Hamad Medjedovic holds up the Next Gen ATP Finals trophy. (Photo: ATP Tour)

Hosted in Milan for the past five seasons, Saudi Arabia became the new destination for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia, which failed to disappoint.

Similar to the Nitto ATP finals, where the top eight battle it out on the blue hard courts, the tournament comprises the top eight highest-ranked players under 21.

That said, the contrasting rules are detailed as follows:

  • No on-court warm-up
  • Shot-clock reductions
    – Maximum of eight seconds between first and second serves
    – Time between points reduced from 25 to 15 seconds
  • Scoring format
    – Best of five tie-break sets
    – First to 4 games with a tie-break at 3-3
    – No-Ad scoring format as the server chooses the service box
  • Reduced changeovers
    – No change of ends after the first game
    – Reduced sit down of 90 seconds after the end of a set

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The finals format saw the top two from each group advance to the semi-final, with the groups outlined below:

Green Group

[1] Arthur Fils
[3] Dominic Stricker
[5] Flavio Cobolli
[7] Luca Nardi

Red Group

[2] Luca Van Assche
[4] Alex Michelsen
[6] Hamad Medjedovic
[8] Abdullah Shelbayh

As the final concluded on Sunday morning (AEDT), there were many intriguing storylines to reflect on.

Italy’s exciting generation

With the rise of Jannik Sinner making the front pages of the Italian papers and the nation’s first Davis Cup victory in 47 years, Italy’s golden generation has finally arrived.

Sinner (22), Lorenzo Musetti (21), and Matteo Arnaldi (22) are undoubtedly rising stars of the sport who have already made a name for themselves, but there are two more names that fans need to get used to.

Qualifying for the Next Gen Finals at 20 and 21, respectively, Luca Nardi and Flavio Cobolli produced signs during the group stage that the future of Italian tennis is incredibly bright.

Despite neither progressing past the group stage, Nardi competed until the end in a gripping five-set loss to provide a scare for number one seed Arthur Fils before defeating fellow countryman Cobolli in five.

Cobolli’s highlight was his opening game against number three seed Dominic Stricker, getting the better of the Swiss international through his strong defensive play, which is more suited to the clay courts, making his victory even more impressive.

Abdullah Shelbayh’s rapid rise

Entering the tournament as the lowest-ranked player (187) and relying upon a wildcard to participate, Abdullah Shelbayh has shown stunning growth, climbing the official rankings from 470 to 185 since the start of 2023.

Developed at the famous Rafael Nadal Academy, the Jordanian talent produced an inspired performance to take down American fourth-seed Alex Michelsen 4-2, 1-4, 4-0, 4-0 in what was the shock of the tournament.

The 20-year-old is capable of causing havoc all around the court with a strong serve behind him and crafty net play, which is often missing in the generation coming through.

Hamad Medjedovic claims the title: An unbelievable story

Consistently competing at the very top of men’s tennis for the past 15 years, Novak Djokovic has been Serbia’s hero and saviour. Now, Hamad Medjedovic is aiming to emulate his idol’s footsteps.

The 20-year-old lifted the Next Gen Finals trophy thanks to his win over Frenchman and favourite Arthur Fils in a memorable five-set epic.

After the match, Medjedovic confirmed per Associated Press that he was “on the edge of going crazy after the first set as I had two set points, but I managed to stay relaxed and focused.” That snippet is a sign of commendable maturity.

His name hasn’t caught the headlines and attracted massive media attention, but Medjedovic’s win in Saudi Arabia shouldn’t come as a surprise; claiming three Challenger titles this year as well as defeating former US Open champion Dominic Thiem on two occasions.

Tennis is known for its complicated financial barriers for players ranked lower than 300 in the world, having to pay for equipment, accommodation, and coaching staff from their own pocket in what is an expensive sport.

Eldin Medjedovic, the father of Hamad, shared a touching story of how Djokovic helped keep the Serbian youngster involved on the professional circuit.

“I remember the second conversation I had with Novak ever, we spoke about specific steps in Hamad’s career,” he said via ATP earlier this year.

“Novak was presenting me with ideas, what to do with Hamad’s game, and I remember telling him: ‘Nole, I am sorry, but the things you are talking about cost a lot of money!’ And he just keeps going about coaches, what are we going to do and how, and then says:

“All Hamad needs to do is to work hard, I will take care of the rest’. I told him again: ‘Nole, it costs a lot.’

“At that point, Novak told me:

“Edo, I am not doing this for the money! I make my money elsewhere, my role here is to help.

“What kind of man would I be if I would not help the kinds that deserve it, that love tennis and – on top of that – achieve good results?’

“I just stand there and he adds: ‘You know what we are going to do? One day, when Hamad makes it, you are going to take someone under your wings and help in the same way.’”

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