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.”
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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 🙏🏽 Much love to all of you fans for supporting me throughout the past 11 months♥️ #ATPAwards"
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
4 Andrej Martin
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Roberto Bautista Agut will be playing for Team Spain at the inaugural ATP Cup in January. His country leads Group B, which will be contested in Perth. Spain will compete against Japan, Georgia and Uruguay with the hopes of advancing to Sydney.
Bautista Agut is the highest-ranked No. 2 player for any country, coming in at No. 9 in the ATP Rankings. The 31-year-old joins Rafael Nadal, Pablo Carreno Busta, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Feliciano Lopez in an effort to bring the title home for Spain.
The nine-time ATP Tour champion spoke to ATPTour.com about what it was like for him growing up in Spain, when he first met Nadal and what he most loves about his country.
What are some of your early memories of tennis growing up in Spain?
I remember when I was at the club, when I was spending almost every day there. My parents were dropping me off at 9am and they were collecting me at 9pm. I was almost there all day at the club, and this was the best thing. I remember I was playing all day with my friends, and that was nice.
Was tennis your main focus throughout your childhood?
I started playing tennis when I was five and I was playing soccer and tennis until I was 14. After that it was just tennis.
Growing up, who were the players from Spain you admired the most?
When I grew up I was watching TV and I was admiring the Spanish players. I was watching Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer. I was also admiring Carlos Moya, Sergi Bruguera, Rafael Nadal, all the Spanish players I was watching on TV.
What was special about them?
I like tennis and I like also the players that play for their country… it was fun to watch them.
Is there anything in particular about the ATP Cup that you’re excited about?
I’m excited because it’s going to be the first time [having this event] in Australia and Rafa and I are going to play there. I hope we have a good team and can play a good week for Spain.
Since you’re playing with Rafa, do you remember when you first met him?
Yes, we were playing in the Under 18s, a Spanish Championship. He was 16 and I was 14. I already heard very good things about him. I remember he left the tournament going to play Wimbledon juniors. I don’t remember if he won it or he played the final, but he was already showing the champion he is right now.
What do you think will be the most special part about being on a team?
It’s always fun to play on a team. I spent a week at Laver Cup and team competition brings more emotions in the game. You play for your team and it’s really fun.
Who’s the funniest Spanish player?
Marc Lopez. He’s funny. He’s always open and he never says something serious.
Of all the Spaniards, if you could take one shot from them, what would it be?
I would take the serve of Carlos Moya, the courage and legs and the fighting spirit of David Ferrer. I would take Nadal’s forehand and Ferrero’s backhand.
What are three things you love about your country?
The weather, the kindness of the people and the food.
Is there anything in particular that reminds you of home?
I really miss the food from Spain. I really miss my family and my friends. It’s not easy to travel as many weeks as we do. But I really enjoy when I go back there and I spend a few days at home. It’s very powerful for me.
One year ago, the Novak Djokovic Foundation raised more than $100,000 during its Season of Giving campaign, allowing it to open two kindergartens in Serbia. And now, the World No. 2’s foundation is beginning another Season of Giving campaign, attempting to reach $100,000 again.
The goal of the campaign is to provide 200 children access to a quality preschool education by opening new kindergartens, and the Djokovic family is poised to match all donations for the second straight year.
“Every child is a unique human being, full of undiscovered potential and talents. The power to shape their future and make the world a better place is in all of us,” Djokovic said in a statement. “By investing in the early development of children, apart from helping to form these young individuals and empowering them to grow into their potential, we are also investing in the future of the entire society”.
In February, the Novak Djokovic Foundation opened its first kindergarten of 2019 in the Macvan Prnjavor village, funding the reconstruction of an old health centre, modernising it and providing tools for more than 150 kids to attend preschool for the first time. Three working rooms and a common area at a preschool in Svilajnac was reconstructed and refurnished to allow for 75 additional children in the area to attend.
“Providing equal opportunities to children from all parts of our country is the mission of the Novak Djokovic Foundation and something we strive toward at all times. We have been cooperating with “Dečja radost” pre-school institution and Svilajnac municipality since 2014, when we had reconstructed and adapted the pre-school institution after floods, and it is our pleasure to return for such a nice occasion,” said Novak Djokovic Foundation Co-Founder and Global CEO Jelena Djokovic at the opening of the Svilajnac kindergarten. “The expansion of the capacities of the existing kindergarten is an encouraging beginning for children who will be able to learn, play and get true support here.”
The Novak Djokovic Foundation is also in the process of opening a kindergarten in Indjija next year. It has opened 44 kindergartens throughout Serbia and impacted more than 22,000 children and 1,500 teachers with its efforts. It received an ATP ACES For Charity grant in 2013 and 2017. and in 2012, Djokovic was named the ATP Tour's Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year.
Not only is the Novak Djokovic Foundation providing new opportunities for children, but it is also helping experts in the field with their research. In 2016, the Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship was launched at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Last year, the Djokovic Scholars initiative at the University of Belgrade was created to support new PhD students who are focussing their efforts on early childhood education and development.
Novak Djokovic and Jelena Djokovic also opened the seventh Friendship Games in Kopaonik this September, providing a week’s worth of activities for more than 130 local children who otherwise would not have the opportunity.
“Children always remind us what happiness is and how little it takes to get a genuine smile from them. Playing and spending time with friends are the best childhood memories, and our team is working daily to make sure every child in Serbia has those memories,” Novak Djokovic said at the time. “The smiling faces of these children are the best proof that what we’re doing, we’re doing right, and they are a motivation for us to keep going.”
The Serbian, who finished inside the top two of the year-end ATP Rankings for the eighth time, will begin his 2020 season at the ATP Cup in Brisbane before competing in Adelaide.