© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Carlos Alcaraz will makes his Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals debut against Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune at Allianz Cloud Stadium.

Day 1 Preview: Alcaraz Tackles Rune, Korda Meets Gaston

Spaniard to meet fellow 18-year-old Dane for first time

The field has descended on Milan for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals and Day 1 beckons as Carlos Alcaraz and Sebastian Korda headline eight debutants in action.

The 18-year-old Alcaraz will open his campaign against Denmark’s Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune in Group A, in the second match of the afternoon session. The Spaniard soared up the FedEx ATP Rankings from No. 141 to No. 35 this season, following his maiden tour-level title in Umag and his first Top 10 victory over World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the US Open quarter-finals.

Rune, also 18, made his Grand Slam debut at Flushing Meadows, where as a qualifier he took a set off top seed Novak Djokovic in the opening round. The pair has never played before.

“I am feeling comfortable and have a lot of confidence with myself,” Alcaraz said. “It has been a brilliant year and I hope to show a good level here at the Next Gen [ATP Finals]. Playing against the young guys like me with the different conditions, best of five sets, four games [is nice]. I am excited to play.”

One of two Americans alongside Brandon Nakashima in the Milan field for 2021, Korda, opens the evening session on Monday when he takes on Frenchman Hugo Gaston in Group B. The 21-year-old landed his maiden tour-level title in Parma in May and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon (l. to Khachanov).

Gaston was the last player to qualify for Milan and did so in emphatic fashion on home soil at the Rolex Paris Masters. No. 103 in the FedEx ATP Rankings only a week ago, he defeated fellow Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP finalist Alcaraz to become the lowest-ranked quarter-finalist at Paris-Bercy since 2012.

Full Day 1 Schedule for Milan

Home hopes rest with 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti when he takes on Sebastian Baez in Group B, in the second evening match on Day 1. The Italian, who practised with Alcaraz on Sunday at the Allianz Cloud, has never faced the Argentine, No. 111 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Musetti climbed as high as World No. 57 in September after he started the year as World No. 128. He notched tour-level semi-finals in Acapulco and Lyon, and made the fourth round at Roland Garros.

“I saw the matches from Jannik [Sinner] when he won, so I hope to do the same and win the trophy,” Musetti said. “I think everyone is honoured to be in this competition and playing the event this week.”

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The 20-year-old Baez became the youngest player in history to clinch five ATP Challenger Tour trophies in a season in 2021, following his Concepcion, Santiago, Zagreb, Santiago-3 and Buenos Aires triumphs. He is joined by fellow Argentine Juan Manuel Cerundolo in Milan.

World No. 85 Cerundolo takes on Nakashima for the first time in the opening Group A match on Day 1. The 19-year-old announced himself at home in February when as a qualifier he captured his first tour-level title at the Cordoba Open against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

He became the first player to win a title in his ATP Tour debut since 2004 and added three Challenger-level trophies at Rome, Como and Banja Luka this season. The 20-year-old Nakashima has enjoyed a standout year in 2021, following back-to-back tour-level finals in Los Cabos and Atlanta, and picked up an ATP Challenger Tour title last week in Brest.