Stefanos Tsitsipas ended a fabulous year on a high as he defeated Alex de Minaur to win the Next Gen Finals in Milan.
The Greek has firmly established himself as one of the leading lights of his generation and he triumphed over another tipped to have a bright future with a 2-4 4-1 4-3 (7-3) 4-3 (7-3) win against the Australian.
Both have made remarkable strides this season.
Tsitsipas finished the year as world No. 15 with impressive runs to the finals of Barcelona and, particularly, the Rogers Cup – a Masters 1000 event – while he lifted a first tour-level title in Stockholm.
De Minaurs climb to just outside the top-30 is all the more impressive when one considers he began 2018 outside the top-200. Finishing as runner-up in Washington and Sydney were among the 19-year-olds best results.
Their respective efforts saw them honoured in the annual ATP awards, with Tsitsipas named as the most improved player and De Minaur crowned as newcomer of the year.
Following Denis Shapovalovs withdrawal, the pair were the top-ranked players at the experimental event in Milan, and their supremacy was evident as they both went unbeaten through the event to reach the final.
Comeback of the year: Novak Djokovic
Most improved player: Stefanos Tsitsipas
Newcomer of the year: Alex de Minaur
Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award: Rafael Nadal
Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award: Tommy Robredo
Coach of the year: Marian Vajda
Fans favourite singles player: Roger Federer
Fans favourite doubles team: Mike Bryan/Jack Sock
ATP Masters 1000 event of the year: Indian Wells
ATP 500 event of the year: Queens
ATP 250 event of the year: Stockholm
The finale itself was a match always likely to deliver. Both have drastically differing gamestyles, which made viewing easy on the eye.
Despite his tender years, De Minaur has already established himself as one of the pluckiest fighters on the ATP Tour, while he boasts breathtaking speed – much like his mentor and two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt.
Tsitsipas – whose looks have been compared to legendary Swede Bjorn Borg – has an aesthetically pleasing one-handed backhand and more natural power than his opponent, while possessing plenty of fight of his own.
In the shortened first-to-four-games format, theres little chance of recovery from a break – and so it proved in each of the first two sets as they shared the spoils.
It remained difficult to split the pair in the third, with a tiebreaker required at 3-3, but it was the Greek who stepped up to get himself in front for the first time in the match.
De Minaur saved two match points in the last game of the fourth and, ultimately, final set but it was Tsitsipas who once again triumphed in the tiebreak to secure a win that will leave a sweet taste after a remarkable season as he was crowned the best of his contemporaries.
After the match, the Greek sensation said: ”It feels great. Ive been playing some great tennis this week in Milan.
I have huge respect for him, his game and his personality. It was a fantastic match, I stayed calm. I was mentally very strong and that proved in the tiebreak in the last set. Im very happy.
De Minaur added: Its been an unbelievable year. Its a shame it couldnt finish with a win but I couldnt be prouder. Congratulations to Stef and his team for an amazing year and an amazing week.
Earlier on Saturday, Russias Andrey Rublev won the third-place play-off, defeating Spains Jaume Munar 1-4 4-3 (7-4) 2-4 4-2 4-3 (7-3) to end whats been a tough season on a high.
Most of all Spanish players are really good fighters and I knew at the beginning it would not be easy, the 21-year-old said after the match.
Hopefully Im going to make the pre-season like I never did before and I can perform well next season and can compete with the top players.