Next Gen ATP Finals: Fils Dazzles His Way To 2-0 Start

Arthur Fils (photo: Peter Staples/ATP Tour)

JEDDAH/WASHINGTON, November 29, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 1 seed Arthur Fils of France made quick work of Italy’s Flavio Cobolli in his Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM battle of undefeated players in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Wednesday afternoon. The charismatic, 36th-ranked Frenchman needed just 59 minutes to defeat No. 100 Cobolli, 4-1, 4-2, 4-2, after being pushed to five sets in his opener by Italian Luca Nardi.

The 19-year-old Fils, who admitted on Tuesday that adjusting to the no warm-up rule on court immediately before the match was both a mental adjustment as well as a physical one, appeared more relaxed on court at the King Abdullah Sports City in his second group-play match. In a superb performance, he hit 14 winners to nine unforced errors, won 72 percent of his first-serve points, and converted four of five break-point chances. Fils outpointed the No. 5 seed Cobolli 54-33 in his first head-to-head meeting by dominating play from both the baseline and at the net.

“Today, I played really good,” Fils said in his on-court interview. “I mean, I knew all the rules, so it was OK. It was much easier [being] on the court. I enjoyed my time on the court. Good crowd, so thank you very much.”

Record-breaking win for Stricker

In his second year of competing in the Next Gen ATP Finals, No. 3 seed Dominic Stricker of Switzerland has become acclimated to some of the innovative rules used. One of them this year is the accelerated shot clock that limits the amount of time between first and second serves as well as a reduction in time if the previous point includes fewer than three shots.

On Wednesday, Stricker won the quickest match in the six-year history of the tournament – 54 minutes – in his 4-1, 4-1, 4-2 victory over 115th-ranked Luca Nardi of Italy. The 21-year-old lefty Stricker hit 13 winners, including three aces; converted four of six break points against Nardi, and saved all four break points he faced. He outpointed his opponent 54-38.

“We had a long discussion yesterday evening about how to do it today,” Stricker said in his on-court interview. “I think it was really good that we talked a lot after what maybe wasn’t my best performance. Now to come out today like that, I think nobody expected that. I’m just happy that I did it and now I’m going to try my best to recover for the third group match.”

After a disappointing loss to Flavio Cobolli of Italy to start group play, Stricker is 1-1 going into his final Green Group match on Thursday against undefeated and top-seeded Arthur Fils off France (2-0). Cobolli (1-1) will play the winless Nardi (0-2).

Shelbayh keeps his knock-out round hopes alive

No. 8 seed Abdullah Shelbayh of Jordan, who received a wild card into this year’s tournament, came on strong to win the last eight games of his match against No. 4 seed Alex Michelsen of the United States in his 4-2, 1-4, 4-0, 4-0 victory.  The 67-minute triumph leveled the 185th-ranked Shelbayh’s win-loss record in the Red Group at 1-1.

Shelbayh, 20, finished on a high note with seven aces and 27 winners overall. He won 72 percent of his first-serve points and broke the 97th-ranked Michelsen’s serve five times in 10 opportunities. He outpointed his opponent 60-46.

“I’ve had a great year so far, many ups and downs, many good tournaments, some bad ones. I’ve had to go through so much,” the left-handed hitting Shelbayh said after his victory. “Having the opportunity to play here now to finish the year, I couldn’t ask for a better end to the year.

“I appreciate all the support throughout the week that I’ve been receiving already, of course throughout the year and from the Arab world especially.”

Shelbayh, who improved to 4-6 against Top 100 competition, will wrap up group play on Thursday against Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia, while Michelsen (0-2) will face France’s Luca Van Assche.

Medjedovic impressive in win over Van Assche

No. 6 seed Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia remained undefeated in the Red Group after upsetting previously unbeaten No. 2 seed Luca Van Assche of France, 4-2, 2-4, 4-3 (7), 4-1, in an hour and 48 minutes, the longest match of Day 2.

The 110th-ranked Medjedovic put away his second straight victory on his first match-point opportunity as he closed out the win with a service winner.

Throughout, the 20-year-old member of the Serbian Davis Cup team came up big against the 70th-ranked Van Assche. He finished with 13 aces and powered 30 winners; won 75 percent of his first-serve points and outpointed Van Assche 78-66.

Medjedovic saved three set points and came back from trailing 5-1 in the third-set tie-break. Later, in serving out the victory, he saved three break points.

“For sure the tie-break changed a lot of things in this match,” Medjedovic said in his post-match interview. “He had three set points. I stayed focussed on the important points. I was consistent, hitting the ball hard, and I’m glad that I won the tie-break.”

Medjedovic is just the second Serbian after Miomir Kecmanovic in 2019 to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals.

Wednesday’s Next Gen ATP Finals results

Thursday’s Next Gen ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

Switzerland’s Dominic Stricker has played in the third-longest match in the six-year history of the Next Gen ATP Finals – a two-hour, 26-minute five-set victory over Lorenzo Musetti of Italy during last year’s group play – and, now, he has played in the fastest match, 54 minutes, in his straight-set win against Luca Nardi of Italy.

“Quotable …”

“My goal in tennis is to enjoy every second I can on the court. To smile in every match that I’m playing and to try my best to win some great tournaments and if I can to go high in the rankings. I will try my best and I have some big goals.”

Arthur Fils of France, as quoted by the ATP Tour website, on what he has learned from the older generation of French players such as Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.