Next Gen ATP Finals: And Then There Were Four

Hamad Medjedovic (photo: Peter Staples/ATP Tour)

JEDDAH/WASHINGTON, November 30, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

As Day 3 of the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM began the final round of group play Thursday, all eight players in the tournament were still in contention to qualify for the semifinals in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There were nine different Green Group possibilities and 14 Red Group scenarios.

By the end of the day, four players emerged to advance to Friday’s semifinal round at King Abdullah Sports City: Arthur Fils and Dominic Stricker from the Green Group, and Hamad Medjedovic and Luca Van Assche from the Red Group.

In Friday’s semifinals, Fils will oppose Van Assche and Medjedovic will face Stricker. The winners will play for the title Saturday evening.

Medjedovic beats Shelbayh to finish group play 3-0

The one match that had everyone excited to watch was the last match of the day, when undefeated No. 6 seed Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia played fellow 20-year-old and eighth-seeded wild card Abdullah Shelbayh of Jordan for the first time. Plenty was up for grabs among these two friends and foes. It would be well after midnight before Medjedovic pulled out a 3-4 (6), 4-2, 4-3 (5), 4-2 win in an hour and 33 minutes.

The 110th-ranked Medjedovic came in 2-0 while Shelbayh was 1-1. Both had played impressively in their first two matches. Medjedovic led the tournament in aces (27), service games won (25 of 27, 93 percent) and first-serve points won (84 percent). Meanwhile, Shelbayh led in first-serve return points won (37 percent) and second-serve return points won (65 percent).

“I’ve known him since we were 10 years old,” Shelbayh said of Medjedovic, interviewed by the ATP Tour website. “I think it was in Italy the first time I met him. He’s a great guy, I know his family very well and they’re great people. It’s not going to be an easy match. We’ve never played against each other, but we have played doubles together. We won a title in Turkey together as well.

“I think it’s going to be a fun match to play. Another important one for me … but every win now counts for all of us in the group so, of course, I’m going to have to focus on recovering well and see how tomorrow goes.”

“Abdullah is a great friend of mine,” Medjedovic told “I’ve known him since I was a little kid. He’s a great player, we won a doubles title together when we were kids and I’m just happy to face him [Thursday].”

Shelbayh, looking to build on the momentum of winning the final eight games of his Wednesday victory over American fourth seed Alex Michelsen, knew going in a three-set or four-set win would assure his spot in the semifinals. He started well by winning the opening set in a tie-break, 8-6. However, after splitting the first two sets, it assured Medjedovic of a place in the semifinals. It also also put the pressure on Shelbayh to pull out a four-set victory because winning in five sets would do him no good.

When Medjedovic won the third set in a tie-break, 7-5, it meant that Shelbayh had been eliminated and No. 2 seed Luca Van Assche of France was through to the semifinals. The Serbian closed out the victory by easily winning the fourth set. Medjedovic finished with 18 aces and 37 overall winners. He won 88 percent of his first-serve points, converted both break-point opportunities and outpointed Shelbayh 83-64.

It was a great match. I played really good after the first set,” Medjedovic said in his on-court interview. “He’s a good friend of mine, he’s a very good player and obviously the crowd here loves him and I respect that. It was a pleasure to play in front of [the crowd].”

Fils, Stricker advance to semifinals

Switzerland’s No. 3 seed Dominic Stricker garnered his spot in the semifinals for the second straight year after he won the second set over top seed Arthur Fils of France. The pressure was already off the 19-year-old from Bondoufle, France, who had clinched his berth in the last four earlier after Luca Nardi defeated Flavio Cobolli.

However, Fils remained inspired and energetic – and, in the end, finished undefeated (3-0) in Green Group play. Showing no pressure in what became a best-of-3 set shoutout, he beat Stricker, 4-2, 3-4 (3), 4-2, 4-3 (5), in an hour and 44 minutes to become the first French semifinalist in the six-year history of the tournament.

The 36th-ranked Fils struck 28 winners, including eight aces, and outpointed No. 94 Stricker 84-75. The Swiss left-hander, who won his previous outing against Fils in a pair of tie-breaks in Gstaad last July, amassed 27 winners and made 24 unforced errors.

During his on-court interview, Fils said he knew before the match that he had qualified, “but I just want to win every match that I’m playing.

“I think I put a little bit more focus out there today than the first two days because I know this opponent and he already beat me this year. It was a tough match, but I’m really happy to win and let’s see who I get in the semifinal.”

Nardi wins battle of the Italians

Luca Nardi of Italy gave a stunning performance against fellow Italian Flavio Cobolli  to finish the week on a high note. The 115th-ranked 20-year-old pulled out a 3-4 (4), 4-2, 4-3 (1), 1-4, 4-3 (3) victory over No. 100 Cobolli that lasted took two hours and 14 minutes. Nardi hit the last of his 28 winners with a solid forehand on match point to finish 1-2 in Green Group, the same win-loss record as Cobolli. He overcame a groin injury that required treatment in the third set to pull out his second tour-level victory of the season.

Nardi’s win ensured that top seed Arthur Fils became the first player to qualify for Friday’s semifinals.

The two youngest Italians in the Top 125 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Cobolli had won both of his previous meetings with Nardi in straight sets, first, in a 2020 junior event in Australia; then, in the first round of qualifying at the ATP Tour event in Umag this summer.

“I wanted to win,” Nardi said in his on-court interview. “I didn’t want to leave Jeddah without a win. I’m sorry for Flavio but, you know, I tried my best to get this win. I’m happy with it.”

Later, Nardi told “Even if I didn’t qualify, I think today was the best match I played out of the three. I am a bit sad I did not qualify … I kept fighting today and I am happy.”

In addition to finishing 2-7 in tour-level matches this season, Nardi went 34-22 on the ATP Challenger Tour, which included titles won in Porto and Matsuyama.

Van Assche, Michelsen bring out competitive spirit in each other

The final Red Group match for No. 2 seed Luca Van Assche of France and No. 4 Alex Michelsen of the United States came down to a fifth-set tie-break after they had been playing for two-and-a-half hours. Van Assche won the opening and fourth sets, while Michelsen raised the level of his game in the second and third sets.

Finally, the 70th-ranked Van Assche put together one final push for victory and pulled out a 4-3 (0), 3-4 (4), 3-4 (4), 4-1, 4-3 (6) in two hours, 36 minutes – the second-longest match in tournament history – but not before Michelsen had saved a two match points before committing his 34th unforced error netting a backhand return on the third match point. Van Assche outpointed Michelsen 106-95.

“It was a very tough match,” said the 19-year-old Van Assche in his post-match interview. “It was very difficult. There was four tie-breaks in the match, so it was really close. I’m very happy to win today … I hope that the next result in the next match will qualify me.”

Van Assche finished the group stage 2-1 with a shot at still advancing to the semifinals pending the result of the final match between No. 6 seed Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia and No. 8 seed Abdullah Shelbayh of Jordan. Once Medjedovic took his match to a fourth set, it meant Van Assche had made the last four. Meanwhile, Michelsen, 19, ended his season 0-3 in Jeddah and 7-8 against tour-level competition. He made the biggest jump into the Top 100 Pepperstone ATP Rankings from last year, climbing 504 spots from No. 601 to No. 97.

Thursday’s Next Gen ATP Finals results

Friday’s Next Gen ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

No. 5 seed Flavio Cobolli, 21, and No. 7 seed Luca Nardi, 20, are the two youngest Italians in the Top 125 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

“Quotable …”

“Roger Federer because he’s my idol. Arthur Fils because he is my friend. Then I will choose Bjorn Borg because he was one of the best players in another generation.”

Luca Van Assche of France, asked by the ATP Tour website this week: If you could have dinner with three people, who would they be and why?