COMMENT: Next Gen Finals was outgoing ATP chief Chris Kermode’s finest achievement
Having been controversially shunted out from his role as ATP chairman and president, what will Chris Kermode be best remembered for?
The answer to that is overwhelmingly his creation of the Next Gen ATP Finals, which was first held in 2017. The showpiece event features players 21 and under, and the opening two installments have been a huge success.
Taking place at the end of the tennis season, seven of the brightest young male prospects and a wildcard compete in Milan, Italy, where they are able flourish and showcase their talents.
Kermode has also been able to trial out new technical formats such as the shot clock, freedom of movement between points, on-court male coaching through head sets and new scoring systems.
Of these new innovations, the shot clock has been introduced at Grand Slam level, most notably making its major debut at the US Open in 2018. The other innovations are not so popular as many are in favour of the current scoring system as they are familiar with it and believe itwill obfuscate and confuse people.
Meanwhile, the sheer drama that comes from deuce points that can go on for minutes would be lost and same with long topsy-turvy sets. By being reduced to first to four games instead of six, followed by a tie-break, the sport would certainly lose that level of excitement.
As for on court-coaching, that aspect of a cheat code wouldn’t be good for the game because it would spoil the whole fascination and challenge behind a player sussing out and figuring out for themselves how to beat an opponent. So, Kermode certainly had ideas, even if we were not all in favour of them.
The Next Gen Finals, however, is something that has been welcomed by fans and players across the game as a fine addition to the sport.
Young players are able to compete for a significant title which, at their age, has only helped made them stronger. The likes of Canadian star Denis Shapovalov, Croatia’s Borna Coric and America’s Frances Tiafoe have all benefited from the Next Gen notion.
Not only on the court, but off the court as well. Through media promotions, photo-shoots and interviews, these stars have been afforded some of the limelight that the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are accustomed to. It has also given them an early insight into how to deal with media pressures, so in that sense the Next Gen Finals has been an incredible new asset for tennis.
The careers of the first two Next Gen Finals champions have been boosted considerably. Hyeon Chung, the 2017 champion, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who triumphed in November 2018, have achieved other successes as a result of their Next Gen involvement. This is in large part thanks to Kermode’s work with the Next Gen Finals.
When Chung won Milan’s inaugural tournament at the end of the 2017 season, it not only boosted his ATP Ranking, but gave him a new legion of fans in South Korea. He then became a global star in Asia almost overnight.
He may be currently battling injuries and a dip in form, but many were beginning to identify him alongside 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori from Japan. It also brought immediate short-term success at the 2018 Australian Open where he went on to make the semi-finals, losing to eventual champion Federer.
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas enjoyed an almost paralleled carbon copy of Chung’s successes. Tsitsipas was victorious in Milan at the end of the 2018 season and immediately backed that up in the new season in Australia.
Few will forget his stunning victory over Federer in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
This transformation and growth in Tsitsipas would not have been possible had it not been for the Next Gen Finals. You could even argue that Federer’s two-time Australian Open defence may also have survived had it not been for Tsitsipas and the Next Gen Finals, who simply blew him off the court that day. So, its creation has certainly had effects across the men’s game.
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To the young Greek’s credit, he has fully utilised his Australian Open momentum to become a top 10 player.
As fans we may identify Tsitispas as the new Federer because of his long wavy hair, but at least now the sport is in safe hands with new stars prepared to take up the mantle and challenge Federer and Nadal in the twilight of their careers.
Follow James Spencer on Twitter @JamesTennis17
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