The inaugural Next Gen Finals drew to a close leaving many wondering whether it had been a successful innovation by the ATP. As a spectacle it certainly succeeded but the jury is out on all the changes which were trialled.
Nonetheless as a competition, it certainly provided plenty of fast action and some exciting tennis, most especially in the actual final which pitched the world No37, Andrey Rublev of Russia, the highest ranked player in the 21 and-under eight-man field, against the world No.54, Hyeon Chung of South Korea, the only player to be unbeaten during the week’s round-robin stages.
After losing the first set, and down one break in the second, I was really nervous, really angry, but I tried to have a poker face. I'm trying to create an image of being really strong mentally and I started playing better and better. Hyeong Chung
Both arrived in the final having won through tough semi-finals the previous day with Rublev in ruthless form and eager to avenge his opening day loss to Chung who, throughout the week, has displayed some excellent defensive skills, all backed up by excellent speed on court and solid serving.
And it looked as if Rublev had Chung’s measure as the final got under way to take the opening set, albeit on a tie-break, and stroll into a 2-0 lead in the second.
But then the wheels started to come off the Russian’s wagon as Chung’s solid game from the back of the court defused the powerful strikes from the higher ranked player.
Trailing 1-2 in the second set, the 21-year-old Chung failed to break back when he had the chance to find himself on the brink of going two sets down as two games later, Rublev stepped up to serve for it.
The pressure of the moment must have got to the young Russian who then found himself 0-40 down and eventually lost his advantage on a double-fault, the second of the game.
His racket became the focus of attention as it received both vocal and physical abuse at having let his opponent back into the match in what was a pivotal moment of the final.
Chung in turn turned up the power by going into 2-0 lead in the subsequent tiebreak. He then extended it to 4-1 with some great returning and good net play to set up 4 set points. A Rublev backhand error completed the job for him.
Rublev took advantage of a toilet break to try and cool down as it was evident that he was suffering a mental meltdown but there was no denying that Chung had swung the match in his own favour and despite all the cajoling from his coach to ‘stay there and fight’, Rublev was unable to establish his superior tennis over the more stoic and impenetrable game of his patient and mentally stronger opponent.
But the Muscovite did find some spirit to stave off the first match point at 1-3 by winning a ferocious base line exchange on a ‘deciding point’ and Chung did show some signs of nerves when he double faulted at 30-30 in the next game only for Rublev to shank a forehand on break-point.
The Muscovite was then unable to push the set into a tie-break as Chung struck a high forehand winner emphatically across court to seal his hard-earned 3-4 4-3 4-2 4-2 victory on his third match point after one hour and 57-minutes to become the inaugural Next Gen champion.
“After losing the first set, and down one break in the second, I was really nervous, really angry, but I tried to have a poker face,” Chung, who becomes the first South Korean to lift an ATP World Tour singles trophy since Lee Hyung-Taik in 2003 at Sydney, revealed later. “I’m trying to create an image of being really strong mentally and I started playing better and better.”
The former Nick Bollettieri Academy student — who turned to a mental coach to help him deal with the pressure of tennis — received a $390,000 winner’s cheque but no world ranking points.
“The coach says all the time, first try to stay calm and in control, to have a chance to play better and better,” he added.
It was Chung’s third victory over Rublev. He beat the Russian earlier in the week and also at Winston-Salem on the ATP Tour in August.
Meanwhile Rublev, who rather sullenly accepted his runners-up trophy, admitted he had been unable to control his emotions. “I was playing much better than him. I was dictating the match, and then just because I let my emotion out and everything changed, because Chung, he was always there.
“He was always focused. He was always in the match.
“No matter if something goes wrong, he was still fighting. And me, from a little thing, I just lose my control and that’s it. I just lost because of my head.
“Mentally he’s really strong.”
Meanwhile in the third-place play-off match, Daniil Medvedev collected the spoils following Borna Coric’s withdrawal with an injury.