King Carlos: Blockbuster Next Gen Title Won By Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: ATP Tour video)

MILAN/WASHINGTON, November 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Saturday evening’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals title match featured stars-in-the-making Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and Sebastian Korda of the United States, the top two players in the week-long competition in Milan, Italy. Both brought 4-0 records onto the court at Allianz Cloud and after the one-hour and 22-minute final concluded, it was Alcaraz celebrating with a 4-3 (5), 4-2, 4-2 triumph.

In their highly-ancitipated, first head-to-head clash, these two young stars of the game – Alcaraz is ranked 32nd while Korda is 39th – gave a great performance. There was little room for error and each at different times stepped forward and handled the pressure that accompanied playing in a prestigious final.

The victory meant the 18-year-old Alcaraz became the youngest player to garner 32 tour-level victory’s in a single season since Andrei Medvedev (32-11) in 1992 at age 18.

After Alcaraz beat Argentina’s Sebastian Baez in Friday’s semifinal round, he said: “The final is going to be really, really tough. Sebastian is playing great tennis and I am really excited to play against him for the first time.

“It would be amazing to win the the title but I am going to be facing a really good opponent, so we will see.”

Coming in, both Alcaraz and Korda, 21, had 31 wins and knew that garnering a 32nd victory would reward them handsomely, with a big trophy, a huge prize-money check – $400,000 to the winner, $258,000 to the runner up – and, just as important, prestige. The winner would be the first from their country to win the Milan trophy.

“I’ve never practiced with him, I’ve never played him in a match,” Korda said after he defeated fellow-U.S. competitor Brandon Nakashima in five sets on Friday. “Hopefully, we can have a lot of battles in the next coming years. He’s playing some incredible tennis, really aggressive player and really strong mentally. So, yeah, it will be a new challenge and I’m really looking forward to it.”

In the first set of the title match, won by Alcaraz in a tie break, the young Spaniard saved five of five break points and Korda dropped just one point on his first serve. However, it Alcaraz who executed best and, down 4-5, won the final three points of the tie-break set to prevail.

Then, in the second set, Alcaraz gained a valuable break of his opponent’s serve to go ahead 3-2. He won on a deciding point after Korda sprayed a backhand wide of its mark. The American, just a little bit off his game, walked back to his bench visibly frustrated. Meanwhile, Alcaraz maintained a cool demeanor during the changeover. He handled his front-runner status well throughout the tournament. Serving for the set, Alcaraz hit a running volley forehand winner to bring up set point, then put it away in real style with his fourth ace to take a commanding two-sets-to-none lead.

With his back against the wall, Korda knew if he was going to pull out the title match, he would have to go the distance like he did against France’s Hugo Gaston in group play at the start of the week, when he dropped the first two sets and then pulled off three straight like a magician. However, like a man on a mission, Alcaraz remained calm and aggressive. He staved off a break point during his first service game with a seventh-shot backhand winner to hold. It was the sixth break point he had saved during the match. Then, Alcaraz immediately broke Korda on his second opportunity of the third game after Korda hit a fifth-shot backhand long to go ahead 2-1.

Two games from the Next Gen ATP Finals title, Alcaraz consolidated the break from the previous game with equal parts power and grace for a 3-1 lead. Later, Korda saved two break points, the first with a forehand winner and the second when Alcaraz netted a second-shot return. However, with the match on his racquet, ahead 3-2, Alcaraz didn’t throw away his shot. Instead, at 40-30, he won on his third match-point opportunity with an overhead winner – his 17th winner of the match – that completed his 32nd victory of the season – and the week – in smashing fashion. Alcaraz outpointed Korda 62-56.

Afterward, in his on-court interview, Alcaraz said: “It is amazing. To be able to win this tournament means a lot to me. I am so excited right now and emotional. I was very, very nervous at the start. I had to be calm to save the break points. I know Korda is serving very well, so I had to play my best in those moments.”

Asked what he was thinking the last couple of games, especially when the first two match points went by the wayside before he closed it out on his third one, Alcaraz replied: “When I lost the two match points in the return, I thought it was going to be tough with my serve. I started love-30 and had to be focused and stay calm in that moment. It was really, really tough.”

Korda took solace in finishing runner up to Alcaraz. “It’s been an incredible year for me,” he said. “I’ll take a couple of days off and then back to work. So I can do one step better and make the ATP Nitto Finals next year.”

Looking back, the young Spaniard came through in the end and it was mission accomplished. Throughout, Alcaraz showed the values of humility and of consistent hard work. He kept his head in all of his matches and played well under pressure. From starting the season ranked No. 141, Alcaraz soared more than 100 spots to No. 32 by the end of the season, won his first ATP Tour title at Umag, and upset Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to reaching the US Open quarterfinals.

Now, Alcaraz owns one of the biggest prizes in tennis – the Next Gen ATP Finals title – and with it, ends his season on a winning and very rewarding note.

By the numbers

Carlos Alcaraz became the second straight 18-year-old to win the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals trophy after Jannik Sinner captured the crown two years ago.

• This was the fourth straight time the top seed had advanced to the final in Milan and it was the second No. 1 versus No. 2 championship. In 2018, No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated No. 2 Alex de Minaur.

The champion and his prize