March 25, 2023

After three days of group play at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, the semi-finals are set for Friday in Milan.

Group winners Brandon Nakashima and Dominic Stricker will both look to take their strong form into the knockout rounds after finishing the round-robin stage with perfect 3-0 records. The American will face Jack Draper in a Top 50 showdown while Stricker meets Jiri Lehecka, with both second-place finishers securing their progress with wins on Thursday.

We look ahead with previews of both marquee matchups at the Allianz Cloud.

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[4] Brandon Nakashima (USA) vs. [3] Jack Draper (GBR)

One of two returning players in Milan, along with Lorenzo Musetti, Nakashima has matched his 2021 result at the 21-and-under event by reaching the semis. Set to age out of the competition next season, the experienced American has attacked this year’s event with great purpose. He enters his meeting with Draper on the heels of seven consecutive sets won; after a five-set victory against Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi in his opening match, he scored straight-sets wins against Lehecka and Francesco Passaro to seal his place atop the Green Group.

The fourth seed improved with each round-robin match and used a dominant serving performance to ease past Passaro on Thursday, 4-3(4), 4-2, 4-1, saving the only break point against him. Nakashima’s dominance on his own delivery is demonstrated by his 8.6 Serve Quality score, a metric which uses a variety of statistical inputs to measure a shot’s effectiveness on a 10-point scale.

Nakashima Serve Quality

“I thought my level was really high today,” Nakashima said after defeating Passaro. “It was nice to see it carrying over from yesterday. To come out and play like that was super special.”

While Nakashima needed to win only one set against the Italian to guarantee progress to the knockout rounds, Draper faced a win-or-go-home matchup against home favourite Musetti on Thursday evening. The Briton played his best match of the week in a 4-1, 4-0, 4-3(3) win to deny the Italian an extended run in front of the Milan crowd.

“I like crowds, if they are with me or not,” Draper said after the victory. “This is what I have wanted to do since when I was younger. I wanted to entertain people. This is why I train every day.”

He’ll hope to enjoy more support as he seeks to hand Nakashima his first loss of the week.

“Brandon’s obviously playing great tennis,” the Briton said, looking ahead to Friday night’s match. “He’s won that group, top of the group, so when I play him tomorrow I know it’s going to be a really tricky match. Hopefully I can play the same way I did today.”


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Draper did not face a break point against Musetti and will aim to use his serve and powerful ground game to pin the American back on the slick hard courts. But Nakashima’s game is also based on aggression, with the American hitting his way to his first ATP Tour title earlier this season in his home city of San Diego. 

Expect a heavy dose of first-strike tennis as both men seek their first title in Milan. If their Pepperstone ATP Rankings are any indication, this one could go down to the wire: Nakashima is the World No. 49, while Draper sits at a career-high No. 41.

[7] Dominic Stricker (SUI) vs. [5] Jiri Lehecka (CZE)

Stricker did not just survive the loaded Red Group — he thrived by earning victories against the two highest-ranked players in the Milan field. But the Swiss’ wins did not come easily against Draper and World No. 23 Musetti.

In an all-lefty battle, he edged Draper in three tie-breaks despite a one-for-seven mark on break points. Stricker followed that up with a historic 4-3(5), 4-3(6), 3-4(7), 3-4(6), 4-3(3) win against Musetti in which he fired a tournament-record 20 aces. The late-night thriller is the only match in the history of the event to feature five tie-breaks.

With one eye on the semi-finals, his status as group winner secured after Day 2, Stricker completed his perfect group campaign with a dominant victory against Chun-Hsin Tseng on Thursday — no tie-breaks needed.

“It was not easy for me to come out here and play my best again because mentally, of course you’re already thinking a bit more of tomorrow, of the semis,” Stricker said post-match. “But I think handled it very well, I played a great match and I’m super happy with my performance. Now I can think all about tomorrow.”

Lehecka secured his semi-final place with a straight-sets win against Arnaldi on Thursday. He beat two Italians to advance, earning an opening win against Passaro on Tuesday, also in three sets.

“When I came here, my goal was to qualify for the semi-finals and then anything can happen,” the Czech said after advancing to the knockout rounds. “I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

The 21-year-old can draw from his experience of reaching the semis in Rotterdam, where he came through qualifying to make a shock run at the ATP 500 event, claiming his first tour-level wins in the process. While he lost to 2019 Milan champ Stefanos Tsitsipas in that semi-final, Lehecka is now two wins away from matching the Greek’s feat at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.

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