Next Generation Is The Now Generation At Rolex Shanghai Masters

Alexander Zverev (photo: Rolex Shanghai Masters/Mike Frey)

SHANGHAI, October 12, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Not since the 1999 Hamburg Open has there been an ATP Masters 1000 event where all four semifinalists are under the age of 24. Indeed, youth is being served on the fast courts of Shanghai this week as the #NextGenATP future stars have become the #NowGenATP superstars of today.

From 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas (21) to #NextGenATP alumni Alexander Zverev (22), Matteo Berrettini and Daniil Medvedev (both 23), there’s an up-and-coming generation of new talent that has stepped up in Shanghai, China, this week at the Rolex Shanghai Masters with plenty of drama and theatrics. They are also making their voices heard by creating a lot of magic with their tennis racquets. Indeed, the future is looking bright.

For the first time in 10 years, since the tournament was inaugurated in 2009, the Shanghai champion will not be Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray. Both Djokovic (who lost to Tsitsipas) and Federer (who was defeated by Zverev) went out in Friday’s quarterfinal round and Murray was eliminated earlier in the week by 10th seed Fabio Fognini in the second round. Instead, it will be either Medvedev or Zverev.

In Saturday’s first semifinal, between the third seed Medvedev and Tsitsipas, seeded sixth, won by Medvedev, 7-6 (5), 7-5, there was plenty of intensity and focus on display to dazzle the Center Court audience that filled Qizhong Stadium’s Center Court.

Medvedev, who is ranked fourth after being 32nd a year ago at Shanghai, garnered the 53-minute first set by winning his 11th consecutive tiebreaker, 7-5. Although Medvedev saved all three break points against him in the opening set, he was unable to break Tsitsipas in any of the Greek star’s six service games.

However, one set away from reaching his third successive Masters 1000 final, that changed when Medvedev broke Tsitsipas in the third game to pull ahead 2-1, thanks to an amazingly clutch backhand down-the-line passing shot that capped a back-and-forth, eight-shot rally. Unfortunately for the Russian, he was unable to close out the match right away, serving at 5-4, as Tsitsipas broke back to level the score in the tenth game. It was arguably Medvedev’s first bad game of the entire match – maybe, even in the entire tournament. But, he quickly regrouped and immediately broke Tsitsipas to give himself a second chance at serving for the win. This time, at 6-5, Medvedev didn’t let the golden opportunity slip by. He finished the one hour and 36 minute victory with a purposeful forehand winner, his 25th of the match.

“(In the) second set, losing the game at 5-4 when you’re serving for the match is never easy. But I knew I had to continue just to try to win the next game, and that’s what happened. (I won the) next two games,” said Medvedev, quoted by the ATP Tour website.

Medvedev came into the weekend having won 15 straight quarterfinal matches over the past year and with a 27-3 win-loss record on hard courts since July. He’s not dropped a set at Shanghai this week, and now with his 28th hard-court win on Saturday, it not only improved his lifetime head-to-head against Tsitsipas to 5-0, it also lifted him into a sixth straight final and his ninth of the season – most on the ATP Tour. Medvedev also improved to 58-17 this year, including a Tour-leading 45 hard-court wins and 21 ATP Masters 1000 triumphs.

“Making six (finals) in a row, including three Masters 1000s and one Grand Slam, is something I could never dream of, to be honest,” said Medvedev following his win against Tsitsipas. “But I want to keep the momentum going and hope I can make it to seven or eight.”

Before their semifinal, Tsitsipas admitted that Medvedev’s game gives him fits. “He has a very weird game. It’s very sloppy, but a good sloppy. I don’t mean this in a bad way. He’s just very uncomfortable to play against,” Tsitsipas said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “He has this completely different way of playing, flat and low, without giving you much angle to work with. It can be very disturbing to play against him. He can make you miss without understanding why you missed.”

Medvedev, with his sometimes unorthodox serving motion, hit six aces, won 84 percent (36 of 43) of his first serve points and dropped just 15 service points overall. He kept his unforced errors down to a manageable 18. As for Tsitsipas, his 24 winners were overtaken by his 31 unforced errors. He was broken twice and outpointed by Medvedev 75-66.

Following his loss, Tsitsipas explained during his press conference that he felt “good” and like he “could win” against Medvedev.

“I felt good, actually. I didn’t feel bad,” said Tsitsipas. “Today I actually felt the most comfortable among the other times that I played against him. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to beat him the next time or the time after that one, but I know there’s going to be a time where I’m going to find opportunities and beat him. I don’t know when it’s going to come. Probably two, three, four, five, six years’ time, I don’t know, but it’s going to come at some point.”

Meanwhile, the second semifinal matched the fifth-seeded Zverev against 11th seed Berrettini, both in the heat of the chase for the final two berths at the season finale in London. It was all Zverev, who won 6-3, 6-4 in in one hour and seven minutes. The German star struck 20 winners and hit only 14 unforced errors, while Berrettini was limited to just 10 winners and committed 20 unforced errors. Zverev outpointed the Italian No. 2 56-41.

“It feels great, obviously. I felt like I’ve played some decent tennis this week and being in a Masters 1000 final here in Shanghai is also something very special for me,” said Zverev during his post-match interview with ATP TV. “I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I can play some good tennis tomorrow.”

Berrettini, who rose to No. 8 in the ATP Race To London standings with his quarterfinal win over fourth seed Dominic Thiem on Friday – which equaled the biggest win of his career when he beat Zverev at Rome earlier this year – and the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Zverev, who was fresh off his triumph against Federer and playing in his eighth ATP Masters 1000 semifinal of his young career, both came out eager in their rematch.

As it happened, Zverev wasted little time in grabbing the upper hand against Berrettini as he broke his opponent in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead and won the half-hour first set 6-3, closing it out with his fourth ace. Later, it would be his 11th ace of the match that clinched the semifinal in straight sets. Zverev did not face any break points from Berrettini.

With his victory, Zverev now has 2,855 points in the ATP Race To London standings, which advanced him 330 points ahead of eighth-placed Berrettini (2,525) and 370 points in front of ninth-placed Roberto Bautista Agut, who has 2,485 points.

Next, Zverev enters his Sunday showdown with a 4-0 lifetime record against Medvedev. Their last meeting was in the 2018 Rogers Cup in Toronto. “We’ve played some fantastic matches, all going my way until now. I hope tomorrow that will not change. But he’s been playing some fantastic tennis, sixth final in a row, US Open finalist, won Cincinnati,” said Zverev, pointing to Medvedev’s list of accomplishments this season. “He’s probably the best player in the world right now. I hope it’s just going to be a good match tomorrow.”

Around the Shanghai Masters

Second seeds Lukasz Kubot from Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil will face eighth seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil in Sunday’s doubles final. Kubot and Melo defeated sixth seeds Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vaselin, both from France, 6-2, 6-4, while Pavic and Soares advanced over Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, both from Great Britain, 7-5, 6-4.

By the numbers

• In Sunday’s final, Daniil Medvedev will attempt to become just the second Russian to win the Rolex Shanghai Masters. Nikolaz Davydenko won the inaugural crown in 2009 over Rafael Nadal.

• When Alexander Zverev beat Roger Federer in Friday’s quarterfinal round, he became the 64th player to face the Swiss star at least seven times and just the third with a winning record – four wins and three losses. The others are: Rafael Nadal, 24-16, lifetime against Federer; and Novak Djokovic, who is 26-22 versus Federer.

• Stefano Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem are the only players this season on the ATP Tour to beat the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

What they’re saying

• Stefanos Tsitsipas on the popularity of his mother, Julia, with fans as she hands out water and chocolates to Shanghai fans: “Everywhere, she’s like this. I tell her sometimes, ‘Mum, relax. I mean, you don’t have to do this much.’ Obviously, people appreciate it and love it, but sometimes, I’m in the locker room and she just brings me balls to sign from people outside. I’m like, ‘Okay, take it easy.’”

• Roger Federer on what he said to Alexander Zverev after the German beat him in Friday’s quarterfinals: “I told him at the net that he showed great character, that he was strong. … I thought he didn’t show any frustrations or too much negativity. I didn’t see him very often being extremely frustrated except the one time when he hit three let cords in a row, the last game I think it was.

“That was impressive, because he has tendencies to get a bit down on himself. Especially this season, he hasn’t been playing maybe so well, so that impressed me the most. If I can get one percent of that, I’m happy, too.”

• Andy Murray, who reached the second round at Shanghai before being eliminated by 10th seed Fabio Fognini, from an interview with Stuart Fraser of The Times of London: “I have been competitive with guys just outside the top 10 so far. If I can keep improving a few things over the next few months, then maybe there is an outside chance I can get around there.” This week, Murray confirmed he will enter the 2020 Australian Open.