Nitto ATP Finals: 5 debutants who have won the tournament

Ilie Nastase was the first tournament debutant to win the ATP Finals.
Ilie Nastase was the first tournament debutant to win the ATP Finals.

The ATP Finals is the crown jewel of the ATP Tour, pitting the season's best eight players in a round-robin format followed by a semifinal and a final.

Since its inaugural edition in 1970, the tournament had been held in 13 different cities, before settling in London since 2009. All but six (1970-71, 1982-85) of the previous 49 editions of the tournament have featured two round-robin groups of four players each, with the top two from each group contesting the semi-finals followed by a final.

1970 and 1971 featured a round-robin competition of six and seven players respectively, with no semi-final or a final while 1982-85 featured a knockout stage competition which was done away with since 1986.

The 2019 ATP Finals in London would be the 50th edition of the prestigious season-ending finale. Only 23 players over the years have managed to win the tournament. Let us take a look at the tournament debutants who went all the way in their first attempt in the competition.

#1: Ilie Nastase (1971)

Ilie Nastase.
Ilie Nastase.

In 1971, Ilie Nastase became the first debutant in the history of the ATP Finals to win the title in his first attempt.

Featuring a seven-player single robin field with no semi-finals and final, Nastase beat Cliff Richey, Jan Kodes, defending champion Stan Smith, Zeljko Franulovic and Clark Graebner in Paris, to become the second winner of the ATP Finals in as many editions of the tournament.

Nastase was not required to play his sixth round-robin match against Pierre Barthes as the Romanian led the field with five wins, which was one more than defending champion Smith who went 4-2 in the tournament.

The Romanian would go on to become the tournament's first four-time winner (1971-73, 1976), play five consecutive finals (1971-76), as well as being the first player to successfully defend his title (1972).

#2: Guillermo Vilas (1974)

Guillermo Vilas
Guillermo Vilas

In 1974, Guillermo Vilas became the second debutant to win the ATP Finals, when the Argentinian lefthander beat Bjorn Borg, John Newcombe, Onny Parun in the group stage before beating Raul Ramírez to set up a title showdown with three-time defending champion Ilie Nastase.

Vilas squandered a two set lead in a competitive title match on the grass of Melbourne, the only time the tournament would be played on the surface, before triumphing in five sets to dethrone Nastase.

In eight subsequent appearances in the tournament, Vilas would not reach the summit clash again.

#3: John McEnroe (1978)

John McEnroe.
John McEnroe.

On his ATP Finals debut on the indoor carpet of New York in 1978, John McEnroe beat Arthur Ashe, defending champion Jimmy Connors and Harold Solomon in the group stage to reach the last four.

Victory over Eddie Dibbs set up a rematch with Arthur Ashe for the title. McEnroe recovered from the loss of the first set in a tiebreak to win 7-5 in the third and become the third debutant to win the ATP Finals.

The victory in the final also made the 19-year-old McEnroe the youngest player and the only teenager in the history of the ATP Finals, to win the tournament. The American lefthander would go on to win two more titles at the ATP Finals, doing so in 1983-84.

#4: Alex Corretja (1998)

Alex Corretja (left) and Carlos Moya (right).
Alex Corretja (left) and Carlos Moya (right).

It would be 20 more years since McEnroe's triumph, that another debutant would go all the way at the ATP Finals.

In the final of the 1998 edition of the tournament, then called the ATP World Tour Championships, in Hanover, Alex Corretja beat compatriot Carlos Moya in an all-Spanish final to become the fourth debutant winner in the tournament's history.

Unlike the three previous debutant winners, though, Costa dropped a group-stage game (Tim Henman) before dethroning defending champion Pete Sampras in the semi-finals and recovering from a two-set deficit to overcome Carlos Moya in a five-set final.

#5: Grigor Dimitrov (2017)

Grigor Dimitrov.
Grigor Dimitrov.

Almost another two decades would pass before the tournament saw another debutant winner.

In the 2017 edition of the ATP Finals in London, debutant Grigor Dimitrov entered the tournament with an underwhelming 8-27 combined head-to-head record against the other competitors but spectacularly defied the odds to go all the way.

Dimitrov beat David Goffin, Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal's replacement Pablo Carreno Busta in the group-stage before beating Jack Sock in the semi-final and Goffin in the final to become the first Bulgarian player to triumph at the ATP Finals.

Dimitrov holds a rather unique record at the ATP Finals. The Bulgarian is the only player to have a perfect record at the ATP Finals. Every other player who has played the tournament has lost at least once.

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Edited by A. Ayush Chatterjee
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