The stars of the ATP Tour spend much of their off-season training on and off the court to prepare for the campaign ahead. But Italian Andreas Seppi, who recently finished inside the Top 100 of the year-end ATP Rankings for the 15th straight year, also threw in some slapshots and one-timers with members of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche on Thursday afternoon.

Seppi is spending his third consecutive off-season in Boulder, Colorado, where he bought a house in December 2017. Former ATP Tour doubles player Christopher Kas, who is friends with Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer, introduced Seppi to the hockey star. They hit it off, sometimes going to dinner and even joining one another for a hike. And on Thursday, Seppi got an inside look at Avalanche practice before stepping on the ice himself to test his skills with Grubauer and fellow Avalanche player Vladislav Kamenev

“First of all, I want to thank the Colorado Avalanche for letting me see the practice and play a little bit with Philipp, who I know for a couple of years. It was really nice to be out here,” Seppi said. “My father was playing [hockey] in Italy, so he taught me how to skate and to play a little bit with a stick, but I never played with a team. I preferred tennis and I was skiing also, but I still like being on the ice and skating. It feels good.”

Seppi Grubauer
Photo Credit: Colorado Avalanche
It had been more than seven years since Seppi had ice skated, and about 15 years since he held a hockey stick. But the Italian was excited to get a chance to share the ice with professional hockey players.

“It was a little bit strange, but it was really fun. I should go more often on ice, I think,” said Seppi before explaining how Grubauer gave him some pointers. “[He showed me] how to hold the stick a little bit, a little bit higher and everything. So maybe I could give him some tips how to hold the tennis racquet after.”

While Seppi promised to take Grubauer onto a tennis court one day, he brought tennis to the hockey rink, smacking some tennis balls on goal before swapping spots with Grubauer to see if he could stop the goalie from scoring on him.

“It’s pretty good in the net, seeing the balls coming to you. I can’t imagine how it is to see a puck coming to you, so it must be really dangerous. It must feel uncomfortable to be in the goal,” Seppi said.

Grubauer, the Avalanche’s starting goaltender, is currently in season. But the German would play tennis when he was younger, and he also uses it as part as his off-season workout. Something he had never done before Thursday was combining hockey with tennis like he did with Seppi.

“The ice, the court, the speed of the ball is similar to the puck, actually, so it’s not that different the way he shoots it. But it was really hard to see. It’s really hard to see and it was fun. I’ve never done that before,” Grubauer said. “It was really fun out here to switch the sport a little bit and try out something new."

Posted: December 14, 2019, 10:22 pm

One is as hard-working as they come, a relentless professional who, in the words of all-time great Rod Laver, “won't ever let a match die.”

The other admits to lacking the discipline of an Alex de Minaur, but is as powerful as they come, a talented player who, when playing in the right environment, can beat anyone. “He's probably got the best serve in the game,” Laver said of Nick Kyrgios.

You will struggle to find two more contrasting players on the ATP Tour than De Minaur, who lacks an overpowering weapon but makes up for it with speed and grit, and Kyrgios, who has one of the biggest serves and forehands in tennis but self-admittedly lacks the drive that has pushed De Minaur to a career-high of No. 18.

But tennis has room for all characters, and both of them will lead Team Australia during the inaugural ATP Cup, to be held 3-12 January in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. De Minaur and Kyrgios, alongside John Millman, John Peers and Chris Guccione, will play in Brisbane in Group F against Germany, Greece and Canada.

Tennis is great to have the both of them playing as well as they are now,” Laver told ATPTour.com. “That's a good team.”

The only man to win the calendar Grand Slam in the Open Era (1969) has things he likes about both De Minaur and Kyrgios. About De Minaur, for instance, Laver especially appreciates the #NextGenATP Aussie's work ethic. The 20-year-old, like Laver in his day, never concedes a point.

“I was always pretty aggressive. I said, 'You are not going to beat me.' You put that out there, and I think a lot of people think, 'Holy s*#!,'” Laver said.

“Love/40 point, and you work to try to win that point, and if you do win it, the next one is possible. And so you're putting something in the other guy's brain that says, 'I better be careful,' and with that, you get more opportunities.”

Laver recalls watching De Minaur a couple of years ago for the first time. The teenager hadn't grown into his 6' frame, but Laver saw an “unbelievable talent”.

Since then, De Minaur's peers have learned the scope of his talent and work ethic. The Aussie was No. 208 at the start of the 2018 season but finished this season at a career-high year-end ATP Ranking of No. 18. The two-time Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up (2018, 2019) won three titles this year, including his first at the Sydney International, where he became the youngest champion since mentor Lleyton Hewitt, 19, in 2001. De Minaur will target the Top 10 in 2020.

“If he gets a few breaks here and there he could be mentioned with the top players,” Laver said. “To me, he's going to be a real force on the circuit and give the top guys all they can handle.”

Kyrgios has already beaten all of the top guys. The 6'4” Aussie has won three of seven FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings with Rafael Nadal, one of seven against Roger Federer and both times he played Novak Djokovic.

The 24-year-old Kyrgios thrives under the bright lights, but he especially cherishes playing with a team and representing more than himself on court.

I think the way Laver Cup is, the way ATP Cup is going to be, I think that's what tennis needs moving forward,” Kyrgios said. “I think it's unbelievable, that concept to play in a team, and I think it's way more exciting for the fans to watch. I think it's easier to follow a team, as well.”

The right-hander had match point on Federer at the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague in 2017 and has gone 3-0 in doubles matches at the team event.

“Maybe when he's at the ATP Cup, he's going to really enjoy it," Laver said of his countryman. “I think the camaraderie with the team concept he seems to like and enjoy. Because at the Laver Cup, he just showed it; he didn't mess around when he was playing.”

A locked-in Kyrgios and a well-rested De Minaur next month could go a long ways towards keeping the inaugural ATP Cup title on home soil.

Posted: December 14, 2019, 7:39 pm

Tomas Berdych (Retired: 16 November), career-high No. 4
For the best part of 30 years, Berdych dedicated his life to tennis, leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of excellence, impressive consistency and a beautiful game. Hard work off the court paid dividends on court with 13 ATP Tour titles, including a career-best performance aged 20 at the 2005 Rolex Paris Masters, where, as World No. 50, he became the lowest-ranked ATP Masters 1000 champion since No. 57-ranked Chris Woodruff at the 1997 Coupe Rogers in Montreal.

Perhaps his finest achievement came in defeat, when he beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route to the 2010 Wimbledon final, but Rafael Nadal kept Berdych dreaming of Grand Slam championship glory. He played 52 straight Grand Slams — reaching seven semi-finals (or better) — before withdrawing from the 2016 US Open (appendicitis), and 64 straight Masters 1000 events (four finals) before withdrawing from 2017 Montreal (rib). Berdych broke into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time in October 2006 and rose to a career-high No. 4 on 18 May 2015. He finished seven straight seasons in the Top 10 (2010-2016), earned 50+ wins in five straight years (2011-2015) and recorded 640 tour-level match victories. With Radek Stepanek, he led the Czech Republic to the 2012 and 2013 Davis Cup titles.

When a back injury began to hamper his peak-performances days in 2018, forcing him outside of the Top 50, the Czech’s time on court was numbered. In making the Qatar ExxonMobil Open final and Australian Open fourth round in January 2019, there was hope, however fleeting. Aged 34, Berdych ended his career in an on-court ceremony at the Nitto ATP Finals in London, the scene of his six straight season finale appearances. Read Tribute

Tipsarevic

Janko Tipsarevic (Retired: 18 October), career-high No. 8
As a big fish in a small pool, Tipsarevic was the world’s best junior with a 33-match winning streak. But as the Serbian freely admitted, his transition through to the upper echelons of pro ranks was a little more complex. By the time the astute and Dostojevski-reading intellectual Tipsarevic broke into the Top 10 in 2011, largely inspired by the performances of Stan Wawrinka, he was on borrowed time.

For two years, Tipsarevic’s star burned bright, taking his aggressive, counter-punching game to the world’s best to earn two 50+ match wins years and a career-high No. 8 in the ATP Rankings in April 2012. He helped Serbia clinch the 2010 Davis Cup and beat his good friend Novak Djokovic, then ranked World No. 1, at the 2011 Nitto ATP Finals and 2012 Mutua Madrid Open — among 15 Top 10 victories. Tipsarevic also reached the 2011-12 US Open quarter-finals.

For five years, Tipsarevic’s career was in limbo as he underwent seven different lower body surgeries. Would he retire? No, he fought back and recorded his first tour-leve match win in 570 days this March at the Miami Open presented by Itau. As a long-time role model for a generation of Serbian players, including Djokovic, Tipsarevic played his final ATP Tour event at the Stockholm Open in October, ending his career with four ATP Tour titles and 286 tour-level match wins. He has already begun work on franchising his tennis academy internationally. Read Tribute

Estrella Burgos

Victor Estrella Burgos (Retired: 9 October), career-high No. 43
It could all been very different for the ‘King of Quito’. Seven years ago, he was nursing an elbow injury and contemplating retirement with 28 tour-level match wins to his name — all from Davis Cup Group II play for the Dominican Republic. Estrella Burgos never could believe his luck, forever playing with a smile on his ATP tournament debut aged 29; when he broke into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings aged 33 or when he won three straight ATP Tour titles on the clay of Quito between 2015, the year he rose to a career-high No. 43 (13 July), and 2017. He earned the respect of his peers and, aged 39, retired at an ATP Challenger Tour event on home soil in October. Read Tribute

Matkowski

Marcin Matkowski (Retired: 31 July), career-high doubles No. 7
As one-half of the world-class ‘Polish Power’, Matkowski partnered Mariusz Fyrstenberg (who retired in 2017) to become one of ATP Tour’s most marketable doubles teams, winning 15 titles — including the 2008 and 2012 Mutua Madrid Opens. The pair also finished runner-up in 2011 at the US Open (l. to Melzer-Petzschner) and the Nitto ATP Finals (l. to Mirnyi-Nestor). Rising to a career-high No. 7 in the ATP Doubles Rankings on 9 July 2012, Matkowski won 472 match wins and lifted 17 trophies. He retired aged 38 at the BNP Paribas Sopot Open in August.

Posted: December 14, 2019, 7:38 pm

The world’s top players will return to Melbourne Park in January, led Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Serbian Novak Djokovic, who will be going for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title.

The top two seeds will be joined by [3] Roger Federer (SUI), [4] Dominic Thiem (AUT), [5] Daniil Medvedev (RUS), [6] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE), [7] Alexander Zverev (GER), [8] Matteo Berrettini (ITA), [9] Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) and [10] Gael Monfils (FRA), rounding out an enthralling mixture of new generation contenders and experienced Grand Slam champions in the Top 10.

Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) returns on a protected ranking of No. 22, following a six-month injury break. Del Potro last competed in June at the Fever-Tree Championships at The Queen's Club in London, where he fractured his right patella for the second time in nine months.

A total of 104 players receive direct entry into the men’s and women’s singles main draw and a further eight are awarded wild cards, while 16 places will be settled at the qualifying rounds from 8-11 January 2020.

We are delighted to welcome this extremely strong player field to Melbourne in what promises to be a once in a generation event,” said tournament director Craig Tiley. “The very best players are back, there are records up for grabs and it is very possible we will see a new champion crowned on both sides.

There are so many great storylines for AO 2020... Will it be the year for one of the young guns to stop Novak, Roger or Rafa?”

In the past decade, and with the exception of Swiss Stan Wawrinka in 2014, the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup has been won by Djokovic in 2019, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011 and Roger Federer in 2018, 2017, 2010 while Nadal won his first – and only – AO crown in 2009.

No. 71 Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE), [73] Vasek Pospisil (CAN), [83] Mackenzie McDonald (USA) and [95] Cedrik-Marcel Salvatore Caruso (ITA) join Del Potro in the draw with protected rankings.

World No. 18 Alex de Minaur leads the Australian men’s contingent with (30) Nick Kyrgios, (48) John Millman, (63) Jordan Thompson and (97) Alexei Popyrin all confirmed for the main draw.

Now in its 115th year, the Australian Open will take place from 20 January to 7 February 2020.

Posted: December 13, 2019, 8:36 pm

Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas was named the Best Male Athlete of 2019 on Monday night at the Panhellenic Sports Press Association Awards.

Prokopios Pavlopoulos, the president of the Hellenic Republic, presented the award to Apostolos Tsitsipas, Stefanos’ father and coach.

“I would like to convey to Stefanos that all Greeks agree that he is a great role model of excellence and he deserves this award. To achieve great things you need three things: talent, soul, hard work. I know how much you have worked together, and you did it. You have shown that the new generation has enormous potential and without hard work, you cannot succeed,” Pavlopoulos told Apostolos Tsitsipas according to GreekCityTimes.com.

Tsitsipas won 54 tour-level matches in 2019, capturing titles in Marseille, Estoril, and at The O2. The Greek climbed to a career-high No. 5 in the ATP Rankings in August.

Posted: December 13, 2019, 4:36 pm

Lukasz Kubot made Polish history in 2018 when he became the first Polish man to reach World No. 1 in any discipline, doing so in the ATP Doubles Rankings. Kubot, who received the Gold Cross of Merit from Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in July 2013, has long paved the way for his country, and he will try to do so again in January at the inaugural ATP Cup.

Before Kubot leads Poland in Group E, to be contested in Sydney, he speaks to ATPTour.com about which players from his country he looked up to, what he loves about Poland and more.

Which Polish players did you watch when you were growing up?
Well, of course, the inspiration was Wojtek Fibak, who is our famous former Top 10 singles player and Top 10 doubles player. The best moments of his career were in the late ‘80s, so he was an inspiration. We have contact today, so I learned a lot from him.

Besides this, there were a lot like Bartlomiej Dabrowski, who has the best record in Davis Cup ties, and also Krystian Pfeiffer. [These were] players I was always looking at and learning a lot from and I also had the opportunity to practise with them when I was younger.

If you could pick one stroke from any of your ATP Cup teammates and add it to your game, what stroke would you take?
I would take the serve of Hubert Hurkacz. Besides that, maybe also his backhand and the fighting and footwork of Kamil Majchrzak.

What are three things you love about Poland?
Everything. I think about the Polish food. The kitchen is very special and very heavy, I have to say. It is always great. Our Pope, John Paul II, was always making all the people together. It was very important for our country. Maybe the people as well, communication and supporting together.

Which three native Australian animals come to mind first?
First, of course, [is the] kangaroo, then the koala. What else? Is kiwi New Zealand? I just have these two.

What do you like most about Australia?
I like the weather, always. When you come back from Europe, down under there is always guaranteed weather. I have a lot of friends there, especially from Sydney where we stay and visit my friends. We stay together as a kind of Polish community. This is a very special thing.

Of course, visiting the cities like Sydney, the opera is always nice to come back there. Especially spending the New Year’s there is great, there are always positive vibes.

What team sports did you play as kid and can you talk about the happy memories of playing on a team?
I was playing a lot of football or soccer and a little bit of basketball. Soccer was very popular; we actually played in our neighbourhood with all the young boys growing up. We were spending most of our time on the tennis court, the basketball court or the soccer field.

What are your earliest memories of playing tennis in Poland?
I started like most of the players, hitting [against] the wall, just to hit and to feel. There was not much happening in the small city where I grew up. We had a coach with a group of players and we started to hit the balls. I was hitting [against] the wall for a long time… I remember a lot of kids with one or two courts, hitting the balls over the net with one or two coaches.

What will be the most fun part about playing ATP Cup?
Playing for the country. For sure, there is going to be a team atmosphere, sharing lockers and supporting your country is always very nice. For sure, we are guaranteed three matches and it is going to be a very good preparation for the Australian Open, which is great.

Posted: December 13, 2019, 2:19 pm

Lleyton Hewitt, Gaston Gaudio and Grigor Dimitrov will join a glittering line-up of past tennis champions, including former No. 1s Boris Becker (Germany), Marat Safin (Russia) and Thomas Muster (Austria), along with Tim Henman (Great Britain) as team captains when the inaugural ATP Cup gets underway in January.

Hewitt will lead the Aussies in Brisbane, with #NextGenATP star Alex de Minaur and No. 2 Nick Kyrgios committed to representing the home side in the brand new event taking place across three cities in Australia from 3-12 January.

“We’re in a tough section but I’d give the Aussies a strong chance of beating any team,” Hewitt said.

“The guys are really excited to be playing in this new competition, it’s a game changer and it would mean so much to all of us to take it out.”

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Becker, captain of the German side, is a former World No. 1 and six-time major winner, the first title coming at Wimbledon in 1985 at the age of 17 and the last 11 years later at the 1996 Australian Open.

The Germans, including World No. 7 Alexander Zverev, will compete in Brisbane against Group F’s Greece, Canada and Australia.

Crowd favourite Safin, winner of the 2000 US Open and the centenary Australian Open in 2005, will captain a formidable Russian team spearheaded by two of the fastest rising players in tennis, Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov.

Russia is drawn to play against Italy, USA and Norway in Group D, who will play their group matches in Perth.

Muster rounds out the quartet of former World No. 1 captains, leading Austria in Group E, bound for Sydney against Croatia, Argentina and Poland.

Known as the King of Clay in his heyday, Muster rose to World No.1 in 1996 and won 44 career titles, including 1995 Roland Garros.

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Henman, who inspired a British tennis revival in the 1990s becoming the first local player to reach the men’s semi-finals at Wimbledon in 25 years, will captain a five-man squad featuring three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, his brother Jamie and current British No.1 Dan Evans.

They will head to Sydney in Group C alongside Belgium, Bulgaria with Grigor Dimitrov as playing captain, and Moldova.

“As a rookie captain, I like the fact that we've got options on the singles court, and with doubles,” Henman said.

“There are always going to be Brits in Australia, so there's no doubt we'll have great support, and fingers crossed we can give them something to shout about.”

Also chosen in the role of captain by their top players is 2004 Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio who will oversee Argentina’s campaign, while former No. 1 doubles champion Nenad Zimonjic leads Serbia, and Apostolos Tsitsipas, the father and coach of World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, captains Greece. Elsewhere, current World No. 55 Gilles Simon will captain France’s team led by World No. 10 Gael Monfils.

For 10 days leading into Australian Open 2020, 24 countries will battle it out over six days and three cities before eight leading teams head to Sydney for the Final Eight knock-out stages heading into the final.

Teams have qualified based on the highest singles ranking of their best player, with each team featuring between three and five players.

The ATP Cup champions will share in AUD $22 million prize money and a maximum of 750 ATP singles rankings points and 250 ATP doubles rankings points.

The full list of groups and captains are:

BRISBANE (GROUP A)
Serbia    Nenad Zimonjic
France    Gilles Simon
South Africa    Jeff Coetzee
Chile     Paul Capdeville           

BRISBANE (GROUP F)
Germany    Boris Becker
Greece    Apostolos Tsitsipas
Canada    Adriano Fuorivia
Australia    Lleyton Hewitt           

PERTH  (GROUP B)
Spain    Francisco Roig
Japan    Satoshi Yabushi
Georgia    David Kvernadze
Uruguay    Felipe Maccio           

PERTH (GROUP D)  
Russia    Marat Safin
Italy    Vincenzo Santopadre
USA    David Macpherson
Norway    Christian Ruud           

SYDNEY  (GROUP C)
Belgium    Steve Darcis
Great Britain    Tim Henman
Bulgaria    Grigor Dimitrov
Moldova    Vladimir Albot

SYDNEY (GROUP E)
Austria    Thomas Muster
Croatia    Luka Kutanjac
Argentina    Gaston Gaudio
Poland    Marcin Matkowski

Read More About The ATP Cup At The Official Website

Posted: December 13, 2019, 2:17 pm

David Ferrer (Retired: 8 May), career-high No. 3
Humble and hard-working, the Javea native gave his all throughout a 20-season professional career, which ended in May at the Mutua Madrid Open. Aged 17, his poor attitude frustrated Javier Piles so much that Ferrer’s long-time coach locked him in a cupboard. Ferrer returned one week later with a new attitude and resolve that ensured the majority of the 1,110 tour-level matches he contested became a battle of attrition, regardless of the surface or opponent.

Originally a clay-court specialist, Ferrer worked hard on his compact game to become one of Spain’s leading lights, highlighted by a run to the 2007 title match at the Nitto ATP Finals (l. to Federer) — one of seven season finale appearances; seven ATP Tour titles in 2012, including the Rolex Paris Masters (d. Janowicz); the 2013 Roland Garros final (l. to Nadal) and a career-high No. 3 in the ATP Rankings on 8 July 2013.

Gritty and determined, the perennial fans’ favourite helped Spain win three Davis Cups (2008-09, 2011) and he won 27 ATP Tour singles titles, for third on the national list, behind only Manuel Orantes (33) and Rafael Nadal (84). Read Tribute

David Ferrer reacts during his retirement ceremony in Madrid.

Marcos Baghdatis (Retired: 4 July), career-high No. 8
Remember the smile, the sheer joy of playing and competing at the professional level. Regardless of when you first watched Baghdatis compete: as the world’s best junior in 2003; his rise into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings with his run to the Australian Open final and Wimbledon semi-finals aged 20 in 2006, or the indifference he showed to mounting injuries that soon affected his peak-performance days, the Cypriot was box office.

With a game fashioned after former World No. 1 Andre Agassi, Baghdatis’ 22 wins over Top 10 opponents, including two Worlds No. 1s: Roger Federer (BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells) and Nadal (Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati) in 2010 were other notable highs in a career that reaped four ATP Tour singles titles, 348 match wins, and a legion of fans worldwide.

Today, with his wife, former WTA pro Karolina Sprem, and three young children, Baghdatis is already providing inspiration to another star, his good friend Stefanos Tsitsipas, who captured the Nitto ATP Finals crown last month. Read Tribute

Baghdatis, Federer

Nicolas Almagro (Retired: 15 April), career-high No. 9
One of a long line of Spanish clay-courters, Almagro could often be fiery, a trait only heightened in long battling duels when his back was against the wall. But he also competed with a big heart and gave everything in a 16-season professional career.

Almagro contested 23 ATP Tour clay-court finals, from his very first ATP Tour title at Valencia (d. Simon) in 2006 to his 13th and final title at the Millennium Estoril Open (d. Carreno Busta) in May 2016, and reached the Roland Garros quarter-finals in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Back-to-back titles against Top 10 opposition at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in 2008 (d. Nalbandian) and 2009 (d. Monfils) were high points, in addition to his 2014 quarter-final victory over World No. 1 Nadal at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

Almagro, who also reached the 2013 Australian Open quarter-finals (l. to Ferrer), retired at his hometown ATP Challenger Tour event in April in Murcia, where he now serves as tennis academy director at La Manga Club. In a career cut short by a left knee injury, Almagro won 397 tour-level matches, rising to a career-high No. 9 in the ATP Rankings on 2 May 2011, during a season of three titles from five finals. Read Tribute

Almagro

Tim Smyczek (Retired: 25 August), career-high No. 68
The American put down his racquets for the final time at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., wanting to spend more time with his young family. Now studying a two-year Master of Business Administration program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Smyczek is best remembered for his fifth-set loss to Nadal in the 2015 Australian Open second round.

At 5’9”, he was never going to overpower an opponent with his serve and was realistic about the prospect of Grand Slam championship glory, but worked extra hard to make the most of his game. Milwaukee-born Smyczek reached four ATP Tour quarter-finals, highlighted by a run to the 2018 semi-finals at the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, but fell short of his long-held Top 30 goal, attaining a career-high No. 68 in the ATP Rankings on 6 April 2015. He won seven ATP Challenger Tour titles. Read Feature

Smyzcek

Posted: December 13, 2019, 2:08 pm

For the second straight year, we tasked some of the best tennis photographers — Clive Brunskill, Julian Finney and Matthew Stockman from Getty Images, as well as ATPTour.com's own Peter Staples — to share their favourite photos from a memorable 2019 ATP Tour season. As Stockman mentioned, "2019 was an exciting year to cover tennis as I really started to see a blending of the old guard with the Next Gen players."

The photographers describe their favourite images of the year, ranging from Rafael Nadal on clay to Bob Bryan's triumphant return from surgery, and share their many other selections in the gallery below.


Photographer Clive Brunkill's Best of 2019 pick: Rafael Nadal in action at the 2019 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

Clive Brunskill: Rafael Nadal at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters
Follow on Instagram at @clivebrunskill

It’s very unusual to get this type of shot and in this light! Rafa was lobbed and he turned to sprint back looking up at the ball. I’m just glad I was on a short lense so that I managed to also get the shadow and ball in! 

I call Rafa my lucky player. No matter what point I walk into his matches, he always makes me a cool shot. I’ve been very lucky over the years to get to know Rafa very well and do many exclusive photo shoots with him around the world and in his native Mallorca. He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve shot in my 38 years shooting all sports and one of the nicest super stars on the planet.

Shooting at the Monte-Carlo Country Club is like no other place on the circuit and the main reason is the beautiful light. It’s crystal clear as it’s not hot enough at that time of year to have heat haze. It’s just magical light in the late afternoon. It’s also a proper tennis club set in a wonderful, magical location. It really does not get any better than this when the sun shines!


Madrid 2019. Albert Ramos-Vinolas serves to Taro Daniel at La Caja Magica. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Julian Finney: Albert Ramos-Vinolas at the Mutua Madrid Open
Follow on Instagram at @julianfinney

Shooting in Madrid is very interesting, especially when working in an elevated position above the court. As the sun moves around during the day it creates interesting shadows on the clay court with different shapes formed from the roof structure. This year I wanted to work with these shapes even more and managed to compose a triangle shape using another part of the stadium's structure to shoot through.

With Ramos-Vinolas wearing a nice yellow, being left-handed too, made this picture work and become an instant stand-out favourite of mine from 2019. A few minutes before or after this moment in the day and this picture would be missed.


Miami 2019. Felix Auger-Aliassime stretches for a ball while playing Nikoloz Basilashvili in Masters 1000 action. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Matthew Stockman: Felix Auger-Aliassime at Miami Open presented by Itau
For me, 2019 was an exciting year to cover tennis as I really started to see a blending of the old guard with the Next Gen players. To see the still rough-around-the-edges play of players such as Zverev, Tsitsipas and Medvedev on centre court with the true legends of the game, Roger, Rafa and Novak, is quite special.

I like to capture the nuances in each player's game that makes them unique. My favourite images are ones that show the physicality, as well as the poise, necessary to compete at the top level of the men’s game.


Peter Staples' Best of 2019 pick: Bob Bryan receives a piggyback ride from wife Michelle after winning his first title since returning from hip surgery.

Peter Staples: Bob Bryan at Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com
[My favourite photo is of] Bob Bryan after his first win with Mike since surgery the year before, at Delray Beach, celebrating with his wife Michelle giving him a piggyback ride watched by two of their kids. It was an emotional win especially as he had doubts in December that he would ever be able to play professional tennis again.

After many years of photographing Bob and Mike they were very comfortable with me documenting their celebration with family and friends, and I think it's always in the back of their minds that there won't be too many chances left in their careers to win with the kids watching. Bob spontaneously leapt on his wife's back (apparently something they do at home) and I was lucky to catch the moment. I love his young daughter off to the left, hands on hips, smiling at her parents.

Posted: December 12, 2019, 9:56 pm

The 24 teams competing in the inaugural ATP Cup present a wide range of ages and experience on the ATP Tour. But the diversity of Team United States is especially noteworthy with its top two singles players, John Isner and Taylor Fritz.

The 34-year-old Isner and 22-year-old Fritz hold the biggest age difference between the top two singles players among any country in this event. Although they possess different playing styles and personalities, they’re aligned in their ability to thrive during team competitions. They will seek to continue that trend when they compete alongside Reilly Opelka, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek in Group D in Perth, facing Russia, Italy and Norway.

”We don’t get to compete that often as a team, with fellow players cheering you on from the side of the court. Winning and losing certainly adds a lot of extra energy to matches when you’re playing for your country, but I’ve found it does help me to play better,” Fritz said. “It’s going to be great to play alongside John.”

Read More: Fritz: 'Team USA Will Bring A Lot Of Firepower'

Fritz generated headlines this year by posting a career-best season, capturing his maiden ATP Tour title in Eastbourne (d. Querrey) and cracking the Top 25 of the ATP Rankings in August. His Laver Cup win for Team World against Dominic Thiem also marked his first victory against a Top 5 player. 

Isner finished inside the Top 20 for the 10th consecutive year, a feat that only the Big Three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have also accomplished. The veteran American prevailed in Newport (d. Bublik) and finished runner-up at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Miami (l. to Federer). Isner also represented Team World for the third straight year and said he's always eager to take part in team events.

”I’ve always enjoyed playing for a team. I’ve really done it my whole life. Playing in the team events... has been a joy for me and you definitely can get your competitive juices flowing after a pretty long layoff,” Isner said. “It’ll be pressure-packed on top of that, being out there playing for your country right out of the gate. I do think that will be a very good thing for me and hopefully it will bode well for the Australian Open next year.”

Isner has been the top gun of American tennis for most of this decade, finishing as the highest-ranked American player in seven of the past eight seasons. Although he credits hard work and staying healthy as pivotal to his strong results, he also believes the resources he’s had access to on home soil will continue to shape his success.

”It’s the greatest country in the world,” Isner said. “You have the most opportunity to do amazing things in this country and I’ve been afforded that opportunity through tennis. Everything you really want to do is at your disposal if you work hard, focus, make the right decisions and respect the people that you need to respect. I think that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

Isner and Fritz have also been on opposite sides of the net, with the veteran American leading 2-1 their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry. But now that their strengths will be united, both men believe that they can defeat any team if they're in top form.

”Even though I can hit a serve, I’ve always admired John’s serve. He makes it look so effortless, but I know just how hard he works to develop repetition and rhythm, so when it comes to a match, his big weapon is on,” Fritz said. “I think the serve and power will be the key weapons of [Team] USA. It’s going to be tricky to compete against countries with two highly-ranked players, but that’s going to be the big challenge.”

Posted: December 12, 2019, 4:34 pm

Ivan Dodig is Croatia's No. 1 doubles player at World No. 12, and the 34-year-old may play a key role at the inaugural ATP Cup. Dodig will likely partner the world's No. 15 doubles player, Nikola Mektic, when their country competes in Group E action in Sydney against Argentina, Austria and Poland. Croatia's other players are Borna Coric, Marin Cilic and Viktor Galovic.

ATPTour.com catches up with Dodig to find out which Croat he looked up to growing up, which shot from a countryman he'd like to add to his repertoire and more.

Which countrymen did you watch playing tennis when you were growing up?
Obviously for all us Croatian players, Goran Ivanisevic was the first guy. We were looking at him, he was our idol and I think many of us would say Goran was the main key for us to start playing tennis. He was a big inspiration for many kids and he is still the reason why I think many good Croatian players are coming on the Tour.

If you could take one stroke from any other player on your ATP Cup team and add it to your game, what would that stroke be?
I would take Cilic’s forehand. He has a powerful forehand. I think it is his best stroke. My forehand, when I played singles, was my weakest shot. I improved every year, but still I always did much better [with the] backhand. I was missing that forehand.

What are the first Australian animals that come into your head?
I know everybody is scared of the spiders there. Kangaroos.

What are the three things you love most about Croatia?
Sea, weather and food.

What do you like most about Australia?
I like Australia a lot. I always said it would be my second country I would choose to live in. It has beautiful weather, beautiful cities and amazing food. It is the perfect country to live [in]. Unfortunately for us from Europe, it is a little bit too far to travel in our sport but, in general, I very much like the country.

Which player would most likely be late for an ATP Cup dinner?
It is going to be Marin Cilic or Borna Coric. One of them. They are always a bit… It’s okay, they are stars, they are our first two players, so they can always get a little bit of credit.

Posted: December 12, 2019, 3:01 pm

The depth and experience of Team France have immediately marked them as one of the frontrunners to prevail at the inaugural ATP Cup.

Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire, Lucas Pouille, Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin look to bring France out of Group A in Brisbane, where they’ll take on Serbia, South Africa and Chile. All five players have experience in team competitions and thrive on the opportunity to represent their country.

”I played in all the teams since I was 14 in France. I played under-14, under-16 and under-18. To me, French teams are really important,” Mahut said. “When you play tennis, you are mostly alone on the court or sharing good and bad moments with your coach. For once a year, you are with your teammates wanting to achieve the same goal. It is what I like in team sports.”

There are no weak links in the lineup. France is the only team with three players inside the Top 25 of the ATP Rankings.

Teams With Top 25 Singles Players

Country
Total Players
France 3 Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire, Lucas Pouille
Russia 2 Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov
Italy 2 Matteo Berrettini, Fabio Fognini
Spain
2
Rafael Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut
Canada
2
Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime

Monfils returned to the Top 10 last month after an outstanding season that included an ATP Tour title in Rotterdam (d. Wawrinka) and semi-final finish at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Montreal. Paire re-entered the Top 25 on the back of tour-level crowns in Marrakech (d. Andujar) and Lyon (d. Auger-Aliassime). Pouille recorded his maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open and reached the quarter-finals at the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati.

The trio regularly practise and spend time together during tournaments, creating a strong bond over the years that will only deepen during the event.

”I like being on a team a lot. You can feel the pressure when you’re playing for your country, so I'm very happy to play in the ATP Cup,” Paire said. “Monfils is older than me and Pouille is younger than me, but I know them well and we are good friends. It will be interesting to be on the same team.”

Mahut and Roger-Vasselin bring a wealth of experience and success on the doubles court. Their combined ATP Doubles Ranking is the second-best among the 24 participating teams.

Best Combined ATP Doubles Rankings

Country
Combined Rankings Players
Germany 20 Kevin Krawietz (9) and Andreas Mies (11)
France 21 Nicolas Mahut (5) and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (16)
Croatia 27 Ivan Dodig (12) and Nikola Mektic (15)
Great Britain
45
Jamie Murray (23) and Joe Salisbury (22)
United States
66
Austin Krajicek (42) and Rajeev Ram (24)

The pair first teamed up at the pro level in 2002 and quickly hit it off, sparking a partnership that has only continued to grow. They’ve won six ATP Tour doubles crowns together and took the title this October in Tokyo (d. Mektic/Skugor), in addition to reaching their maiden Grand Slam final as a team this year at Wimbledon (l. to Cabal/Farah). Mahut also enjoyed success this season with another Frenchman in Pierre-Hugues Herbert, prevailing at the Nitto ATP Finals (d. Klaasen/Venus) Australian Open (d. Kontinen/Peers) and Masters 1000 event in Paris (d. Khachanov/Rublev).

Roger-Vasselin said, "We are coming from the same area in France, so we grew up [together]. We’re almost the same age, so we know each other for a long time. It’s definitely better to win with a friend and it helps on court to know each other for a long time.”

The depth of France’s lineup even extends to their captain, Gilles Simon. The veteran player is currently No. 55 in the ATP Rankings, which would be good enough to play singles on several of the teams competing this year. With plenty of experience competing against his teammates and their opponents, Simon will be able to offer valuable insight that could help lead France to victory.

”I am really excited to be on the court with him on the bench… [He’s] a good friend of mine,” Mahut said. “Tactically, he is really strong. He can see quick on the court.

”We will start in Brisbane and hopefully finish in Sydney (as part of the Final Eight). I want to see how this works. I am really excited about this competition.”

Posted: December 11, 2019, 5:39 pm

Rafael Nadal just posted the fourth-best return numbers by a year-end No. 1 in the past 29 years.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers breakdown of year-end No. 1 players since 1991 identifies that Nadal’s 2019 season eclipses the other four times he finished year-end No. 1 in 2017, 2013, 2010 and 2008. The analysis comes from the ATP Return LEADERBOARD, powered by Infosys NIA Data, and is determined by adding the winning percentages in the following four areas:

  • First-Serve Return Points Won
  • Second-Serve Return Points Won
  • Return Games Won
  • Break Points Converted

Interestingly, the leading five spots for return metrics by a year-end No. 1 from 1991 to 2019 are all from the previous nine years (2011-2019), showing a clear correlation that we are currently in the “golden era” of the service return.

Leading Five Years 1991 - 2019: Return Rating
2011 - N. Djokovic (180.3)
2012 - N. Djokovic (172.2)
2016 - A. Murray (172.2)
2019 - R. Nadal (170.8)
2013 - R. Nadal (169.6)

As a comparison with serving, only two year-end No. 1 players (Djokovic 2015 / Nadal 2017) from the past decade are also ranked in the top 10 spots for serving.

Nadal’s 2019 return rating of 170.8 was also good enough to elevate him to the top spot on Tour in the specific category in 2019, a place he has not occupied since 2016.

Rafael Nadal: 2019 Season Return Win Percentage & Rating

Return Strategy

Win %

Rating

First-Serve Return Points Won

34.9%

1

Return Games Won

35%

1

Second-Serve Return Points Won

55.9%

2

Break Points Converted

45%

3

The return has always been a strength of Nadal’s game. Amazingly, at 33 years of age, the Spaniard is finding ways to squeeze more out of it, helping elevate him back to the No. 1 ATP Ranking, which he has now occupied for 202 weeks in his illustrious career.

Rafael Nadal: 2004 - 2019 Year-End Ranking & Return Rating

Year-End Ranking

Year

Return Rating

4

2012

179.6

9

2016

177.9

2

2005

176.8

3

2014

174.7

2

2018

174.4

2

2011

171.9

2

2009

170.8

1

2019

170.8

1

2013

169.6

1

2008

168.0

2

2007

166.2

1

2017

164.3

5

2015

159.9

51

2004

159.7

1

2010

159.2

2

2006

157.7

-

AVERAGE

168.8

Posted: December 11, 2019, 4:15 pm

Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPTour.com pays tribute to the first-time winners of the 2019 season. In part two of our two-part series, we look at the year's final seven first-time winners.

Adrian Mannarino - ‘s-Hertogenbosch [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Adrian Mannarino reached a career-high World No. 22 in 2018, but he had lost the first six ATP Tour finals of his career. The French lefty overcame that record at the Libema Open in ’s-Hertogenbosch, defeating Jordan Thompson 7-6(7), 6-3 to finally taste a tour-level title.

"People are going to stop talking [about my finals record]," said Mannarino. "In France, we have another player, Julien Benneteau, who lost 10 finals and never won a title. Every time I was losing a [final] I was on my way to Benneteau... This is a big achievement for me. I am not pretending to be Top 10 or anything. Winning a title on the ATP Tour level is already something amazing for me, and I cannot be more thankful to all the people who helped me get to this title."

Mannarino advanced to two more ATP Tour finals this season, falling short in Zhuhai and Moscow.

Adrian Mannarino defeats Jordan Thompson in two hours and one minute to win the Libema Open title on Sunday.

Taylor Fritz - Eastbourne [First-Time Winner Spotlight]
In February 2016, at 18 years and three months, Taylor Fritz reached the Memphis final. That made him the youngest American to reach a tour-level final since then 17-year-old Michael Chang won the Wembley 1989 crown, and the first American teenager to advance to a championship match since Andy Roddick in 2002.

More than three years later, Fritz reached his second ATP Tour final at the Nature Valley International, and he would not let slip the opportunity, defeating countryman Sam Querrey 6-3, 6-4 for the trophy.

"It's so amazing. I almost can't even believe it. I'm still trying to take it in," Fritz said. "I've wanted to win a Tour title ever since I made the final of one when I was 18. It feels like I've just been waiting so long. I'm so happy."

Fritz made two more finals in 2019, finishing runner-up in Atlanta and Los Cabos.

Taylor Fritz dropped one set en route to the Nature Valley International trophy.

Lorenzo Sonego - Antalya [First-Time Winner Spotlight]
This year’s Turkish Airlines Open Antalya featured two first-time ATP Tour finalists in Lorenzo Sonego and Miomir Kecmanovic. And although Kecmanovic earned a championship point in the second set, it was Sonego who was victorious 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-1.

The Italian carried a six-match tour-level losing streak into the tournament, but he won three three-setters en route to the title.

"It is the first title and I am so happy for my family, for my coach, for all the people who support me," said Sonego. "I like, so much, playing on the grass, it was fun.”  

Lorenzo Sonego celebrates with ball kids after capturing the Turkish Airlines Open Antalya trophy on Saturday.

Nicolas Jarry - Bastad [Match Report]
In his third ATP Tour championship match, Nicolas Jarry made his breakthrough at the Swedish Open, defeating Juan Ignacio Londero 7-6(7), 6-4 for his first title.

“It is amazing. I am really happy for [the title],” said Jarry. “It was a really tough match… Juan Ignacio was playing great. There was a lot of wind and I couldn’t manage to play as well as the other days, but [with] titles, you have to win them as you can and I am really happy to be able to pull this one off.”

Jarry joins his grandfather, Jaime Fillol Sr., as a tour-level titlist. Fillol Sr. lifted six tour-level trophies between 1971 and 1982, including four crowns on clay, and he reached a career-high No. 14 in the ATP Rankings in 1974.

Nicolas Jarry converts two of two break points to beat Juan Ignacio Londero in the Swedish Open final on Sunday.

Dusan Lajovic - Umag [Match Report]
Dusan Lajovic reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. And although he didn't lift the trophy, it didn’t take long for the Serbian to enter the ATP Tour winners’ circle.

Lajovic beat qualifier Attila Balazs 7-5, 7-5 to win the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag. “It was a match that I’ll remember for the rest of my career,” said Lajovic. “I couldn’t be happier that I won. I had to work for every point, so I’m tired now, but also relieved to have to won my first title.”

Lajovic lost only one set in the tournament, ousting big-hitting Russian Andrey Rublev in his opening match. He broke four times in the final to triumph after one hour and 51 minutes.

Dusan Lajovic wins the title at 2019 Umag

Hubert Hurkacz - Winston-Salem [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Hubert Hurkacz entered the spotlight in 2018 when he qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals. The Pole did not let slip his momentum in 2019, winning his first ATP Tour title at the Winston-Salem Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 triumph against Benoit Paire.

Hurkacz became the first Pole to capture a tour-level crown since Wojtek Fibak’s WCT Chicago victory in 1982. Hurkacz needed three sets three times during the week, and he also defeated Denis Shapovalov in straight sets in the semi-finals.

“I am so glad that I have been able to win an ATP Tour event,” said Hurkacz. “I hope many more guys will join me soon and that I will win some more. It means a lot to me and I am glad that I won this tournament here."

Hubert Hurkacz is the 14th first-time tour-level titlist of 2019.

Denis Shapovalov - Stockholm [First-Time Winner Spotlight]
Shapovalov reached his eighth tour-level semi-final at the Stockholm Open. The Canadian had been winless in his first seven semi-finals.

But Shapovalov would not be denied in Sweden, ousting Yuichi Sugita in the last four and then Filip Krajinovic in the final to lift his maiden ATP Tour trophy. The lefty saved the only break point he faced to beat the Serbian 6-4, 6-4 in the championship match.

“I am definitely super happy and just really proud,” said Shapovalov. “Me and my team have worked really hard to get into this position of lifting a title, so I am really proud of myself and proud of my team right now.”

Shapovalov rode the momentum to his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Rolex Paris Masters, where he fell short against Novak Djokovic. Nevertheless, the Canadian climbed to a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 15 to finish the season.

Denis Shapovalov wins 93 per cent of first-serve points (28/30) to beat Filip Krajinovic in the Intrum Stockholm Open final on Sunday.

Posted: December 11, 2019, 4:11 pm

The ATP has announced the appointment of Massimo Calvelli as the ATP Chief Executive Officer, beginning 1 January 2020.

Calvelli brings a wide range of tennis and executive experience to the position and was the unanimous choice of the ATP Board of Directors. The 45-year-old Italian has been a highly respected sports executive in global sales, marketing, operations and product development for the past 20 years.

Calvelli will work closely with fellow Italian Andrea Gaudenzi, who becomes the new Chairman of the ATP on 1 January 2020. The two will serve in a new split role at the helm of the ATP, replacing the combined position of ATP Executive Chairman and President, currently held by Chris Kermode through to the end of 2019.

“I am delighted and honoured to be appointed as the new CEO of the ATP,” said Calvelli. “I have been involved in professional tennis for most of my life and I look forward to bringing my passion and knowledge of the sport into this role. It’s a very exciting time to be involved with the ATP Tour as we strive to build on the growth of recent years, and I look forward to getting started in January.”

Most recently, Calvelli was employed by Nike where he worked across multiple functions and oversaw all aspects of global tennis sports marketing. During his time at Nike, he has led negotiations with many of the sport's global icons. Previously, the former professional tennis player was the Global Business Director for Wilson Sporting Goods.

Gaudenzi said: “Together with the ATP Board of Directors, I am delighted to welcome Massimo as the new CEO of the ATP. We share a great passion for the sport and I’m confident our diverse business experiences will serve the Tour well as we work on the future direction of men’s professional tennis.”

The appointment of Calvelli concludes an extensive leadership recruitment process undertaken over the last eight months by the ATP Board of Directors, with the assistance of global leadership advisory and executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

Posted: December 11, 2019, 10:51 am

Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas enjoyed his well-earned post-season vacation. The Greek visited Iceland – a long-time bucket list destination – Cyprus, where also he went last year, and Oman.

Tsitsipas decided on his final trip at the last minute because he was itching for “something exciting, something new, something fresh”.

It was one of the best couple of days that I spent this year, with a few of my friends. We had a lot of fun, and the experience overall was great,” Tsitsipas told ATP Uncovered in an exclusive interview in Dubai.

But the 21-year-old Tsitsipas, who finished the 2019 season at a career-best year-end ATP Ranking of No. 6, was eager to get back to work and start his 2020 pre-season training. Just as there was so much for him to explore in the off-season, there is so much for him to improve in the pre-season.

I was ready for it, I really wanted to start. I really feel like there are things to improve all the time. For me, the pre-season is an exciting part of the year where I get to add things to my game and get to fix a few things that haven't been working, or maybe I can slightly improve them. It's three weeks in which I can benefit a lot and learn even more,” he said.

Tsitsipas is coming off his best season yet, winning three ATP Tour titles from six finals, and he brings the best momentum possible into the 2020 pre-season, having won the biggest title of his career at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals at The O2 in London.

Tsitsipas beat Roger Federer in the semi-finals and Dominic Thiem for the title. The 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals champion was strengthened by overwhelming support from his Greek fans at The O2.

That benefitted me a lot, gave me such a boost and brought my game to such high energy levels. You cannot ask for anything better. It was a great, great week with good fan support, a good team around me,” Tsitsipas said. “I left London with a trophy, which was just, I couldn't really believe what just happened.”

All of his fans, not just the ones with white and blue flags, boosted Tsitsipas throughout the season, especially during his down moments. The Greek had opening losses at eight tournaments, including at ATP Masters 1000 events in Montreal and Cincinnati and at the season's final two Grand Slams, Wimbledon and the US Open.

But he finished the season strong, making his third Masters 1000 final in Shanghai and winning the title in London.

“I did have a lot of moments this year in which I didn't feel very confident and I was doubting myself. The fans played an important role in bringing me back to life, my family as well, the other people around me. They knew that I was struggling, I wasn't hiding this from them. I managed to take my time, think and process and come back stronger. I think we all have the ups and downs, and it's normal to reflect on them and use them as a source of strength,” Tsitsipas said.

Watch: Tsitsipas' Journey From Milan To London

The 21-year-old takes his relationship with his fans seriously, knowing how much support he has derived from them. He finds ways to connect with them directly. For instance, during the off-season, Tsitsipas has produced two travel vlogs for his YouTube channel.

“I love to interact with my fans. They bring so much to me. They motivate me, they inspire me to be, not just a better tennis player, but also a better human being,” he said.

“I think the relationship with my fans has to always be the best because they bring so much to the table. They help me so much with my career. For me, it's key to maintain a good relationship with them and to connect with them in levels where they feel they know you as a friend.”

Tsitsipas will rely on his fans again in 2020 as he seeks more Sunday smiles during his fourth full season on the ATP Tour. Tsitsipas will be aiming for his first ATP Masters 1000 title and his first Grand Slam championship in the new year.

His season will begin with full-fledged Greek support Down Under. Tsitsipas will lead Greece at the inaugural ATP Cup, to be held 3-12 January in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. Greece will compete in Brisbane against Germany, Canada and Australia in Group F.

It's going to be a very strong start of the season. We'll have many difficult things to face at the ATP Cup, so it won't be easy for us. And we're going to have to bring the best out and work as a unit and work as a team,” he said. “I know we're playing individually, but what makes it exciting is playing as a team and sticking together and playing for one cause.”

Posted: December 10, 2019, 9:46 pm

Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPTour.com pays tribute to the first-time winners of the 2019 season. In part one of our two-part series, we look at the year's first eight first-time winners. This season, with 15 first-time champions, produced the most first-time winners since 1999, when 16 men claimed their first tour-level title.

Alex de Minaur - Sydney [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Alex de Minaur broke into the spotlight in Australia in 2018, reaching the semi-finals in Brisbane and his first ATP Tour championship match in Sydney. This year, he lifted his maiden trophy in his home country, defeating veteran Andreas Seppi 7-5, 7-6(5) to triumph at the Sydney International.

"It's surreal. I couldn't think of a better place to get my first win," said De Minaur. "It's been tough, because I have played a couple of finals and things haven't gone my way. To finally be able to take that step further and get my first win, it's something that's really special in front of friends and family and on the courts I grew up [on]. [These are] definitely memories that are going to last forever."

The first first-time winner of the season also ended up being the youngest, emerging victorious at his home event when he was 19. De Minaur became the youngest Sydney champion since his mentor Lleyton Hewitt lifted the trophy in 2001. He was also the first Aussie to win the event since Bernard Tomic in 2013.

De Minaur won three ATP Tour titles in 2019, also triumphing in Atlanta and Zhuhai.

De Minaur

Tennys Sandgren - Auckland [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Tennys Sandgren departed the ASB Classic in 2018 with two tour-level wins for his career. This season, Sandgren left Auckland with his first ATP Tour trophy after defeating Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-2.

"I'm a little bit at a loss for words, honestly. A lot of work, a lot of training and a lot of sacrifice goes into even making a final and to get a win, I'm kind of speechless," Sandgren said on court. "Just grateful that I can be out here, play and compete.”

Norrie had beaten the American in three consecutive ATP Challenger Tour events in September and October of 2017. But Sandgren found some of the tennis that helped him to the 2018 Australian Open quarter-finals to dismiss Norrie in 79 minutes.

Sandgren

Juan Ignacio Londero - Cordoba [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Juan Ignacio Londero began the Cordoba Open without a tour-level victory. Not only did he reach the final without dropping a set, but he rallied from a set down to defeat Guido Pella in the championship match 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, completing a dream run.

“It is an incredible feeling, for sure, and I did not expect to win the tournament. I came hoping to win one, two matches, even though I felt I was on a very good level. I knew I was training well, winning practice sets,” Londero said. “It's really something that I will never forget.

Londero was not a one-tournament wonder, either, winning 22 tour-level matches this season and finishing inside the Top 50 of the year-end ATP Rankings.

Londero is in disbelief after winning his first ATP Tour title

Reilly Opelka - New York [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Reilly Opelka began the New York Open as World No. 89. He came from a set down in three of his first four matches to reach his first tour-level final, and clinched his maiden ATP Tour title with a 6-1, 6-7(7), 7-6(7) win against Brayden Schnur, also a first-time finalist.

Then 21, Opelka saved six match points in the second-set tie-break of his semi-final against John Isner, with the Americans setting a new ATP Tour record for most combined aces in a three-set match with 81. Opelka struck 43 and Isner hit 38.

But Opelka didn’t stop there, overcoming a second-set hiccup in the final against Schnur to convert his sixth championship point.

“This [title] is definitely what I’m most proud of,” said Opelka. “I was tough mentally, especially losing a lot of first sets this week, and my first serve really helped me out. I was able to play clutch in those big moments."

Opelka Wins 2019 New York Open

Laslo Djere - Rio de Janeiro [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Laslo Djere began his run at the Rio Open presented by Claro with a straight-sets win against top seed and 2017 titlist Dominic Thiem, his first victory against an opponent inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. And the Serbian finished his week with his first ATP Tour title, defeating fellow first-time finalist Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 7-5 to lift the trophy.

It was an emotional triumph for Djere, whose mother had passed away seven years earlier, and his father died two months before the tournament. His victory speech on court after the match went viral, gaining support on social media from countless players, including Novak Djokovic.

“It’s been the week of my dreams. So many things have been achieved here. I’m really happy, excited and emotional now. I’m happy I could push through this match because it was very tough mentally and physically.”

Djere Wins Rio 2019

Radu Albot - Delray Beach [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Radu Albot overcame the rain, three championship points against him and a tricky opponent in the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com final to win his first ATP Tour title, defeating British qualifier Daniel Evans 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(7). Albot was the first Moldovan to lift a tour-level trophy.

"It feels unbelievable. You work so much. You work your whole life, your whole career, and at the end you win a tournament," Albot said. "This is just a great feeling. I think it's difficult to put into words."

Albot had made only two previous ATP Tour semi-finals, winning four games apiece. But the Moldovan used his Delray Beach success as a springboard to a breakthrough season, reaching a career-high World No. 39 and earning just short of $1 million in prize money.

Radu Albot lifts his first ATP Tour trophy.

Guido Pella - Sao Paulo [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Guido Pella led by a set and a break in the Cordoba Open final, before Londero found his form and raced back for the first title of his career. But the Argentine lefty did not let the disappointment consume him, bouncing back at the Brasil Open with a 7-5, 6-3 win against Cristian Garin to lift his first ATP Tour trophy.

“Today was my day,” Pella said. “After five finals, it was time that I won the match. I didn't know what to say, what to think. It was a very emotional moment for me. I'm not used to crying a lot and today was unbelievable."

Pella had lost his first four finals, with all five of his championship matches coming on clay. Pella finished the season tied for third with Rafael Nadal with 21 clay-court wins.

Guido Pella

Cristian Garin - Houston [First-Time Winner Spotlight
Like Pella, Garin was undeterred after losing a final. The Chilean lifted his first trophy at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, defeating Casper Ruud 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3 for the title.

"It was a really intense match today. I think what I did well was to keep playing my game throughout the match," said Garin. "Of course, now I want more, so I have to keep working hard and improving every day."

Garin almost didn’t make it past the second round, saving five match points against Jeremy Chardy. He would later win his second ATP Tour title in Munich, also on clay.

Christian Garin holds the trophy in Houston.

Posted: December 10, 2019, 3:41 pm

The Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2019 ATP Awards goes to the player who reached a significantly higher ATP Ranking by year’s end and who demonstrated an increasingly improved level of performance through the season. This year's nominees are Felix Auger-Aliassime, Matteo Berrettini, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The winner, as selected by the players, will be announced later this month.

Player 2018 Year-End 2019 Year-End Career-High (Date) 
Felix Auger-Aliassime No. 109 No. 21 (+88) No. 17 (October 14) 
Matteo Berrettini  No. 54  No. 8 (+46) No. 8 (November 4)
Daniil Medvedev No. 16 No. 5 (+11) No. 4 (September 9)
Stefanos Tsitsipas No. 15 No. 6 (+9) No. 5 (August 5)

Felix Auger-Aliassime
Felix Auger-Aliassime has been making headlines since he was 14, when he became the first player born in the 2000s to earn a position in the ATP Rankings. In 2017, at 17 years, 1 month and 5 days old, he became the fourth-youngest player to crack the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings. In 2019, the Canadian kept making strides – in fact, achieving a career-high ATP Ranking 13 times during the season. From No. 108 at the start of the year, the 18-year-old peaked at No. 17 in October and became the youngest player ranked in the Top 25 since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999.

Auger-Aliassime started his season by playing qualifying matches, but a breakthrough run in February at the Rio Open presented by Claro – where he became the youngest ATP 500 finalist in history (l. to Djere) – lifted him more than 40 spots into the Top 60. The following month, as a qualifier, he became the third-youngest ATP Masters 1000 semi-finalist at the Miami Open presented by Itau, a result that pushed up into the Top 50 at No. 33 in the ATP Rankings.

The Canadian reached another clay-court final in Lyon (l. to Paire) and again in his first grass-court tournament in Stuttgart (l. to Berrettini), making him the youngest three-time ATP Tour finalist since Rafael Nadal in 2004-05. By the US Open, Auger-Aliassime – who shares a birthday with Roger Federer – had earned his place in the Top 20. Though he qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals, he had to cut his season short in mid-October due to injury, but he still finished the year at No. 21. 

"It’s been a solid year!" he posted on Instagram. "Truly blessed and thankful to be nominated among these other great players of our sport ðŸ™�ðŸ�½ Much love to all of you fans for supporting me throughout the past 11 months♥ï¸� #ATPAwards"

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Matteo Berrettini
Even Matteo Berrettini didn’t aspire to finish his season at the Nitto ATP Finals. “Being here wasn't a goal at the beginning of the year. Also before the US Open, I didn't expect that. I wasn't thinking about that,” he said. “I knew that I was playing good in springtime, like [during the] clay season. It's just crazy that it happened.”

In 2018, Berrettini’s first full year on the ATP Tour, he compiled a 19-19 record, reached a high of No. 52 and won the Gstaad title. In 2019, the 23-year-old Italian finished with 43 match wins, a career-high No. 8 ATP Ranking and two more titles.

Berrettini started making his move in April, when he reached back-to-back clay-court finals in Budapest (d. Krajinovic) and Munich (l. to Garin) to break into the Top 50. He continued his climb, rising into the Top 20 with a strong grass-court campaign that included the Stuttgart title, the Halle semi-finals and Wimbledon Round of 16 (l. to Federer).

While the Italian was limited to one tournament in the lead to the US Open, he made the most of his appearance in Flushing Meadows, where he reached his first Grand Slam semi-final. With players battling for a place in the top eight in the ATP Race To London, Berrettini advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Rolex Shanghai Masters. A semi-final run at the Erste Bank Open lifted him into the Top 10, and Berrettini went on to clinch the final qualification spot at the Nitto ATP Finals during the Rolex Paris Masters. “I’m really proud of myself... It’s been an unbelievable season,” he said.

Matteo Berrettini

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev enjoyed a solid campaign in 2018, winning his first three tour-level titles – including the ATP 500 in Tokyo (d. Nishikori) – and reaching No. 16 in the ATP Rankings by year’s end. “It's hard to explain because when I was No. 15, I was good already. Then I wanted to get into the Top 10, which is never easy. I just want to see how far I can go… I know that to be high up in the [ATP Rankings], you have to do a significant effort, but I'm trying to do my best,” he said.

Medvedev’s best helped him achieve an ATP Tour-leading 59 match wins, 46 hard-court wins and nine final appearances in 2019, in addition to a career-high No. 4 ATP Ranking. He opened the season with a runner-up finish at the Brisbane International, followed by the Sofia Open title, a semi-final run at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (d. Tsitsipas, Djokovic) and a final appearance in Barcelona (l. to Thiem).

Medvedev broke into the Top 10 following Wimbledon, and proceeded to take things to another level. For a three-month stretch, from the end of July through mid-October, the 23-year-old Russian went on a 29-3 tear with six straight finals. After runner-up finishes at the Citi Open (d. Kyrgios) and the Coupe Rogers (l. to Nadal), Medvedev claimed back-to-back Masters 1000 titles at the Western & Southern Open and Rolex Shanghai Masters. In between those triumphs, he impressed at Flushing Meadows as he rallied from two sets down against Nadal in the US Open final before falling in four hours and 51 minutes. He also celebrated his home country title at the St. Petersburg Open.

“My goal is still the same: to be better every day with each training, each tournament [and] to win tournaments,” said Medvedev, who qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. “It's been working well so far. It's a source of real pleasure.”

�� pic.twitter.com/9PqbURpTIz

— Daniil Medvedev (@DaniilMedwed) November 28, 2019

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Only one player to date has won Most Improved Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons: Novak Djokovic in 2006-07. Stefanos Tsitsipas has a chance of becoming the second after going from Next Gen ATP Finals champion in 2018 to Nitto ATP Finals champion in 2019.

The 21-year-old Greek finished the season in the best possible way, and he also opened 2019 with a statement win. At the Australian Open, he knocked out World No. 3 Roger Federer – ATPTour.com’s top upset at a major this season – en route to becoming the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Djokovic in 2007. Tsitsipas followed with a pair of ATP 250 titles in Marseille and Estoril and was runner-up at three other tournaments. He ousted No. 2 Rafael Nadal to reach his second ATP Masters 1000 final at the Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Djokovic), and was a finalist at the ATP 500s in Dubai (l. to Federer) and Beijing (l. to Thiem). He additionally recorded his first win over a No. 1 player when he defeated Djokovic in the Rolex Shanghai Masters quarter-finals.

Tsitsipas, who reached a career-high of No. 5 in early August, put together a debut to remember in November at the season finale, where he recorded straight-sets wins over Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Federer before prevailing against Dominic Thiem 6-7(6), 6-2, 7-6(4) in the final.

“I feel like my game is getting better over time...I'm competing against one of the best players in the world, and the amount of effort and the amount of work I put every day deserves to have an outcome like this,” he said following his triumph. 

Inches make champions @atptour pic.twitter.com/z3o8AAQQjA

— Stefanos Tsitsipas (@StefTsitsipas) November 17, 2019
Posted: December 10, 2019, 12:11 am

Imagine hitting your first serve out wide in the Deuce court and winning a perfect 22 of 22 points. Impressive.

Now take it up a level and do it in the pressure-cooker situation of 15/40 on the big stage at ATP Masters 1000 events. That’s something special, and that’s exactly what Stan Wawrinka achieved this season.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the year-end Top 20 of the ATP Rankings identified that Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov, Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev were all able to save 100 per cent of their break points at 15/40 to a specific first serve target in the Deuce court service box. The data set is comprised of Masters 1000 events in 2019 and the Nitto ATP Finals.

The leading five players out of the year-end Top 20 to save break point at 15/40:
Grigor Dimitrov = 96% (24/25)
Stan Wawrinka = 88% (44/50)
Fabio Fognini = 84.6% (33/39)
Denis Shapovalov = 83.3% (45/54)
Stefanos Tsitsipas = 80.5% (66/82)

Winning 100 Per Cent To A Specific Location
Wawrinka’s effort to win 22/22 out wide in the Deuce court was jaw-dropping, but he wasn’t the only one to be perfect at a particular serve spot. Below is the breakdown of the four players saving break point from 15/40 to the three first serve locations of wide, body and T.

First Serves Wide at 15/40
Stan Wawrinka = 100% (22/22)
Grigor Dimitrov = 93.3% (14/15)
Denis Shapovalov = 88.2% (15/17)

First Serves Body at 15/40 (minimum of four attempts)
Daniil Medvedev = 100% (5/5)
Matteo Berrettini = 83.3% (5/6)
Fabio Fognini = 75% (3/4)

First Serves T at 15/40
T1. Fabio Fognini = 100% (16/16)
T1. Grigor Dimitrov = 100% (10/10)
3. Dominic Thiem = 88.0% (22/25)

Overall, the year-end Top 20 served almost the same amount out wide as down the T (421-419), but the T delivered the highest win percentage.

First Serve Breakdown at 15/40 - Total and Win Percentage

First Serve Direction

Total Serves

Win Percentage

Wide

47.7% (421)

74.6%

Body

4.8% (42)

64.3%

T

47.5% (419)

79.2%

Sometimes it’s about hitting your favourite first-serve location when the pressure meter goes through the roof. Other times it’s about hitting it where you opponent doesn’t expect it.

Posted: December 9, 2019, 9:10 pm

Sinner's Statement Season
It was a breakthrough unlike any other. The incredible ascent of Jannik Sinner is arguably one of the biggest storylines on the ATP Challenger Tour in recent history.

From competing in Tunisia and Kazakhstan on the ITF circuit in January to lifting the trophy at the Next Gen ATP Finals in November, Sinner's rapid rise was as awe-inspiring as it was shocking. In just the fourth Challenger appearance of his fledgling career, the Italian lifted the trophy on home soil in Bergamo in February. He was outside the Top 500 at the time and only 17 years of age.

Having chosen to forego a lengthy junior career in order to grit his teeth on the professional circuit, the decision paid dividends. It allowed Sinner to accelerate his maturation and development and that was evident throughout his 2019 campaign.

Sinner's victory in Bergamo not only made him the youngest winner of the year, but the youngest Italian champion ever. Then, his second triumph on the hard courts of Lexington put him in elite company as one of just 11 players aged 17 & under to win multiple titles. That list includes the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and recently Felix Auger-Aliassime. And Sinner was not done there. His campaign would come full circle with a season-ending triumph on home soil in Ortisei, becoming the second-youngest player to win three titles in a calendar year.

Amidst all the achievements and milestones, it was his rise up the ATP Rankings that stands out most. From a year-end position of No. 763 in 2018 to a Top 100 breakthrough to conclude his 2019 season, the Italian soared a total of 685 spots. To establish your game against world-class competition at such a young age, and have the level of sustained success that Sinner did, is purely remarkable. He would finish with a 28-7 record and was one of just four players with a win percentage of .800 or higher.

Tallahassee

Nordic NextGen Revolution
The Nordic renaissance is kicking into high gear on the pro circuit. Never before have the northernmost European nations of Norway, Sweden and Finland enjoyed simultaneous success like they are today.

In recent years it has been top Norwegian Casper Ruud leading the charge. And in 2019, Mikael Ymer and Emil Ruusuvuori carried the #NextGenATP mantle for the Nordic nations.

The soaring Swede and the flying Finn were two of the dominant forces on the ATP Challenger Tour this year, with both featuring atop the titles leaderboard alongside James Duckworth and Ricardas Berankis. Ymer's four crowns guided him to a debut appearance at the Next Gen ATP Finals, while 20-year-old Ruusuvuori became the youngest to win as many titles in a season since Hyeon Chung in 2015.

Ymer, who cracked the Top 100 in late September, also finished in fifth among win-loss percentage leaders, posting a 39-10 (.796) record. His dominant finish to the season included back-to-back indoor titles in Orleans and Mouilleron-le-Captif and a first Top 40 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Ruusuvuori, meanwhile, will be one to watch in 2020 as he continues his Top 100 push. Up to a career-high No. 124 in the ATP Rankings, he rose nearly 300 spots since the start of the year, when he was competing full-time on the ITF circuit. In fact, it wasn't until April that he played his first Challenger this season. And it didn't take long for him to start a ruthless run of 36 wins, capped with a title on home soil in Helsinki.

That feeling when you win the title in your hometown. 😊🙌@EmilRuusuvuori is the champion at the inaugural Tali Open in Helsinki. The FOURTH title of the year for the 🇫🇮. pic.twitter.com/0FlChPK4IK

— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) November 17, 2019

The Duck's Domination
No one enjoyed more success on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2019 than James Duckworth. One year after Jordan Thompson led the tour in victories and trophies, it was his countryman who achieved the feat to conclude the season.

In the penultimate week of the season, Duckworth capped his campaign with a 49th match win and fourth title, prevailing in Pune. After undergoing a litany of surgeries in recent years, including foot, shoulder and elbow operations, the Aussie is finally back inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since 2017.

Not only did Duckworth lead the tour with those 49 wins and four pieces of silverware, his rise of 145 spots in the ATP Rankings made him one of the biggest movers to the Top 100. The 27-year-old put in the work, reaching finals and winning titles throughout the world, from Bangkok to Las Vegas and Pune and Playford. The victory in Pune assured him of direct entry into the 2020 Australian Open.

40+ Match Wins & 3+ Titles In 2019

Player Match Wins
Titles
James Duckworth
49
4
Andrej Martin
47
3
Gianluca Mager
43
3

You Always Remember Your First
A total of 32 players entered the winners' circle for the first time this year. They ranged from 17-year-old Sinner to his 27-year-old countryman Lorenzo Giustino and also included #NextGenATP prospects Ruusuvuori, Ymer, Thiago Seyboth Wild, J.J. Wolf, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Yosuke Watanuki. The 19-year-old Seyboth Wild became the youngest winner from Brazil since 2012, while Ruusuvuori was the first from Finland since 2013.

Dominik Koepfer benefitted greatly from his maiden title on the lawns of Ilkley, earning a Wimbledon wild card and then streaking to the Round of 16 at the US Open. Soonwoo Kwon and Kamil Majchrzak also cracked the Top 100 soon after clinching their first titles, with Kwon also reaching the quarter-finals at the ATP Tour stop in Los Cabos and Majchrzak storming to the third round at the US Open.

With @RhyneWilliams in his corner, @DominikKoepfer is soaring towards the Top 100.

But can they keep it together on camera? The struggle is real. pic.twitter.com/CUQ4fYL1FK

— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) August 22, 2019

Emilio Gomez and Federico Coria won back-to-back titles on the clay of Tallahassee and Savannah in April. Gomez is the son of former World No. 4 Andres Gomez, while Coria is the brother of former World No. 3 Guillermo Coria.

In a unique twist, Lucas Pouille won his first Challenger title just months after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals. Seeking confidence and momentum, he returned to the circuit in Bordeaux and became the first player to win his maiden Challenger title after his first ATP Tour crown since Kei Nishikori and Sergiy Stakhovsky both did it in 2008.

The Italian Onslaught
The green, white and red flag flew proudly on many occasions in 2019, as Italy continued to rack up the titles. The European nation led the ATP Challenger Tour with 15 titles from 10 different players this year. Sinner and Gianluca Mager both lifted three trophies, with Stefano Travaglia capturing a pair of crowns. We all know of Sinner's surge, but Mager and Travaglia also impressed with a combined 80 match wins.

The Arizona Tennis Classic in Phoenix provided two especially memorable moments for Italians. Salvatore Caruso earned the upset of the year with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over World No. 21 David Goffin, while Matteo Berrettini kicked off his journey to the Nitto ATP Finals with a title at the inaugural Challenger. Berrettini became just the fourth player to win a Challenger title en route to qualifying for the season finale since 1995.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Sonego successfully defended his title on home soil in Genova, leading to a year-end position of No. 52 in the ATP Rankings. He is one of just five players to win on both the ATP Tour and ATP Challenger Tour this year, having also claimed his maiden tour-level crown in Antalya.

The 🇮🇹 renaissance has arrived.

Get to know 17-year-olds Giulio Zeppieri and Lorenzo Musetti, as they continue their #ATPChallenger journeys.

📽 https://t.co/IdCaAmwI23 pic.twitter.com/X0wEyjPTOL

— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) July 21, 2019

On The Comeback Trail: Tsonga, Pospisil & Chung
Working your way back from injury in Challengers can be a difficult process, even for the most established stars on the ATP Tour.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga admitted that "playing in Challenger tournaments helped me find the reasons why I was playing tennis again". The charismatic Frenchman was forced to find his game after undergoing left knee surgery, entering the season outside the Top 250. A perennial Top 20 player for his entire career, he found himself in uncharted territory, competing in his first Challenger since 2007. Tsonga would lift the trophy on home soil in Cassis, en route to a 230-spot jump in the ATP Rankings to year-end World No. 29.

Fellow former Top 30 stars Vasek Pospisil and Hyeon Chung are also on the comeback trail after lifting trophies in their returns from injury. Pospisil won 16 of 18 matches to close the season, including back-to-back titles in Las Vegas and Charlottesville. He is one year removed from undergoing back surgery to repair a herniated disc. And Chung was forced to the sidelines for six months early in the 2019 season, but returned with a vengeance. The Korean reeled off 13 of 14 matches including a title in Chengdu in his first tournament back.

Tsonga: Challengers Helped Me Find The Reasons I Was Playing Tennis

Challenger Grads Step Up On ATP Tour
After breaking through on the Challenger circuit in 2018, many players did not waste any time in making strides on the ATP Tour. Juan Ignacio Londero, Reilly Opelka, Christian Garin and Hubert Hurkacz all won their maiden titles after dominating on the ATP Challenger Tour a year ago. Felix Auger-Aliassime took the leap as well, peaking at No. 17 in the ATP Rankings. And fellow #NextGenATP stars Miomir Kecmanovic and Casper Ruud both reached their first finals in Antalya and Houston, respectively.

Who will be among this year's graduates as the calendar flips to 2020?

Moving On Up: Challenger Stars Make Seamless Transition

Feel-Good Story Of The Year: Christopher O'Connell
Since 2014, the 25-year-old O'Connell has been battling on the ITF circuit and ATP Challenger Tour to realize his dreams. Many years grinding outside the Top 200 can take its toll on any player. Just last year, the Aussie took up a second job cleaning boats while recovering from a knee injury. But perseverance pays off and that is certainly applicable for O'Connell.

From not having an ATP Ranking to open the 2019 season to sitting at a career-high No. 120 to conclude his campaign, the Sydney native made the most of his opportunities this year. After reaching nine finals on the ITF circuit from March to July, he took the next step and lifted his first Challenger trophy on the clay of Cordenons. And he was not done there, advancing to three more finals and adding another trophy in Fairfield. There, he earned his first Top 100 win in three years, upsetting Steve Johnson in the championship match.

The Unstoppable Tommy Paul
Of all players with at least 30 matches played in 2019, no one had fewer losses than Paul. The American dominated from start to finish, carrying the momentum from his maiden title in Charlottesville to conclude the 2018 season. This year, he posted a staggering 30-5 record and finished in second place among win percentage leaders (.857), only behind Ricardas Berankis (.889).

Behind a mature approach and more determined attitude, the 22-year-old stepped up under pressure. A first clay-court title in Sarasota was followed by victories in New Haven and Tiburon. It was in New Haven that Paul cracked the Top 100 for the first time, eventually peaking at No. 81 in the ATP Rankings.

Giron Saves Six Championship Points In Houston
On the penultimate Sunday of the season, Marcos Giron turned in arguably the most improbable comeback of the year. The American rallied from 1/6 down in the deciding tie-break to stun Ivo Karlovic for the Houston title. He saved SIX match points in the process, including two on the Karlovic serve.

Giron concluded his campaign exactly how it started, having opened the 2019 season with a maiden title in Orlando. The 26-year-old is just shy of the Top 100, jumping to No. 102 in the ATP Rankings.

A Debut For The Ages: 15-Year-Old Carlos Alcaraz
The month of April was one for the kids on the ATP Challenger Tour. In back-to-back weeks, Carlos Alcaraz became the first player born in the year 2003 to win a match (in Alicante) and Italy's Lorenzo Musetti became the first born in 2002 to win a match (in Sophia Antipolis).

In fact, at the ripe age of 15, Alcaraz became the fourth-youngest match winner since 2000. Only Felix Auger-Aliassime, Rafael Nadal and Nikolai Soloviev were younger when they won their maiden match. And the fact that Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner was the Spaniard's first victim makes the occasion even more special.

Alcaraz would go on to reach the third round in Murcia the following week, securing his first Top 200 win, and added a quarter-final finish in Sevilla in September.

Varillas Puts Peru On The Map
Tennis in South America is on the rise. The continent is steadily making progress on the professional scene, with Nicolas Jarry and Cristian Garin bringing Chile back into the spotlight and Hugo Dellien putting Bolivia on the map. In October, it was Peru's turn to enter the fray.

Juan Pablo Varillas secured his nation's first Challenger crown in 11 years with his maiden title on the clay of Campinas. And one week later, he would notch a second title in Santo Domingo, soaring to No. 142 in the ATP Rankings.

Zhang Makes History For China
In 2016, Wu Di lifted China's first ATP Challenger Tour trophy. One year later, Wu Yibing became its first teenage titlist. And last month, Zhang Zhizhen joined his countrymen in securing a slice of history, claiming the first ever all-Chinese final in Shenzhen.

It was a second title for the Shanghai native nicknamed 'ZZZ', having also prevailed in Jinan earlier this year. He is up to a career-high No. 139 in the ATP Rankings - the highest ranking ever earned by a Chinese player.

Purcell & Saville Dominate Doubles Circuit
Playford, Launceston, Zhangjiagang, Anning, Seoul, Binghamton and Traralgon. Seven titles, three continents, one impressive team.

Max Purcell and Luke Saville dominated the doubles circuit in 2019, securing seven trophies and a whopping 41 match wins together. The Aussie pair also appeared in three ATP Tour events together, earning their first match victory on the circuit in Antalya.

20 Years On, Roger Reflects
Two significant 20-year anniversaries arrived in 2019. In April, we reflected on the first Challenger title of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero - in Napoli 1999. And in October, it was Roger Federer's turn, celebrating 20 years since his lone trophy lift in Brest, France.

Federer's first professional title was a critical moment in his fledgling career. He dropped one set en route to the Brest crown, defeating Max Mirnyi 7-6(4), 6-3 in the championship.

Victor Bids Farewell
It was one of the more emotional scenes to transpire on a tennis court, as Victor Estrella Burgos said goodbye in Santo Domingo. They came in droves for the final act in the career of their legend. For five years, the Santo Domingo Open - the biggest ATP Challenger Tour event in Latin America - has been one big party at Club La Bocha. And for this edition, the home faithful packed the club to support their native son.

On Monday, they danced, sang and cheered in full throat, as the 2017 champion earned the final match victory of his career. And on Tuesday, they danced some more, screamed even louder and cried as Estrella bade farewell with a defeat to Thiago Monteiro. The tears flowed in the stands and on the court, as the 39-year-old sent a backhand into the net and promptly crouched to the green clay.

Read Tribute

Heilbronn, Puerto Vallarta, Vancouver Honoured
It was a party from start to finish, as three tournaments received their 2018 Tournament of the Year awards. The NECKARCUP in Heilbronn, Germany, the Puerto Vallarta Open in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and the Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver, Canada were all honoured in front of the home fans.

The trio of tournaments held special ceremonies as the ATP presented them with their respective trophies. They were fitting tributes for the three events voted highest by the players.

'Murray Trophy' Makes Debut
It was a special season for the Murray brothers on the ATP Challenger Tour. In late August, Andy Murray appeared in his first Challenger since 2005. In search of more matches and confidence in his comeback from hip surgery, the former World No. 1 competed in Mallorca, Spain.

One month later, the circuit welcomed the 'Murray Trophy' for the first time as Challenger tennis returned to Glasgow, Scotland. Jamie Murray was instrumental in making the dream a reality, not only competing in the doubles, but also taking a hands-on approach in the organisation of the event. His passion and commitment to growing the game and making the tournament a success was evident throughout the week.

Chardy Leads New Era In Pau
Jeremy Chardy kicked off a new era in his hometown of Pau, France. While many former ATP stars have assumed the role of Challenger tournament director over the years, none are still competing on the pro circuit. That is, until Chardy undertook the task of starting a tournament in his hometown.

The Terega Open celebrated its inaugural edition in February, as the World No. 51 oversaw the development, management and organisation of the event. With years of knowledge and experience from competing on the professional circuit, Chardy was well-equipped to meet the needs of the players, while giving back to his hometown and the surrounding region.

Four Tournaments Celebrate 20th Anniversaries
The Challengers in Barletta, Italy; Tallahassee, USA; Fergana, Uzbekistan and Bratislava, Slovakia all celebrated 20 years on the circuit. The tournaments have demonstrated steadfast commitment to growing the game at the Challenger level since the 1990s.

Tallahassee

Posted: December 9, 2019, 7:31 pm