WASHINGTON, August 2, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Miomir Kecmanovic’s favorite surface is a hard court – and, yet, his ATP biography lists Wimbledon (which is played on grass) as his favorite tournament. Despite the contradiction, the Serbian-born, up-and-coming tennis star has excelled this week on the hard-court surfaces at the Rock Creek Tennis Center in northwest Washington while competing for the first time in the ATP 500 Citi Open.
The 19-year-old Kecmanovic, whose 6-foot, 165-pound frame suits his pesky but hustling style well, turned pro in 2017. He trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, on the Florida Gulf Coast, where the hot and humid summer conditions are similar to what he’s experienced this week in the nation’s capital city.
As one of the new wave of #NextGenATP stars following in the footsteps of those who came before him – Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Frances Tiafoe – he’s is currently seventh in the standings for the ATP Race to Milan with 656 points, ahead of eighth-place Ugo Humbert of France (642) while trailing Norway’s Casper Ruud (738) for sixth.
As a junior player, in December 2015, Kecmanovic won the Orange Bowl against current World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas. He reached the singles final at the 2016 U.S. Open juniors, where he lost to Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. He finished 2016 as No. 1 ranked junior player. Then, in October 2017, he won his first Challenger title in Suzhou.
Recently, Kecmanovic was a finalist on grass at an ATP 250 event in Antalya, Turkey, losing a tough three-setter to Lorenzo Sonego from Italy. Early this season, he was a quarterfinalist at the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells on a hard court with wins over Maximilian Marterer, Laslo Djere and Yoshihito Nishioka after entering the draw as a lucky loser. His overall win-loss record, which includes playing some early-season Challenger-level events, is 30-22.
Asked by Tennis TourTalk if coming off his good showing in Antalya gave him confidence coming into Washington this week, he replied, “Yes, definitely. It was a breakthrough for me and I made the finals. I’m a little bummed I didn’t get to win it. It was still a great experience. Hopefully, I can keep it up.”
— Citi Open (@CitiOpen) July 30, 2019
This week, Kecmanovic has been busy winning matches at the Citi Open against the likes of fellow 19-year-old up-and-comer Alexei Popyrin of Australia (7-6, 6-3) and tour veteran Pierre-Hugues Herbert from France (3-6, 6-4, 7-6). Off the court, he’s been learning how to make the rounds talking to the media about his successes, where he’s fluent in not only his native Serbian but also in English and German.
After his first-round win, the likable Kecmanovic, whose goes by the nickname Misha, sat for an autograph session that was sponsored by CitiBank, the tournament’s host sponsor, which gave him an opportunity to become more recognizable to fans and for him to show off his friendly demeanor.
Kecmanovic, who turns 20 on August 31, is a very level-headed fellow. He doesn’t express a lot of anger when he plays – he doesn’t yell on the court or smash his racquet out of frustration – just goes about his work diligently to be a better player on whatever court he’s assigned to. When he was asked by Tennis TourTalk if he would like to play on one of the bigger courts the next time – or a smaller like he did against Herbert, he said, “It doesn’t matter. I enjoy the smaller courts, playing near the fans. I’m not like Roger (Federer), so I’m not going to get the big courts. It’s really fun, a better atmosphere than being on Centre Court.”
With a berth in the Citi Open quarterfinals at stake, the 61st-ranked Kecmanovic faced off with 137th-ranked lucky loser Norbert Gombos, 28, of Slovakia, who was inserted into the main draw on Wednesday to replace injured fourth seed Kevin Anderson. Their Thursday evening match was assigned to the Grandstand Court, the third largest venue at Rock Creek Park, which provided a change of scenery from Kecmanovic’s previous early-afternoon matches he played on the much smaller Court 4 footprint.
With a good crowd supporting both players throughout their two hour and seven minute tussle, Kecmanovic and Gombos split sets as the Serbian easily won the opener 6-1, then lost the middle set 6-3. With the final outcome riding on the last set, both players fought hard throughout the entirety of the 58 minutes it took to decide it, with neither managing to break the other’s serve. The third-round match was settled a tie break, in which Gombos broke a 4-all deadlock and captured the last three points to win the match and reach the quarterfinal round against mercurial Nick Kyrgios. Had Kecmanovic won instead of Gombos – and he actually won more points (99-97) but still lost the match – he would have earned an opportunity to play before a large crowd in the 7,500-seat main stadium.
After the match, Gombos praised Kecmanovic, saying “He’s a young player, and I played against him. You can see that he has already like many experiences in these big tournaments – and he’s in the Top 100. He’s already 61 in the world.
“He’s already playing these tournaments, and he feels like he can play good,” Gombos continued. “And, of course, mentally he’s really strong. So, that’s why he’s there, and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. I’m pretty happy that I beat such a good player.”
When Kecmanovic reached his first ATP Tour final in Antalya, he did so because he maintained a level head, something which he displayed this week in Washington. He told the ATP website upon reaching the final, “It’s definitely exciting that I was able to come through. … I hope that I can keep up playing the way I did and that’s all I can ask of myself.”
Kecmanovic’s goal at the start of the season was to reach the Top 100, and on March 18 he achieved that goal, when he was ranked 95th after beginning at No. 131. He reached his career-best ranking of 61st this week. As for the remainder of the year, he took the opportunity this week to give himself a good plug for the Serbian Davis Cup team that will be competing at Madrid in November. “If Nenad (Serbian captain Zimonjic) calls, I’ll be there, definitely. We have so many good players now,” he said.
In the meantime, Kecmanovic plans to continue “working hard to reach a better level” as he mounts a steady climb up the rankings. Next week, he’ll be ranked 58th – another career milestone – and try to qualify for the Cincinnati Masters. In the back of his mind, the U.S. Open looms near, which would give him a chance to further shine in hard-court play, and let’s not forget the Race to Milan, too.