Unlike thirty years ago, when comparing the last week of the regular season, this year’s rivalry at the top of the game is essentially over with Novak Đoković needing just one win next week. There is no longer any place left to fight for the season-ending event in Turin. Consequently, many elite players withdrew from the last two events, and only one top-20’er decided to take part – Karen Khachanov. Left-handers prevailed in both Metz and Sofia; the best French players, Ugo Humbert and Adrian Mannarino, triumphed. What’s more interesting is they were competing to finish the year as No. 1 in their country. For the home-town favorite Humbert, his fourth ATP title in four finals (13-6 record in the finals at lower levels) means advancement to the top 20 for the first time in his career. The “Sofia Open” took place in quite bizarre circumstances. After seven years, this event disappeared from the calendar but was restored because Tel Aviv was cancelled due to the outbreak of war in the region. Two ‘wild card’ veterans, Pierre-Hugues Herbert  and Fabio Fognini , advanced to the semifinals in France, achieving their best results of the season. Herbert, who played his first ATP event in 2023, saw a dramatic fall in the rankings due to being unvaccinated (preventing him from entering several big events) and injuries, particularly a knee injury. In round two, Fognini won his 18th encounter saving a match point – more than any other active player (his peer Đoković has won 17).
The “Moselle Open” quarterfinal lineup consisted of four all-countrymen pairs (two French, one Italian, one Russian). This hasn’t occurred since Orlando 1991, when all quarter-finalists represented the United States. The 21st-century boys, Jack Draper and Alexander Shevchenko, played their first ATP finals this week. Shevchenko is a new face of 2023, while the one-year-younger Draper had already displayed significant potential a year earlier. However, the Brit, who claimed a Challenger title in Bergamo a week before, is prone to injuries and doesn’t physically handle close matches well, which was confirmed in Bulgaria; he had a double break point in the final’s last game but seemed out of gas in the rallies.
In the second ATP edition in Antwerp, held as a point-awarded tournament from 1992 onwards (after being an exhibition event in the years 1982-1991), the focus was on two players, Goran Ivanišević and Cédric Pioline. One of them had to secure the last spot at the “Masters”. The solution was straightforward: they were on a collision course, with the Croat needing to win their quarterfinal match to automatically qualify, while Pioline required to reach the final. Pioline prevailed with a 7-6, 6-0 victory and found himself serving to beat Pete Sampras in the semifinal. The Frenchman sniffed the glory on a platter but couldn’t seal the deal. Sampras felt an extra motivation because winning the title in Flemish Belgium could secure his spot at the top of the year-end rankings, regardless of his performance the following week in Frankfurt. The American claimed his 20th title after a perfect match on Sunday. The runner-up, Magnus Gustafsson, was left disappointed after facing the third big server in a row. In the preceding rounds, he had defeated the two best Germans, Michael Stich and Boris Becker, in straight sets.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, Marc Rosset  successfully defended his title. This marked his third title of the season. Although not many players collected as many titles that year, Rosset was not in contention for the “Masters” (he’d very bad season at majors with an abysmal 1-3 record). There were higher expectations for him in the “best of five” format, especially after his impressive achievements in 1992, when he triumphed at the Olympics and led the Swiss team to the Davis Cup final, having defeated in both events the best man in the world – Jim Courier. In hindsight, both Pioline (b. 1969) and Rosset (b. 1970) stand out as the best players of the 90s who never participated in the prestigious season-ending event; Pioline came particularly close, falling short by just two points facing Sampras. In Moscow, two qualifiers from the former Soviet Union enjoyed a successful run: Russian Andrey Merinov  had the best ATP event of his career, reaching the quarterfinals while Ukrainian Dimitri Poliakov  advanced to the semifinals. His only better result it’s a shocking title in Umag two years earlier, also as a qualifier.
The regular season concluded in Buenos Aires, where two Spaniards battled their way to the nearly gale final. The eventual champion, Carlos Costa, decided to make a surprising journey to South America, having spent two weeks in Europe following a flight from Asia. In the first round, veteran Diego Pérez emerged victorious, defeating Horacio de la Peña 7-6, 6-4 in the longest “2-0” encounter of the season; notably, the Uruguayan survived a marathon first-set tie-break, which ended with an astonishing 17/15 scoreline. This was the longest tie-break on clay since Jimmy Arias defeated Trevor Allan 6-2, 7-6(15) in Florence ’85.
Metz (ATP 250; hard indoors)
(4)🇫🇷Ugo Humbert d. 🇷🇺Alexander Shevchenko 6-3, 6-3
Sofia (ATP 250; hard indoors)
(2)🇫🇷Adrian Mannarino d. 🇬🇧Jack Draper 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3
Antwerp ($1M; carpet indoors)
(1)🇺🇸Pete Sampras d. 🇸🇪Magnus Gustafsson 6-1, 6-4
Moscow ($325K; carpet indoors)
(1)🇨🇭Marc Rosset d. 🇩🇪Patrik Kühnen 6-4, 6-3
Buenos Aires ($275K; clay outdoors)
(2)🇪🇸Carlos Costa d. (6)🇪🇸Alberto Berasategui 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
Top 10 at the end of the regular season:
1993: Sampras – Courier – Stich – Bruguera – Edberg – A.Medvedev – Chang – Ivanisevic – Muster – Pioline
2023: Djokovic – Alcaraz – D.Medvedev – Sinner – Rublev – Tsitsipas – A.Zverev – Rune – Hurkacz – Fritz
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