From Friend To Foe: De Minaur Ousts Tiafoe To Reach Milan Final
Top seed Alex de Minaur and second seed Frances Tiafoe have spoken highly of each other all week at the Next Gen ATP Finals, but their fist pumps and roars after winners in Friday’s semi-final made it clear that their friendship would be put aside for the night.
After 73 minutes of high-quality tennis, it was the Aussie who moved past Tiafoe 4-2, 4-1, 0-4, 4-2 and reached the Milan final for the second consecutive year. De Minaur hit 25 winners to just 15 unforced errors and improved to 2-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry.
“It’s difficult, but easier in some ways [to play a friend]. It’s easy because you know that no matter what happens on the court, you’re still going to be the best of friends. In the same manner, you’ve got to remember that you're opponents,” De Minaur said. “I’ve got to get in the zone, fired up and motivated, but it worked out today.
“It’s never easy playing someone like Frances. He has immense firepower and he’s never going to give up. I didn’t have my best third set, but I was able to bounce back and come up clutch in that last game.”
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De Minaur improved to 8-1 in Milan with his win over Tiafoe. The 20-year-old arrived at a career-high No. 18 in the ATP Rankings after clinching his first three ATP Tour titles this season in Sydney (d. Seppi), Atlanta (d. Fritz) and Zhuhai (d. Mannarino). He also reached the final two weeks ago in Basel (l. to Federer).
Awaiting him in the championship match is the winner of Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic and Italian Jannik Sinner. De Minaur has never played Sinner, but he beat Kecmanovic on Wednesday in their lone FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
"I’m just going to prepare for tomorrow like every match,” De Minaur said. “I’m happy to still be here and looking forward to the final.”
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A big forehand from De Minaur gave him the first break of the night at 1-1 in the opening set. The top seed was in firm control early on, overpowering Tiafoe from the baseline and picking the right moments to move forward. De Minaur continued his dominance with a four-game run in the second set, winning 14 of the last 19 points for a commanding advantage.
Tiafoe utilised the in-match coaching option before the third set and Zack Evenden urged him to give an "unconditional" effort. The advice worked and Tiafoe yelled in delight after scoring a break in the opening game. The second seed landed all 12 of his first serves and won 75 per cent of his return points (9/12) to shut out De Minaur in a nearly flawless set.
But as he had in two of his matches this week, De Minaur regrouped brilliantly after dropping a set. He stayed even with his opponent in the fourth set and made his move in the final game. With Tiafoe serving at 2-3, the top seed cracked a backhand winner at 30/30 to set up match point. He converted his chance when a forehand error from the American wrapped up the match.