturday, while Rublev had already hoisted an ATP World Tour trophy, having won in Umag in July. But despite Rublev having the experience edge in finals, Chung was the calmer of the two, especially when under pressure inside a packed Fiera Milano.
All week, Chung, who earned "The Professor" nickname because of his glasses, had scraped himself out of holes on his serve. Heading into the inaugural final, the South Korean had saved 77 per cent of his break points (27/35), best among all eight #NextGenATP finalists.
And the 21-year-old dug himself out of more holes in the early going, saving all five break points in the first set. But Rublev eventually overpowered Chung in an even set, taking the tie-break with a service winner.
Perhaps the Russian eyed the finish line, though, a bit too soon in the second set. He tightened up and grew frustrated, and his play suffered. The Russian landed only 27 per cent of his first serves and hit 15 unforced errors as Chung evened the match.
“I was playing much better than him. I was dictating the match, and then just because I let my emotion go 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,” Rublev said.
The pivotal third set saw a too-solid Chung withstand a barrage of forehands from Rublev, who grew more and more frustrated with Chung's relentless defence. The pattern continued in the fourth set as well, as Chung tracked down ball after ball from feet behind the baseline, and Rublev couldn't find a Plan B.
The tournament featured a number of innovations, including a shorter format – best of five sets, first to four games sets and no-ad scoring. Fittingly enough, Chung won the title on a deciding deuce point. After dropping his first two championship points, Chung served at 40/40, 3-2 in the fourth set.
His first serve set up a sitting forehand, and Chung crushed a winner to win his first title on the final day of his season. He leaves Milan with a cheque for $390,000 in prize money; Rublev will receive $235,000.