Nur-Sultan recap: Maiden title for Millman and what you might have missed

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At the first (and last?) Astana Open, John Millman captured his first ATP title. It was a great week for Millman, but not for players representing the host nation.

For obvious reasons, the Astana Open was overshadowed this week by the Erste Bank Open, which featured one of the best-ever fields for a 500-point tournament. There wasn’t much left for Nur-Sultan, where Benoit Paire was the No 1 seed. He would not even have been seeded in Vienna; not even close. Paire didn’t last long as the top seed, though, as he lost right away to Mikhail Kukushkin following a first-round bye. No 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic also dropped his opening match, but the other two first-round bye recipients went all the way to the final. It was Adrian Mannarino vs. John Millman for the title on Sunday afternoon, and it was Millman who became the last man standing for his first career ATP title.

Millman had been 0-2 in finals, but now 3-0 vs. Mannarino

Something had to give when Millman and Mannarino battled for the title. The Australian was 0-2 lifetime in ATP finals heading into Sunday, but at the same time he sported a 2-0 career record in the head-to-head series against Mannarino. Something had to give. And it turned out to be Millman’s past success against the Frenchman that proved to be more telling. The 31-year-old made it three for three at Mannarino’s expense and this one was not as competitive as the three-setters that they played last fall in Tokyo and this summer in Cincinnati. Millman cruised 7-5, 6-1, although it still required a lengthy one hour and 48 minutes for a relatively routine scoreline.

• Best match: Tiafoe tops Gerasimov

There were a whole host of dramatic matches in Nur-Sultan, one of those also produced some high-quality tennis just about from start to finish. In a quarter-final thriller, Frances Tiafoe outlasted Egor Gerasimov 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-5 in two hours and 35 minutes. The American fired six aces and managed to get the job done even though he won three fewer total points than his opponent (117 to 120). Gerasimov, who struck 14 aces, led by a break at 4-3 in the final set but could not get across the finish line. Tiafoe broke serve at 3-4 and again at 6-5 to clinch his hard-fought victory.

Key moments, performances and trends set

Millman saves two match points
Millman survived two tense matches on his way to the title. In the quarter-finals, he outlasted Tommy Paul 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(5) after two hours and 51 minutes. Paul twice led by a break in the third set, served for the match at 5-4, and had two match points on his own serve. Even after failing to close it out, the American seized a 5-0 lead in the ensuing tiebreaker. Millman completed his comeback by winning the last seven points of the contest, from 0-5 to 7-5. That preceded a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 semi-final defeat of Tiafoe. Millman became the fifth player this year to capture an ATP title after saving at least one match point earlier in the tournament.


Ruusuvuori’s first semi-final
Emil Ruusuvuori reached the first ATP semi-final of his young career before bowing out to Mannarino. The 21-year-old Finn beat Kazakh wild card Timofey Skatov, No 8 seed Jordan Thompson, and veteran Mikhail Kukushkin along the way.

Kazakh crisis
An unexpected ATP event in Kazakhstan did not turn out to be a productive one for representatives of the host nation. Kukushkin was the only Kazakh who won a match, in the main draw or even in qualifying. He defeated Federico Delbonis and Paire before getting blown out 6-3, 6-1 by Ruusuvuori.

Mind the stat: Mannarino’s missed chances

Mannarino fell to a wretched 1-9 lifetime in ATP finals with his loss to Millman on Sunday. The 32-year-old lost six before finally getting over the hump — twice each in the years 2015, 2017, and 2018. He finally triumphed for his one and only title so far last summer on the grass courts of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Mannarino proceeded to finish runner-up at two more tournaments in 2019 (Zhuhai and Moscow).

The punchline: Paire puts an end to his season

“Fin de saison.”

Paire kept it short and sweet following his exit from Nur-Sultan. His season — mercifully for the Frenchman, it has to be said — is over. The 31-year-old finished with a terrible 10-14 record after starting the 2020 campaign by winning six of seven matches. That’s right; Paire was 6-1 at one point and then went 4-13 the rest of the way. After returning from the five-month coronavirus hiatus, the world No 28 went 1-6 with two retirements.

• The picture of the week: Verdasco ready with his rackets

Verdasco had no need for a tennis bag as he entered the court for his first-round match against James Duckworth. The veteran Spaniard had four rackets in hand, and they certainly worked well for him during a 6-4, 7-6(5) win over the Australian. However, it proved to be Verdasco’s final victory of the season. The 36-year-old lost to Millman in straight sets during second-round action, having also fallen to Millman in Cologne. Verdasco posted on social media afterward that his season is over, but he assured that retirement is not in his plans and he is eager for 2021.

• Question for the future: One and done for Nur-Sultan?

Is this the first and last ATP event in Nur-Sultan? The city was granted a one-year license for this 250-point tournament earlier in 2020 as the ATP Tour restructured its schedule amidst the coronavirus pandemic. It helped make up for the cancellation of the Asian swing. However, Yuriy Polskiy — vice president of the Kazakh Tennis Federation — hopes that Nur-Sultan could remain on the calendar in years to come (possibly in late September following the U.S. Open).

“We would love to be on the calendar at this time, because that’s when the players move from Europe to Asia,” Polskiy said.

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