Fils Is Making His Antwerp Debut A Memorable One

Arthur Fils (photo: Tennium/Belga)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 19, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Indeed, it’s been a memorable debut week French teenager Arthur Fils at the European Open in Antwerp this week. Let us count the ways.

On Monday, the 19-year-old Fils learned how to make Belgian frites and won the Frites Atelier medal for making the best fries in a friendly competition against tournament top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who are also competing this week in the ATP 250 indoor hard court event. Then, on Wednesday, the No. 4 seed from Bondoufle, near Paris, made his first on-court appearance inside Lotto Arena a winning one – both with his tennis skills and his personality, too.

Fils won a tight, second-round battle over 20-year wild card Mark Lajal of Estonia, a friend and former juniors foe who was just two days removed from winning his ATP Tour main draw debut, to reach his fifth ATP quarterfinal of the season and third one indoors.

After 24 straight service holds combined by both youthful competitors, the 38th-ranked Fils prevailed 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) in an hour and 59 minutes on Center Court to advance to to Friday’s quarterfinal round. Fils saved all eight break points he faced from the 229th-ranked Lajal. With clutch hitting, he served six aces, hit 22 winners and outpointed his opponent 86-83.

“I knew it was going to be a tough match, but ‘m really happy with the win. It wasn’t easy. I’m happy to play quarterfinals here,” Fils said in his on-court interview with Sabine Appelmans.

“He was playing good to make break points, and I was playing good to save break points. I had some luck today. … I was hitting all the lines today and I’m happy with the win.”

Fils, who won his first ATP Tour title earlier this season in Lyon while ranked 112th and became the youngest Frenchman since Gaël Monfils in 2005 to win a tour-level crown, has made great strides in his first full season on the ATP Tour following a stellar juniors career. He has won 17 of his 31 singles matches and reached the semifinal round of three ATP 250 tournaments (Montpellier, Marseille, Lyon). Earlier this year, Fils won an ATP Challenger 75 indoor hard court title in Oeiras, Portugal.

On Friday, Fils will try to build upon his confidence as he bids for another indoor semifinal berth against No. 8 seed Juan Pablo Varillas of Peru, who is ranked 69th.

At the end of his on-court interview, Fils, with a towel slung over his left shoulder, was asked by Appelmans to describe his ambitions. At first, he laughed at the question, then smiled. Speaking with great modesty, the personable Fils answered: “If I can win the tournament, I will win the tournament, for sure. …

“But let’s see, I have a tough match on Friday, then semifinals on Saturday. Every match is tough. I will do my best to win the tournament.”

Unstoppable Tsitsipas marches on in his Antwerp return

After reaching the doubles semifinals earlier this week with his younger brother Petros, World No. 7 and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece finally stepped out on Lotto Arena’s Center Court for his first singles match of the tournament afterward receiving a first-round bye. No worries, the personable, 25-year-old Greek star marched into the quarterfinals with an unstoppable 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 67 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands Thursday evening. He was simply too good.

Playing in Antwerp for the first time since reaching the semifinals in 2017 as a 19-year-old qualifier, Tsitsipas was impressive over the course of the 96-minute second-round match that advanced him to play No. 5 seed Yannick Hanfmann of Germany, who outlasted No. 86 Dominic Thiem of Austria, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in Friday’s last eight.

Tsitsipas hit 20 winners and made just six unforced errors. He broke van de Zandschulp’s serve three times in 10 tries and outpointed the Dutchman 75-64.

It took some time. I didn’t have the best start that I would have expected but what a great way to end it,” Tsitsipas said in his in-court interview. “I was trying to get in there despite the early break and found a really good way through towards the very end. 

“Every point was a fight, every game there was an opportunity to do something. I was trying to maintain consistency and work toward the victory. It is important I overcame today. It wasn’t an easy one [to win].”

Since winning his most recent title of his 10 ATP Tour singles in Los Cabos in August, Tsitsipas has gone 4-5 and not won multiple singles matches at a tour-level event. He remains sixth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin in his bid to return to next month’s Nitto ATP Finals.

Every Tour match win is special for Marterer

Germany’s Maximilian Marterer reached his sixth career tour-level quarterfinal of his career and the second one of the season after defeating No. 74 Uno Borges of Portugal, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in an hour and 19 minutes. The 127th-ranked qualifier from Nuremberg has not lost any sets through two rounds of qualifying and two main-draw matches. Next, he will face No. 96 Hugo Gaston of France.

Against Borges, the lefty Marterer fired 11 aces, hit 24 winners to nine unforced errors, and dropped only four points on his first serve. He outpointed his opponent 70-53.

“Every Tour-level match win is something special,” the 28-year-old Marterer said during his on-court interview. “There’s not too many quarterfinals I have played. I’m happy about every single one I can play. It was a nice effort today.”

As Marterer eyes a return to the Top 100 after a career-high No. 45 in August 2018 before suffering a left knee injury and falling as low as No. 379 in February 2020, he knows the importance that comes with each victory.

“Obviously, my goal here [this week] is to catch some points toward the end of the year,” he said. “I’m happy. It’s already worked out well this week and I hope to keep it going. … When I’m healthy, I’m happy to be on court, happy to compete, again.”

Gaston earns first Top 50 triumph in over a year

Mercurial Frenchman Hugo Gaston saved three match points during a marathon, 24-point decisive tie-break and beat No. 2 seed Jan-Lennard Struff the hard way, on his fourth match-point opportunity, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (11), in two hours and 49 minutes. The win enabled Gaston to punch his ticket to his fourth career ATP Tour quarterfinal and first since ‘s-Hertogenbosch last year.

The victory by the 23-year-old, 96th-ranked Gaston over No. 27 Struff was his first Top 50 triumph since July 2022 at Bastad.

Gaston withstood 15 aces and 51 overall winners from Struff and beat him with nine aces and 45 winner of his own. Despite many shifts in momentum, he won by keeping his emotions in check. However, once Struff netted match point after Gaston hit a blistering forehand out wide to end an 11-shot rally, the Toulouse native let out a big roar of approval. He was outpointed by Struff 135-131.

“I want to thank everyone for the support,” Gaston said in his on-court interview. “It was a difficult match, a lot of emotion, but it’s nice when you go out on the court and take your win. Now, it’s on to be ready for the next one. … I will sleep well tonight and be ready tomorrow.”

On Friday, Gaston will oppose 127th-ranked German qualifier Maximilian Marterer in a battle of lefties.

Hanfmann wins 3-set thriller over Thiem

No. 5 seed Yannick Hanfmann of Germany kept Belgian fans inside Lotto Arena in their seats until nearly midnight Thursday before finally closing out his two-hour and 41-minute victory over No. 86 Dominic Thiem of Austria, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in their second career meeting, both won by the 56th-ranked German.

Hanfmann hit 36 winners, saved 13 of the 15 break points he faced from Thiem and broke his opponent three times in three tries, including in the seventh game of the final set to go ahead 4-3, which was a difference maker.

The win, Hanfmann’s 23rd in in 42 matches this season, marked the first time in his career he had achieved consecutive wins on hard courts and it advanced him to his first hard-court quarterfinal. Hanfmann, 31, will play World No. 7 and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas Friday evening.

Around the European Open

Three quarterfinal-round doubles matches took place on Thursday to whittle the draw to the last four. Joining Stefanos and Petros Tsitsipas in the semifinals are the teams of Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic; No. 3 seeds Hugo Nys of Monaco and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain; and Romain Arneodo of Monaco and Tristan-Samuel Weissborn of Austria.

Thursday’s European Open results

Friday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Jan-Lennard Struff was denied his first Top 100 win since Halle and 32nd tour-level quarterfinal berth and fifth of 2023 by losing to Hugo Gaston in Thursday’s second round. He is 8-3 versus players ranked outside Top 50 this season (3-1 on hard courts).

“Quotable …”

“The Center Court is beautiful and the crowd – thank you for staying so late! – the crowd was nice. The guys right here (pointing to some courtside fans) offered me some beer during the match. I said ‘No, but next time guys, maybe!’ … I’m feeling good here and let’s hope I can continue my form.”

– No. 3 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, following his second-round win over Gregoire Barrere of France Wednesday evening, during his on-court interview.