Year three of the Milan #Nextgen ATP Finals is upon us. And it seems like this event is sticking around after initially being met with plenty of skepticism in 2017. The format is certainly different from a regular ATP tournament and that should affect how you approach your handicapping. It’s a round-robin with groupings and a playoff and that means while initial matches and the playoff may be super competitive, there is always the chance the last set of round-robin contests could be blowouts.
In addition to being a round-robin affair, this tournament is also unique because very few, if any, of the participants will have played the event before. Last year there was only one returning player and this year there is only two. Not only is the tournament format different but the format of individual matches is different too, with a few wrinkles that could shake up an outcome. These include:
-there are only eight entrants
-the tournament is played on indoor hard courts (new venue this year!!!)
-matches are five sets in length (first to three) and the unique part is the sets are only played to four games, with a tiebreak at 3–3
-a shot clock
Here are this year’s entrants:
One distinct difference this year from previous years is that the 8th competitor is not a true wild card. In 2017 and 2018 the Italian tennis federation held a tournament in the last week of October among Challenger and ITF level players and the winner would get the wild card. This year, the federation just gave the wild card to young star Jannik Sinner. He is properly inside the top 100 on his own merit so, it’s probably not only deserved but, it should also make this year’s event even more competitive (the two previous wild cards won exactly zero matches combined). The winner of the lead-up tournament this year will get to be an alternate to the Milan event.
Money should also play a decent role in making this event competitive. As with everything in sports… money keeps growing and this event is no different, as the prize money is up this year from last in every category being paid out (except the flat fee to the alternate):
To put this in perspective, DeMinaur won three tournaments this year. He was paid $90,000 for winning Sydney, $119,000 for winning Atlanta, $160,000 for winning Zhuhai, all 250 level events. He made finals at a 500 level event in Basel and made $216,000. Winning here pays $250,000. Winning here without dropping a match like Tsitsipas did last year, pays a cool $429,000. These guys will be motivated.
So, the scoring is weird, the format is different, but the field is stacked and everyone is motivated… who’s going to win?
Alex DeMinaur. Flat out.
While the field is full of name-brand young stars who have all already tasted success on the ATP tour, ADM is a clear step ahead. And this tournament plays to the heavy favorites. Hyeon Chung was a step ahead of most of his fellow competitors in 2017, and while he was pushed by the Russian Three (and has since been surpassed by all of them) he was still a decent favorite in every match (imagine, Chung was lined -250 to Medvedev as little as 2 years ago, how the world turns) and never lost en route to the title. Last year Tsitsipas attended as a heavy favorite and while there was much debate about whether he should actually participate, he did and was only really threatened in the semis by Rublev. Tsitty only dropped one set in the round-round, in a tiebreak, and won the final comfortably in four over DeMinaur.
DeMinaur returns this year and is clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Aside from Tiafoe, and Kecmanovic in the latter part of the season, the attendees here still bounce between the tour and the Challenger level. Sinner and Humbert and particularly Ruud, on clay, and Kecmanovic, on hards and grass, show immediate promise. Fokina and Ymer are maybe stars a few years down the road. And while Tiafoe is a solid ATP player who competes once every three or four outings, DeMinaur is a consistent star at the Tour level already. He is #18 in the world, the second-youngest player in the top 20 (two months older than Shapo) and he will have no nerves about playing in a big spot.
One final thing to note. This event is being played at a new venue this year, after playing the first two editions at the Fiero Milano. So, conditions are up in the air. But, be aware, the first two editions were heavy on the tiebreaks, in a quick indoor environment. There are 15 matches each year if you don’t count the 3rd place match (they didn’t even play it last year, not sure if they will this year). In 2017 all 15 matches contained a tiebreak and 11 of the fifteen matches went at least four sets. In 2018 14 matches had tiebreaks (because wild card Caruna probably shouldn’t have been there) and 9 of the matches went at least four sets. DeMinaur is far and away the most accomplished tiebreak player in the group, whether you are looking at ATP level stats or Challenger level stats. So, keep an eye on overs and look for ADM to sneak out a lot of tiebreaks.
ADM should win both his group and the tourney, in the same fashion Chung and Tsitsipas did before him (and his price is already dropping as it should). In the other round-robin group it’s pretty wide open and the best value may be on Ugo Humbert. Ymer has not had a lot of success against ATP competition, Sinner is ridiculously young and while he has some shock wins it’s doubtful he’ll hold up, and Tiafoe has been known to be inconsistent. Humbert has had success at the ATP level, has solid combined hold/break numbers (behind only the small sample size of Sinner) and while his tiebreak record at the ATP level isn’t yet above 0.500, he was 21–12 at the Challenger level this year and last.
ADM outright, +200
ADM to win group -138
Humbert to win group +275